There are self catering cottages and a camping area at a place named Seldom Seen in the Bvumba conservatory, just south of Mutare in a part of the Zimbabwean highlands. It is a magical place. Like the kinda place that’s made to inspire fantasies of forest fairies, hobbits and gnomes.
We arrived at dusk following some advice and our gps and instinct. The driveway into Seldom Seen is a steep descent requiring engagement in low gear ratio to navigate. At the end on the drive way stands a small cottage in a beautiful garden surrounded by forest and the sounds of countless birds. From the front lawn one can see down the valley and into the distance beyond till your eyes settle on the blue mountains.
There is a silence beyond the songs of the birds. There is a warm energy here. We feel it instantly. Like someone or something was welcoming us. Beckoning us to just be present in this space. Even though the place feels unused still the energy is there. It’s supremely and captivatingly peaceful. We know we are in a special place.
We park the car on the lawn and pop our tent up in a heartbeat. Then we just wonder round the little house and it’s garden. We are heaving praise and thanks. Literally aghast with the warmth and beauty of the place. It feels like it’s holding us even though we know nothing of the secrets of the ancient place and the forest that encircles it.
We do a candlelit dinner on the veranda over looking the lawn and the valley below. We eat and drink in silence. We know we are doing this just so that we can shower and sleep and start the day again with the freshness of dawn. So that’s exactly what we end up doing. Eating, showering and sleeping.
Bvumba is the Shona name for a place of mists. The morning doesn’t disappoint. We are surrounded in a mist and the songs of birds. But it starts to lift by the time out bird guide arrives. And we head into the forest to see what he sees and hear what he hears.
The forest is ancient. And spectacular. Huge and ancient crotons, albizia, strangling fig and water-berries dominate the canopy. And beneath the canopy we walk on a carpet of leaves and firns and moss. Our bird guide leads us. He sees and hears and feels everything in the forest. We are crouching behind his small frame trying to get glimpses of the endemic specials of the area. In a few hours we have seen countless new birds and are starting to hear their calls too.
But it’s our bird guide that makes the magic. He stands about 5ft tall, thick set with short legs carrying swollen calves that tell a story of the mountainous terrain. He has two and a half decades in this place, in this forest. In his professional role as a bird guide he is well known as a top Zimbabwean birder attracting birders from around the globe. But he is more than that. He is part of this forest. Not as a visitor, but as a participant in its evolution. He knows every bird call and movement. And he knows the trees and plants and foods of their habitat. And the relations between the seasons, the plants and trees, the beetles and insects and the birds that habitat and feed off them. He is not just a birder. He is an organic walking, talking botanist and ecologist. A home grown forest man of small frame, big heart and humble demeanor. Someone who personifies the deep dignity of being aligned and at peace with the natural world. In that sense he appears to me to be a model global citizen. If only ..
Through the morning we saw and learnt about the habits of countless bird species, plants and trees. But we got to see and feel and learn way more than that. Through the songs and calls of our birder we got a glimpse, a tiny window, into the world of what it means to be a truly evolved human being. A human being who takes no more than what the forest offers and gives back way more than the what the forest demands. A content and caring human with a zero carbon footprint.
Seldom Seen is a beautifully soft and gentle place. It’s at gardens and forest are old and wise. And amongst this beauty stands an example of a finished and true citizen of the world. Seldom Seen is what our birder became too. Grateful to have met him.