“He hasn’t changed,” comments an old friend I bump into at the wild food festival. I follow her gaze down to the bare feet standing in the wet grass. With a sigh I admit that I have clearly lost the battle to get my youngest offspring, now aged 13 to wear shoes. Since we first tried to put shoes on our son he has resisted the idea, preferring to scramble over rocks, shells, stones in nothing more than “the shoes God gave him” as he has been known to say.
People have often, at first meeting, described him as “wild” as he races full pelt to climb a tree to nerve racking heights (for his mother watching from below), or ascend from the ferry only to plummet fully clothed into the sea in total delight. I prefer the term “free range child” myself. I take comfort from how at ease he is with nature and feels free to be himself. Now, don’t get me wrong he knows how to use his manners, always gives up his chair to someone who is his elder, spends time helping his grandparents with chores around their home and will be the first to offer help if he sees someone in need. But as he has grown he has held onto the delicious wild curiosity of childhood. He has come with me three times to the Wild Food Festivals, where I have been a demo chef, and has tried everything from huhu grubs to mountain oysters. He has caught eels with his bare hands, smoked them and shared his bounty. To me he is an inspiration to enjoy the natural world around me.
What better place to bring up a child like this than Diamond Harbour. Truly this is a haven for the young and old who want to embrace the outdoors. Growing up here my children have enjoyed horse riding over the mountain ridges, exploring the cliff tracks eating wild banana passion fruit as they go, harvesting and cooking mussels over a beach fire, endless summer days performing bombs off the wharf into the cool waters, playing on the rugby pitch all manner of games, riding their bikes in the fresh air, exploring camp bay beach for polished glass treasures, dancing in the summer sun at Live at the Point, sleeping out under the stars, foraging for dinner, fishing off the rocks. They have cuddled baby lambs, had eggs hatch in the palm of their hands, watched dolphins swim in the bay, been delighted to find a bull seal sitting in the middle of the road, made huts in the trees, squealed with delight as they sore through the air on a rope swing, helped with mustering, and sailed around Quail Island.
Not long ago I had a day off and I headed to the beach with a book and my dog. I had to pinch myself: this isn’t a dream, I really do live a stone's throw from a beautiful beach with water gently lapping at the shore and hills surrounding me like comforting old friends. As I sat and soaked it all in, every now and then someone would pass by. Every single person stopped and chatted for a moment, all out enjoying a beautiful day in their neighbourhood.
Have you stopped lately and had a good look around? When did you last sit in the evening glow of the sun dipping over the hills? How long is it since you ambled along the cliff track and helped yourself to wild fruit! Or just sat on one of the beautiful beaches and listened to the sea? Preserve your childlike love of the wild and get out there! And if you happen to see a kid leaping fully clothed into the sea (sigh), yes, he probably belongs to me, and he is my inspiration.