The first mouthful of cool water brought instant relief to my parched body. We had to dig deep into the coarse white sand of a non-perennial stream to access the steadily sinking water table. Thus far, we had only encountered stagnant pools on clay-rich substrate, which did not allow water to filter through. “Now there’s a story” exclaimed Lenore Zietsman, the Trail facilitator, as she watched the perspiring participants reinforcing their well with stones.

It was the second day of our ‘Primitive Storytelling Trail’, a ground-breaking four-day concept Trail designed to help Trails Guides use storytelling and storytelling techniques to convey information.

Storytelling is an ancient art that has experienced an energetic revival of late, and for valid reason. Although story writers have the ability to reach a much greater audience, their medium is static. However beautiful their words may be, they have been cast in stone. In contrast, storytellers reach a much smaller audience, but their craft is dynamic and takes place on a more personal platform as an interactive face-to-face experience. As a result, the opportunity to connect and have an impact on the audience is far greater. Neuroscience confirms the positive effect storytelling has on the human psyche with regards to thought processes and responses.

A good story, for both teller and listener, releases oxytocin – a feel good, stress busting neurochemical that boosts empathy and compassion. For many modern beings the ancient craft of storytelling now acts as a narrative therapy enabling tellers and listeners to process events in their lives. Such is the power of storytelling that it not only stimulates emotion and transformation, but the capacity to imagine, understand and connect.

The natural environment, especially as experienced on Primitive Trail, is the perfect environment for storytelling. Everything observed and experienced in this raw format has a story, including the place itself.

Trails Guides have the skills and experience to understand the landscape, the natural processes that weave through it to create an exclusive ecosystem, the interdependence of all the components within that ecosystem (the endless diversity of abiotic components, flora and fauna) and ultimately the feeling of purposeful wildness that results from being immersed in it.

But of what use is accumulated knowledge and experience if the Trails Guide doesn’t develop the ability to convey this information in a way that engages participants emotionally, creating a deep and meaningful reconnection with nature?

The good news is that anyone can learn how to craft and share stories of place; whether you are a beginner guide or a guide looking to expand and enhance the skills you already have.

On a storytelling trail with Lowveld Trails Co., you will explore the techniques and basic skills that are required to craft and hone your own stories over multiple sessions. Under the expert guidance of Lenore, you will start with the basic structure of a story (the bones) and add flesh – images, emotive descriptions and ultimately implement the techniques of telling the story itself in a stimulating, imaginative and memorable way.

Lenore, a former teacher, has been training people and brands in the art of story crafting and telling for decades. Her journey with storytelling started when she was a Postgraduate Student at the University of Stellenbosch studying Accelerated Learning. The technique uses story or metaphor to make learning more effective and lasting. It is considered to be one of the most advanced teaching and learning methods in use today.

Over the years, she’s perfected the ancient art of storytelling as a tool for modern brands and corporates. In 2017, she started working with Lowveld Trails Co. to take storytelling back to where it all began; around a small fire in the wilderness.

Back at our waterhole, we all had our fill of crystal clear water from the recently constructed well. “You see”, Lenore explained, “stories are like this water; dynamic and fluid, connecting us, healing us, nourishing us. However, while excavation you may revisit unpleasant and negative memories, but if you don’t keep digging you will be left with stagnant pools that will make you very sick. We are the stories that we tell.”