A new colleague recommended Boyd Varty’s Cathedral of the Wild after finding out that I read extensively and particularly enjoy books with a “journey to leadership” perspective. Varty’s book was so aligned with Deeper Learning in Leadership (Roberts, 2007) that it felt like an autobiography deliberately written to complement it. The essence of Deeper Learning in Leadership is all there – the struggle to find purpose in life, leadership as "conviction in action,” and sustaining oneself through presence, flow, and oscillation.
The story of the Varty family is fascinating. With two sons inheriting a large tract of land in the northeast planes of South Africa, the resolve of the family is tested as they try to make ends meet. Ultimately, they survived through many personal and business trials to raise resilient children as well as start a nature reserve movement that has now been adopted in many other areas of Africa. Of his parents as he was growing up, Boyd reflects, “To shelter us where we grew up would have been to fail to prepare us. They walked that line as best they could, and all too often they got it wrong. But in the end we survived all we ever faced, and we came out strong and largely unafraid of life, with the full knowledge of its dangers.” (pp. xiv-xv)
Most of the book is set at Londolozi (Zulu for “protector of all things”), a physical place that required restoration in the beginning and later became where Nelson Mandela would be renewed in spiritual retreat after his release from Robben Island. Of the staff that built and sustain Londolozi, Varty writes, “When men face danger together, they lose the frivolous definitions of the world and simply become people who must work in harmony in order to survive.” (p. 29) Mandela would write in the foreword for I Speak of Africa, “During my long walk to freedom, I had the rare privilege to visit Londolozi. There I saw people of all races living in harmony amidst the beauty that Mother Nature offers.” (p. 105)
Boyd Varty is still a young man who is discovering himself. It is uncanny how he reveals in the story of his family and Londolozi some of the deepest truths I know. The “cathedral” reflects a sacred place where physical and mental challenges are encountered and where unrecognized strengths emerge. At its core, a life worth living is one where “your destiny sings to you,” drawn from the Australian Aboriginal image of a place “where we can fetch the wisdom to guide our days and the medicine for healing.” (p. 167) Varty came to realize through his journey that “we heal stronger at the broken places, but… where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” (p. 270)
It is fortuitous that I will be traveling to South Africa in April 2016 and will have an opportunity to see some of what inspired Varty and his family as they sought to restore natural areas and bring the indigenous wildlife of Africa back into balance.