REMEMBER THIS. Those are the only two words left in my journal after a page of scratched-out attempts to do justice to Victoria Falls within the limits of the English language. How do you explain the roar of a million stampeding horses coursing through your ears, your chest, and even in the rhythm of your pulse? My camera didn’t do a better job, and it too lay abandoned on the ground.
I had hoped to commit the scene to memory, but it settled in deeper. On the wind a fine spray from the falls cascaded across the gorge, refracting rainbows and peppering my skin with droplets that seeped into my being. Vervet monkeys chattered in the canopy, their fur also glistening with water from the source of their subsistence.
Remember this. Billows of twilight fog rolling off a lake in northern Zambia, a tiny pocket of protected land forgotten by almost everyone except for a band of poachers relentlessly staking their turf. At night my breath would match the call of the resident hippos, who in inky blackness reminded us it was actually their turf, god help the man who thinks otherwise. For two weeks I joined the rangers to set fire to the bush, a yearly effort to protect the national park from out-of-control wildfires. Acrid smoke from burning miombo seared my nostrils, filled my lungs, and joined the chemistry of my cells.
Campfires on Chizumulu Island, five hours into the seemingly endless expanse of Lake Malawi, roasted meals of tiny Usipa, brought in by boatloads each night from the body of water that feeds, cleanses and supports an entire country. They too became a part of me, along with the bitter fruit of baobab trees and tales of villagers who remember when rhinos once roamed.
There is no separation between us and nature. We don’t need to stand in a field of wildflowers to appreciate its beauty, or in the midst of a hurricane to understand its power. Even on the 6 train this morning, beneath the steel tracks and investment bankers playing Candy Crush, there is the earth, supporting and cradling us. In the snowflakes of yet another storm threatening to turn Broadway into a cauldron of slush and grime there is the moisture that originated from the rainforests of the Congo. Our bodies are the sum of its parts: In my blood there are molecules from the Zambezi, the miombo of northern Zambia and the depths of Lake Malawi, present at all times.
Each breath corresponds to another. Breathe in love from the earth, breathe out a promise to love it more.
We protect nature because there is no other choice. Without nature—without our breath—we cease to be.
(Winning submission of the Contiki Storytellers Costa Rica competition)