A Journey in Contentment
We arrived in Johannesburg in the Spring of 2010, with shining wedding rings, a car filled with essentials, and a fold-out map of the ring-road. This was our new city, a place to start our life together. In the years that followed we longed for the ocean and glimpses of fynbos, and we distinctly felt the lack of mountains as we attempted to navigate this seemingly flat city. We relished the opportunities we had to head back home during December holidays, soaking up the general splendour of the Cape.
A few years on we welcomed a beautiful little boy into our lives. Living, working and raising a family in Johannesburg wasn’t quite in “the plan”. We read about the weekend nature expeditions of a family in America, and we longed to have a life like theirs. We dreamed of what it must be like, to live so close to such epic wilderness as they do: forests and beaches on your door step and impressive mountain ranges a stone’s throw away. But then we caught ourselves and our discontent, and we decided to stop dreaming – it was time to start doing. It was time to bloom in Johannesburg. This was where we were, this was what we had been given, and this was where we needed to make things happen.
At the start, we fully expected this to entail costly weekends away and driving for a few hours to find a small forest, but a quick search online brought the delightful news that we were surrounded by all sorts of small parks and walking trails. Indigenous forests and peaceful bodies of water within a few kilometres positively surrounded us! How had we missed this? That afternoon we went for a walk. It was wonderful. We soon began using Saturday mornings as a time to head out to a new park, walk for an hour or two snacking on fruit and nuts along the way, and still be home in time for a late breakfast. As we went out weekend after weekend, we noticed that the horizons in our minds expanded. We felt the sense of wide nature around us that we had longed for, and became aware of things we seemed to have missed. We would spot beautiful birds in the parks and then again right outside our kitchen window, much to our excitement. We marveled at the abundance of wild old trees and then started noticing the same ones nestled in more urban settings near shops and buildings. We felt saturated with nature, without even leaving the city.
Starting the day surrounded by plant life kept it fresh in our minds for the weekend. We felt large in our hearts in our little flat, and in awe of the smaller signs of life that grew around us. We found that walking and being out led to richer conversation and a slower pace of life. It woke up our bodies (in contrast to the half sleep-ins we attempted as we took turns to play with our early-riser of a boy). Instead of relishing an extra hour’s sleep in the morning, we rose early, energized ourselves, tired ourselves, and then took long family naps together. We found unknown park runs, got lost and found our way, caught glimpses of shy animals, stumbled across exciting playgrounds, and rejoiced as our boy took his first few steps in a wide open field.
This small discovery has changed our lives. We live slower, we eat better, and we connect more. We long for nature and the pleasure it brings, and we see the things we previously chased as things that can wait. We brought a lot more plants into our flat.
Over long holidays we have the fortunate opportunity to return to the Cape and rest and celebrate with our family and friends. It is beautiful, it is energising, and it is rich. Only now when we return north and fly in over the Highveld, we look down on the world biggest man-made urban forest, we marvel at this incredible city, and call it our home.