After just five minutes of meeting Scott, I knew I was interviewing a really special and interesting person. Scott is a photographer and writer, who embarked on a year-long-journey, ‘Year in the Wild’ exploring and documenting South Africa’s precious wild places.
[Warning: Reading any further could evoke feelings of extreme envy and could lead to office job-abandonment!]
Me: Where did the idea of ‘Year in the Wild’ come from?
Scott: I think the idea had its roots in a number of different things. But there are a few key moments that stand out. When I was 14 I read a book called White Fang by Jack London. I was sitting in English class, and we each had to select a book of our own choice. My mom gave me this book as a suggestion, and although I wasn’t much of a reader at the time, I remember being transfixed. I have read it about ten times since then. The book is all about a half-wolf, half-dog that is torn between the comfortable existence of city living, and the call of the wild, where his brothers and sister – the wolves – still run free, honouring their feral genes, living as they have done for hundreds of thousands of years. At the time, I didn’t realise how much of an impact the book would have on my life, but for me, I obviously identified very strongly with White Fang, because I still find myself torn between living a so-called civilised life in the city, and wanting to live in a wilderness area, where I have always felt most at home, and most myself, where I can truly be me…
After having grown up in Cape Town, and spent most of my life living a city life, working in Joburg, Washington DC and London, I couldn’t understand why I was miserable and unhappy most of the time. But as often happens to our shadows, they eventually emerge whether we like it or not, and sometimes they’re not so pleasant to deal with. I became very depressed working in corporate jobs and was sad a lot of the time. No matter how many things I tried, the depression would not lift. Now, I’m not saying I had a tough life – far from it because I come from a privileged background– but for me, deep down, I knew I wasn’t happy and that I had to do something differently.
One way for me to escape the depressions would be for me to sit in my office job and dream about the smells and sounds of bushveld, or the taste of ocean water, or the sounds of African men and women speaking around a fire, of people connected to the earth. I could literally spend hours at a time escaping from my reality, dreaming about lions, leopards, elephants and hippos. I think these images and dreams came from two different sources. My folks took me and my sisters every year to Kruger National Park during our school holidays, and again, I didn’t realise how privileged I was, although clearly it had got into my blood. Then I think everyone on earth – no matter who you are – white, black, Chinese, English, American – everyone carries the imprint of Africa on their souls, because it was here that we evolved, and it was here that we first walked the earth. I believe that Africa is every man and woman’s original home. I am by no means an expert on this, but I have read some of Laurens van der Post, Ian Player and Ian McCallum, and what they write makes complete sense to me. I recommend that everyone read their books.I want to share my passion and love for these places by taking photographs and writing about them – which is now my profession – and sharing this content online or in media with other people. Because for me, the best way to help someone to see how valuable these places are, is to take them to there, and let them experience wilderness for themselves. And if you can’t do that, then at least share your photographs and experiences.
Me: What were some of your most memorable wildlife encounters during Year in the Wild?
A leopard catching an impala near Punda Maria.
A breeding herd of elephant walking across Shashe River at Mapungubwe during sunset
Seeing black and white rhino and lions on foot, as well as leopard calling near our camp at night on the Imfolozi Wilderness Trail
A jackal coming to sniff me while lying at Nossob camp in the Kgalagadi on my stretcher bed under the stars.
Encountering an aardvark during the day on a road in the Tankwa Karoo NP.
Me: How would you answer a parent who asked you why they should take their kids to a wilderness area?
Scott: Because it will change their lives. If not now, one day it will. It is the greatest gift you can give your child. Nature is boundless in its wisdom, and it is here that we first learn our true place in the universe, as well as interdependence, sharing and responsibility – and love, or God if you will.
Me: Were there any really unexpected moments for you during the trip? Something/ anything that took you by surprise?
Scott:I was amazed by how much I was absorbed in my environment. I always knew it would be an exciting adventure, but for me, the trip totally blew my mind. The year went SO quickly – and that is partly why I am doing another Year in the Wild in South Africa. There is SO much to explore, and our country is SO diverse.Me: Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently on your trip?
Scott: Yes, I would have taken someone along with me to help me! The most challenging part of the trip was doing everything on my own, making sure I didn’t burn out and getting enough sleep. At the end of my journey I was really tired, but I was very inspired.Me: Your favourite campsites in South Africa?
Anywhere in the Imfolozi Game Reserve
Anywhere in uKhahlamba-Drakensberg
DeHoop in the Richtersveld
Anywhere in the CederbergMe: Do you have a favourite animal? Favourite bird?
Scott: Difficult to answer but I’d have to say caracal – I’ve always loved them, even though I’ve never seen one. I had a dream about one before I started my journey, and it’s the logo of Year in the Wild. Bird – probably a Southern Boubou – their call is for me the most evocative of Africa.
‘The wild animals and its plants are true miracles, to be admired and respected fully – which human could ever conjure up something as magnificent as an elephant or a baobab tree, something as beautiful as a leopard, an animal as bizarre as a pangolin, or something as ingenious as a dung beetle?’
More about South Africa’s beautiful remote places, the unsung heroes that Scott met along the way – who are working tirelessly to protect these places – and the future of our National Parks coming in part 2 …:)