“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” – Henry David Thoreau
To make up for not giving me siblings, my parents gave me pets. There was the Manx cat that slept in the tumble drier. The ginger tabby that trailed after us on walks around the neighbourhood. The dogs that let me dress them up in sunglasses and ties, that escorted me through the forest or along the beach. And then there were the birds.
While my father’s father bred show pigeons, my father bred everything: quails, lovebirds, finches, Cockatiels, budgies and, most recently, an owl mother and her fledgling.
On roadtrips, I might not have known the joy of sharing the backseat of the family car with anyone, but I knew my birds. I loved how they all seemed to have a place in the aviary that they shared – from the quails on the ground to the love birds in their messy nests, with their peach-coloured heads peeking out through the holes.
As I continue to move about in the world as an older only child, I notice how much our aviary was a microcosm of the greater world, a world where hummingbirds rub shoulders with white-eyes, swallows share the air with sparrows, and grouse and guinea-fowl run along the same paths.
It is a lesson in ubuntu… as Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained it, “Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness… We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
Out in the wild places of Africa this is ever apparent. Looking at Bushmans Kloof, the wilderness reserve and wellness retreat in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa’s Western Cape province, over 150 species of bird live together, happily. You’ll spot them on nature drives and walks or from the patio of your villa – whether the great African Fish Eagle or the jewel-like sunbird, the waterfowl around the dams or the striking Black Harrier.
How do they manage to share the open wilds in such harmony despite their many differences? Perhaps they’re more advanced than us humans. Perhaps they do make for better siblings, after all.
I took a moment to simply watch these little musicians of the air and to listen to their song on a recent trip to Bushmans Kloof, before lifting the camera to them…