It was a tree that saved my life a few years ago when I fled the charge of eight enraged elephants and came face-to-face with the terrifying reality that if I continued to run I'd be trampled and tusked to death, my blood seeping into the Earth I love so much.
Intuitively I knew that to move and expose myself was suicide, instead sheltering behind the tree while trying frantically to quiet my ragged breathing and hammering heart. Elephants have notoriously poor eyesight, although perhaps it was my solemn telepathic vow that saved me.
"If I survive,' I silently promised, "I'll devote the rest of my life to serving Gaia Earth and all the amazing diversity of life she sustains." And that includes us often-reckless and selfish humans, who are an integral part of the natural world, rather than imagining we have dominion over it.
Well it's payback time, and what a gift I've been given.
Thanks to a series of Findhorn connections, I've been invited to join an unprecedented global collaboration to 'Make the World a Wilder Place' and walk as an ambassador for WILD10, the World Wilderness Congress that is being held in Spain between October 4 to 10. I'll help pioneer the Trail to Salamanca and begin an epic 1,500-mile walk through six European countries and four major mountain ranges in Geneva on June 2. The walk is a celebration of a wildness that can still be found – if only we look – even in a densely populated continent like Europe.
In fact, an amazing good news story has been playing out largely unnoticed in many European countries during the past two or three decades – with the wide-scale abandonment of rural land as farmers and villagers move to the cities, wildlife has begun to re-colonise areas where they have not been seen for decades and even centuries. Now wolves, bears, wild boars, deer and lynx are among the iconic species staging a remarkable comeback. The Trail to Salamanca celebrates this return of wildness to some areas, and my plan is to hike for 125 days following a wolf migration route wherever possible.
And I'll walk with the inspiration of Findhorn in my heart.
Thirty years earlier American Vance Martin, who'd lived in the Findhorn community for a decade, including two years in the now famous Original Caravan, had felt inspired to take over and expand the US-based WILD Foundation, which funds and organises the Congress with the support of scores of global collaborators.
A logical step was to ensure that the 1983 World Wilderness Congress was held at Findhorn and Inverness, sparking far-reaching conservation actions in the UK that included the launch of the award-winning Trees for Life charity that is restoring the Caledonian Forest.
Three decades later it was Vance who suggested that I get involved in WILD10 in another synchronous Findhorn connection.
And the timing is perfect: never before has the need to honour and respect the Earth been more urgent. Wild nature is under attack almost everywhere and much of humanity suffering a disconnection from the natural world. The result of this disconnection can be a nature-deficit disorder that leads to depression, anxiety, apathy, confusion and a lack of empathy for other lifeforms that are our kith and kin.
I believe we all need a little wildness nuzzling at our front door, and WILD10 seeks to maximise possibilities, while partnering with nature, instead of trying to manage it – or to put it in Findhorn-speak, to co-create with nature as co-founder Dorothy Maclean famously did when communicating with the overlighting intelligence of the plant kingdoms.
This year's congress will attract up to 1,200 conservationists, scientists, politicians and business and cultural leaders, who join forces with indigenous elders from Africa, the Amazon, Australia, Mongolia, the Arctic and elsewhere to brainstorm, share wisdoms, strategise and create solutions for what is seen as a massive and much-needed partnership with the Earth and all its lifeforms.
"As well as a chance to share the land more equitably with other species, this is creating a new, economic opportunity for land owners and local communities that has hardly been explored in many European countries." He adds that in the US today, wildlife-related recreation generates an annual turnover of more than $145 billion, or almost 1% of the GDP. "The Trail to Salamanca will help people across Europe to discover this opportunity – for the planet, people and prosperity!"
Visit Wild10 and see trail updates on GeoStories – an online tool developed together with National Geographic that will include pictures, audio messages, videos, stories and a web blog.