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audio Dr Ian McCallum: Living Dreams [audio]

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What is our relationship with wild animals and wild places?  Are we also wild, deep down?  Why are profound experiences associated with wilderness? Dr Ian McCallum has spent decades exploring the wildest parts of Africa and the psychology of Wilderness.

Ian McCallum - Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa [2012 © Ian McCallum]
Dr Ian Mcallum, speaking about wilderness and ecological intelligence


Dr Ian McCallum began a sabbatical in 1997 ‘and I am still on it!’ he says. Ian is a psychologist exploring new ideas, a poet and writer who delves deep into language, a former international sportsman who looks beyond physical boundaries and dangers.

Ian McCallum - Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa [2012 © Ian McCallum] - Why Wilderness Matters - Great Guides

At the time of writing he is embarking on an expedition across southern Africa (‘Tracks of Giants’), from the Skeleton Coast to KwaZulu on foot, bicycle and by canoe. For 6 months he will experience and reflect on wilderness, and promote safe migration corridors for wildlife, especially elephants. Such an ambitious project reveals much of his approach to life: to question, to go further, to engage wholeheartedly.

Ian suggests that the highest compliment is to be called an authentic person. He admires the authenticity of wild animals, they are ‘unutterably themselves –‘a lion does not want to be an eagle. It is what it is’. Wild creatures do not suffer the restlessness of humanity, that is both our genius and torment.
Authenticity is the highest compliment 

Understanding who we truly are requires an acknowledgment that, at our core, we are wild. Wild in the sense that we are connected to every living thing, as DNA studies have so clearly shown, and also wild in our deep seated emotions and desires. As unfamiliar as wild places are for many people today, they are our ‘home’. The human animal, he says, needs to ‘re-member’: Because we are an expression of nature, we cannot disconnect ourselves from the natural world, not only for our planet’s sake, but for the health of our own psyche. 

Ian was ‘the golden boot’ of South African rugby in the early 1970s (he helped secure victory against the All Blacks in 1970 and scored 84 points in the Springbok tour of Australia in 1971). He remains passionate about sport, and could have rested on his laurels as a successful international rugby player. But he trained as a doctor, and then a psychiatrist, and rose to be the head of department in a major hospital. He also trained as an analytical psychologist.

Experiences on walking trails in wild areas, including ones led by the famous conservationist Ian Player, prompted him to reflect on the sense of authenticity one has in the wild, and the way that being in nature so often ‘speaks’ to us about our lives. It is like dreaming, but we are not asleep. The metaphors that strike us come in a sunset, a fire, the movement of animals, the patterns in the stars. Being in wilderness is ‘a living dream’. The smells, the sights, the silence, somehow give us insight into ourselves.
Ian McCallum - Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa [2012 © Ian McCallum] - Why Wilderness Matters - Great Guides
Kicker and full back for the Springboks

Ian McCallum - Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa [2012 © Ian McCallum] - Why Wilderness Matters - Great Guides

Ian emphasises that being in wilderness is ‘utterly different’ to watching it on TV. Television can inform and impress, but it is sitting alone on an island in the Okavango, or watching the approach of an elephant that changes one’s perception of the world and of oneself.

It became clear to Ian early on, that trying to express this sense of wilderness could only be done through poetry. Science gives us a wonderful appreciation of the complex relationships in nature; but to go further, to describe how nature ‘speaks’ to us in metaphor leads us into the realm of poetry. Ian explores his reflective experience of nature in his highly successful book ‘Ecological Intelligence’, he has also published a book of poetry, Wild Gifts, and a novel Thorns to Kilimanjaro
Ecological intelligence, discovering a language of wilderness  

Ian works with the Wilderness Leadership School in South Africa, training guides and promoting trails in wild places. For many, his profound appreciation of the vital importance and value of wild places is a timely message to engage, appreciate and protect wild places and wild animals.

Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 26 Apr 2012
Location: Southern Africa | South Africa
Themes: travel, natural world | safari guide, evolution, conservation, parks and trails, fauna

Lewis Mangaba on 04 Jun 2012

This is great writing.Unfortunately i have lost the opportunity to meet Ian McCallum my Mentor in Livingstone due to the tight schedule of the Expendition.Great work.