I was up long before my alarm sounded. Tired body, tired soul, a worn down mental state of mind after a rough night of little sleep. A constant slumber of dreams and fears entwined.

The wind was blowing something fierce. The sky dark with low threatening clouds. Bursts of rain. I message Jane: “The weather looks rather apocalyptic on this side of the world’. Jane’s driving, 40 minutes away and I don’t feel like running. Extreme weather conditions make me uneasy. My comfort zone pulls me in and asks me to stay. I don’t.

Wearily I put my running gear on, pull my socks up and slip my shoes on my feet. I go through the morning running ritual of checking gear. Backpack. Two bottles - one juice, one water. Cap. Buff. My mind thanks me for running through the list. I relax. I ease into the moment. My body isn’t so tense anymore, my breathing slows. Phone battery, charged. Back-up warm stuff, waterproof shell. Over prepared I leave the house. Driving to the meeting spot, I think how my vulnerability manifests in the material. How all things interweave. On vulnerable days, I gear up. I take double the gear I would generally need. On strong days, less gear, less fuss. Mmm, to find the balance. To find consistency. To push past the noise of the fears in my mind to hear only truth. To know truth. To know only the true words that need listening to, that need my attention. I waste so much time listening to a mix of mess in my head that I forget to breathe. I forget to revel in the moment of being alive and miss out on so much. Because, because I’m scared. Scared of most things around most corners. The mere unpredictability of life scares me. I have no control. How easy it is to allow my fears to rule my life. How many times a day I put a brave face on for show. How running my own business is hard. How I fiercely love and fear it all.

Miss Sunshine pulls up, the biggest smile on her face. Clearly crazy weather makes her come alive, I’m a little envious. Is it choice, or is it something we have or we don’t. She’s had copious amounts of coffee and rearing to go. I picture her as a rally car driver merely pit stopping to get going again. No time to waste on petty things, there’s a day to be conquered and conquer it we must. That’s what I love about Jane - she faces things head on. Off we head into Armageddon (what it feels like to me anyway). I drift off again, my mind skimming the surface of the dreams I had last night. Brief moments where life consists of unrestricted blissful highs before rapidly descending into what ifs, maybe’s and the sobering fact that we are mortal…hello…is anyone else as taken aback as I am about human mortality? I didn’t expect us to live forever, but at the age of 33 I am having an incredibly exhausting time trying to wrap my head around being alive the one day and maybe not the next. Do you know how short that makes life, how precious that makes life. How insanely crazy a thought it is to come to comprehend the privilege of your next breath? That we can use it to speak wise words, to say I love you, to be kind, to love with reckless abandon, to never let an opportunity go by without telling someone something beautiful about them in spite of looking like a fool. I take hold of these thoughts and I realize that I have within me the essence of living with reckless abandon, that it is something I do in spite of my every day fears and for a moment I am so overwhelmed with gratitude for the life I have been given that my eyes sting with tears.

We turn off the N2, onto a gravel road. It didn’t take long for the forest canopy to close up over head, blocking our view to the sky. A darker shade of shadow falls across the road. Billowy clouds of mist drift across the road only to dissipate a few paces on. Rain falling softly. The wind making its presence known in moderate gusts. Around the next bend we stop. A branch has fallen, blocking the road. Excited shrieks of what’s to come echoes into the still surroundings. Soaked from the rain, it’s bark wet and spongy, gently giving way to our touch, our hands imprint, we move it in unison to one side of the road. The adventure has officially begun. Slowly winding our way to the forest station where they’ll tell you elephants once roamed and very possibly still do where you are about to set foot. We park. A misty drizzling weather pattern accompanies us. By now, the excitement is tangible and I am ready to conquer whatever lies ahead. The forest lay dense, dreamily dressed in gentle whispers of low hanging clouds, outstretched in front of us. An unknown wonderland awaited our souls - there is no other way to connect with a place like this than allowing your soul to dance with the unknown. I take a deep breath and surrender. Letting go, setting free, leaving behind, shedding skin once more. After all, this is Mother Nature - come to learn and she will teach. Subtly, without demand, because she has nothing to prove.

Our footsteps hit the forest floor, slippery at first over roots and branches until settled into a rhythmic trance of breath and the stillness of the mind. My thoughts float away, I empty the weight I carry from the fears lodged deep inside. I detach. I open up. My lungs expand and so does the self. Expanding to take in. I start to listen, feel, feel the rain on my skin. Allowing the outside to filter in, filter through, cleanse. Sound. Sounds everywhere. The sounds in the forest tell us everything we need to know - the faint rush of a river, twigs or branches breaking under foot for what else might be sharing your surroundings, to follow the sound of the birds to where they feed. Learning to listen could save your life out here, choosing to ignore it could mean your end. Forest sounds change throughout the day, throughout weather conditions. It would take a life time and longer to truly come to know and understand this intricately woven ecosystem. All things in unison. All things in balance. Dependency. One life dies, for the next to flourish. This forest understands, here life cycles make sense. Here life is as it is meant to be. Here, I understand that life must begin and it must end.

By now, the humidity level has risen and the forest clings to my skin, seeps into my pores. All her sounds, her feels, her sacred heartbeat has filled mine. I can almost see the small water droplets suspended in the air, almost hear the path they take from air to the tip of a leaf to mulch pulped forest floor. The dim, dusky weather has enticed distinct indigenous animals to come out and play. To show themselves. To share themselves. Frogs in different shapes and sizes, their identity, their sound. Their sound, revealing their location. Intimidating flying insects, gliding past at the speed of light. All they leave behind are the chimelike shrieks echoeing across the forest scope - forming a well calculated and dedicated communication network. No sound goes unnoticed. No sound made without purpose. Sound here, in this forest, seems a sacred language that spans over an ancient network of things alive with breath, with life. They give thanks, they celebrate, they fill the day with what they must for they know the life that lie ahead of them is precious, short and unthreatened. Unthreatened because life has a beginning and an end, there are no threats when one understands this. They don’t question, they live. Going about their everyday as if every movement is a gift, every growth sprout a celebrated moment because they know it will never be again. They revel in the moment! The forest is teaching and I am willing to learn. I want to learn. I want to understand. Accept. Stop resisting. I want to know that it’s ok to look into the eyes of those I love and know that I might have them for a life time or tomorrow they’d be gone. I want it to be ok that these thoughts fill my mind so much that it makes my heart physically ache - the fragility of life. That not one moment can be taken back or relived. Every breath, an offering. Every moment a significant opportunity of blossoming potential to really live. To embrace the temporary and truly dig my fingers into each minute and take hold but at the same time also let go. Flow. To know, to feel when to hold on and when to let go and when time hands you whatever it will that it is the right time. So, here I am in the middle of an ancient network of trees, sharing with me their wisdom and I settle into my own skin, feel my breath flow through the things that hold me in and I accept that I have come to be brave, to be bold, to be radical, to be me. Once.

We cross a river. It’s rushing water soothing to the soul. Calming to the otherwise busy mind. A waterfall upstream. Just on the other side we lose ourselves in an Avatar like landscape, a jungle forest of ferns. Treelike giants reaching for the light, stretching out way above our heads. Dwarfed by their presence, we stand arms outstretched in awe. Bowing my head in brief and giving thanks to nature for letting us in. Showing us the way. Allowing us to tread her sanctified network of what feels like prehistoric paths where bush buck, bush pig, spider and mushroom alike have tread and grown for centuries before and centuries to come, long after we have gone. Nature always finds her way, she always speaks her truth. I feel small. My heart is about to burst with gratitude, my eyes, my brain too small to comprehend what I’ve come to witness. Light captured raindrops on intricately spun spider webs - the garden routes version of perfectly structured snowflakes. Suspended with ease from one tree to another, an unwavering hunter, with an eye for aesthetic perfection. Nature is the true designer, we just merely follow suit.

We get a little lost. Maybe because we’re weren’t entirely focused on reaching our destination. Maybe just because this is what the adventure had in store all along. I’m starting to understand that the unpredictability of life carries more beauty than harm. We head on. No longer on trail but an old service road, those roads you stumble upon in the Knysna forest where scenes from the book “Kringe in die Bos” play out right in front of you. We live in and around these historic sites and the history runs deep. We find our way. The heavens open for a brief a moment, the light of the sun filters through. Rays of light illuminate the water droplets drifting through the air. Dappled light dancing ever so slowly, for a moment everything stills. For a moment we stand captivated, suspended in a moment merged with nature, inviting us to be one. We seem to have been gifted with something so deeply sacredly divine that if we didn’t set foot outside our comfort zones we would have been poorer for it. Nature just offered her breath to us.

In the heart of the forest, in the mystical recesses of its being we lost ourselves, briefly our way but through it all we found a new version of who we want to be. Expanded and exposed. Vulnerable and free. In a state of bliss my mind movie reels through this run as I make my way home. Do I fear less, no. I understand more.

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