My Travels: The 388th Gare del Solco – Part 3 of 3

The village councillors hosting the prize giving.
The village councillors hosting the prize giving.

The prize giving was held in the courtyard in front of the oratorio at 7 p.m. that evening. A small tired crowd gathered. The municipal council members stood on the steps leading to the “Proloco”, the municipal offices. The councilors made a speech about the importance of maintaining the tradition, and how important it was not to use modern aids like cellular phones and lasers. No doubt satellite navigation can help too. Even the new powerful light  concentrating LED lens torches make a huge difference. Don Vincenzo offered a prayer to the Good Lady and then the runners up were announced. The team that won had only six members. Incredible. And they were indeed the second from the Rocca di Cambio. No political decisions this time! With the late night behind us and a long baptism lunch just over nobody stayed to celebrate. The winners received a certificate and the floating trophy.

The winning team with certificates.
The winning team with certificates.

The Gare del Solco is under threat.  Although there is spirited group of passionate young people in the village, some of whom return from the surrounding cities to do the ploughing, the village is small with only eight hundred full time inhabitants. The sections to be ploughed have been shortened as some areas are now within the park boundaries. It is threatened by the use of technology to the point that it may just become a virtual exercise. Lastly, and most incredibly, it is an undertaking that would never pass industrial safety standards anywhere. Using tractors around untrained people, some of who are drinking good wine is a crazy idea. Even more dangerous at night. Worse still in dry fields with open candles and gas lanterns on unsteady tripods being carried over rough ground. According to verbal records nobody has been injured yet in the Gare del Solco other than the obvious tiredness mixed with hangovers I saw the next day.

Don Vincenzo:
Don Vincenzo:
Patriot
Patriot

It will be wonderful to go retro and do it with cattle drawn ploughs and candle light. The only modern concession I would allow is for women to participate. I hope they continue the tradition. I wonder what modern plagues we may exorcise with this tradition?

Looking from the bell tower the next day.
Looking from the bell tower the next day. The Gran Sasso D’Italia lies in the background.

Conversations about Coming Home

Last night I attended a talk by Ian McCallum at the Yellowwood Café in Howick. He has just completed his expedition from the west to east coast of Southern Africa linking various elephant migratory routes and publicising the need for environmental action by focusing on pachyderms, a key species in the ecology of wild Africa and India. You can read about this trip on www.tracksofgiants.org

There are many things that struck me about Ian. He has an aura about him that is not just because of who he is (he is a qualified and working psychiatrist, author, poet, wilderness guide and expedition leader) but rather because he knows he is because of everyone and everything else. He is a true child of uBunthu: “I am because you are”.

He is thankful for everything and everyone that has coloured his life and allowed him to connect to this earth. He is practical as well, and made a strong point in the beginning of his talk of thanking everyone for very little thing they may do for the environment, no matter how small the action. It is these small actions that will make the groundswell that can change the world we leave to our children.

He told of a talk he did at Epworth primary School earlier that day. It was in a room filled with caricatures of wild animals. It was a happy room. He asked the children what they would feel if there were no more animals left in the world.

After some hesitation the first hand went up. “I would feel sad”, the child spoke.

I am sure Ian danced about the stage as he did with us, filled with energetic passion for the earth. He looked for more answers. It came from another child: “I would feel it was our fault!”

And the last child spoke out, sadness stinging his face: “what would we leave our children?”

His expedition was not so much about the giants of the bush as much as the giant within each of us that can change the world. We can all achieve so much, if we commit and try. The tragedy is not that we do not achieve, but that we aim too low.

At dinner I spoke with Ian about his first trail, which he undertook in 1981 with Ian Player and Maqubu Ntombela. It had a profound effect on him and his understanding of the world and himself. I remember it doing the same for me. The Wilderness Leadership School Erythrina leaf emblem encapsulates a simple philosophy of co-existence with the environment and one’s self: each of the three leaflets represents a core relationship in man’s life: Man to Man, Man to God and Man to nature.

I asked Ian why he had chosen psychiatry. “Because it was the one thing I did not want to do. So when I asked myself why I didn’t want to do it, and investigated it, I found it to be the very essence of medicine.” It echoed in me. I remember my time in the bush bring a clarity to my soul to explore the mind through medicine. I never got to being a psychiatrist, but certainly benefited from them.

Ian said of his first trail that he felt like “he had come home.” I know the feeling, and his inspiring talk made me feel like I had seen home again.