In early 2010, I assisted an environmental education weekend in the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve for underprivileged shelter children from Port Elizabeth. Late on the first day, we guided them on a nature walk while allowing them opportunities to explore on their own. Whilst the kids were enthusiastically chatting and looking around at new surrounds, I loped at the back of the group lost deep in thought and feeling a little lost about the direction I needed to take for my nascent PhD research. I was at an impasse. I was jolted from this troubled brooding by the sight of a praying mantis scrambling across the path in front of me – somehow avoiding the many pairs of trampling feet that had already passed ahead. This instantly catapulted me into a more inspired state of mind.
I had never seen such a striking mantis since living in South Africa for over two years. I gently picked it up and showed the kids who were equally enthused and fascinated, with some eager to have the mantis sit on their hands. One child (pictured) was particularly compelled. I quickly and haphazardly snapped this photo but it was not until afterwards that I found with great surprise that I had unintentionally captured the rich expression of the moment along with some unexpected symmetry (e.g. mantis antennae). It became a pivotal meaningful nature experience.
We had a little portable printer and printed out this and other photos of the weekend so the children and guardians could take them back home as memories of the beauty in nature which can appear unexpectedly – and maybe even bring a sense of hope and inspired purpose.
Update: This photo was selected as a finalist for Stellenbosch University’s New Voices in Science 2014 competition.