AFRICAN BUFFALO

The very name Addo Elephant National Park conjures up images of elephants and that is what most visitors expect to see when they arrive. While it is true that on some visits we have literally seen over a hundred elephants, there have been times when we have been fortunate to see the odd one here and there – and even times when not a single elephant has made an appearance!

One has to be patient though and simply driving around the park from one water hole to another is not likely to yield the best results. Be prepared to wait and keep your mind open for other possibilities. I find that African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) – also known as Cape Buffalo – are worth watching, whether you come across a single one or a herd.

Occasionally we have been fortunate enough to observe a buffalo encountering an elephant at a waterhole.

Or cooling off in one on its own.

These bulk grazers bear interestingly shaped horns with those of the males being characterised by a heavy boss.

Their heavy-set bodies and thick legs carry no particular markings, yet I find their faces are fascinating to observe.

T IS FOR TECOMA CAPENSIS

Commonly known as Cape Honeysuckle and formerly named Tecomaria capensis, this plant was recommended to us by a nursery as an ornamental screen for our garden in a newly established suburb in Pietermaritzburg. Years later, we purchased some plants at considerable expense at a nursery in Lichtenburg for our fledging garden in Mafikeng – and nurtured it. Imagine our surprise to find it indigenous to this part of the Eastern Cape, where we now live.

It grows rampantly in our garden: wherever a bit of its stem touches the ground it forms new roots and another shoot of vigorous growth clambers through the trees or weaves it way through the undergrowth. Over years it forms a hard woody stem that is difficult to cut. I prune it abundantly, yet never stem the tide. This makes it sound like a monster. It is far from that.

The flowers of the Tecoma capensis provide bright colouring during the change of season from warm to cold (we do not have clearly defined seasons here) and attract a variety of birds such as the Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Cape white-eyes, Black-eyed Bulbuls, and Bar-throated Apalis. The tubular flowers also attract bees and butterflies.

S IS FOR STRELITZIA REGINAE

The Strelitzia reginae is commonly known as the Crane Flower and I have heard it called the Bird of Paradise Flower (what a cumbersome name that is!). I prefer Crane Flower as, from a distance in the veld, they bear a strong resemblance to the Crowned Cranes – which we do not see often enough in the wild.

These flowers occur naturally in our part of the Eastern Cape. The picture above was taken in the Ecca Pass Nature Reserve near Grahamstown. A lovely clump of them grow on a bank opposite our driveway and I derive a lot of pleasure from seeing them in bloom.

How interesting it must have been to name plants as they were found, examined and identified. The Strelitzia part of the name of this plant honours Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of George III, from the house of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She was apparently a keen amateur botanist who became involved with the development of the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens.

THE RENT-A-CROWD TWENTY-FIRST BIRTHDAY

“It’s purely a rent-a-crowd situation, but we feel obliged to go,” Mary explained softly, her face revealing more clearly than her voice the dilemma she was in. She turned in her chair to face the rest of us having tea in the teacher’s lounge. “Theresa’s aunt ‘phoned during the holidays to invite me to her twenty-first birthday on the farm. I was taken aback, but I had been her tutor so how could I refuse?” For a moment her eyes clouded, then she shrugged her shoulders and looked up. “You know how some people like to invite those who were significant in one way or another – not that I think I was ever that important in Theresa’s life. It was such a relief to discover they had also invited Helena and Erin, and so we decided to go together –“

“Except,” Erin broke in, “she then wanted us to bring our families: husbands, children – even their children if they had any!”

“At that point I lied and said Stefan would be away and none of my children live at home anymore.” The defiance in Helena’s whole stance, even though she was enveloped in an easy chair, was evident. We could tell from her body language that she was steaming. “That horrible spider of a mother keeps her poisonous tabs on everything – her web must reach from the farm to every corner of the district and this town. She almost hissed her knowledge that Theuns has been around for a few weeks. ‘Bring Theunsie’ she said. ‘Theunsie!’” Helena’s face was puffed and blotchy with indignation. “She’s never known him well enough to call him anything, never mind ‘Theunsie’! Even I have never called him that!” She settled back into the chair as if it was the source of comfort and power. I imagined her battery charging.

“They kept on ‘phoning with extra information, changing our plans completely.” Erin fingered the card she had been writing in. “We planned to drive out there at six and be ready to leave by eight.”

Then,” thundered Helena, her energy restored to a higher level. “Then the old spider tells me sweetly to come at four. Lekker, I thought. It will be a deftige tea party. ‘Sure’, I told her and warned that I would have to leave by six to get home before dark.”

“That’s when she offered us beds, said to bring a suitcase because there’s to be a spitbraai and they’ve even arranged a DJ to provide music.” Mary shook her head sadly while the rest of us guffawed.

“A DJ?” Delia asked loudly. “Are they going to be playing tunes from 1910 or something? I would never have guessed that Theresa’s mother – or aunt – even knew what a DJ is. I mean, the way they live their lives it is surprising they don’t still travel around by ox wagon!”

“That’s mean, Delia.” Mary still looked worried. “Surely a DJ means there will be a lot of young people there. What difference would it make if three teachers weren’t there?”

“It’s not three teachers they want, Mary, it’s another three families with all their hangers-on.” Helena was in good form.

The nature of the rising argument had become clear. Theresa van der Walt had always been an oddly placed child while at school, who was seldom allowed to participate in extra-mural activities for her mother would wait at the school gates after lessons and whisk her back to the farm in her large grey car.

“She has no friends,” Helena was insisting. “Now her mother wants to make a show for the farming community – the more food, the more people, the more successful the party will appear to be in her eyes. It is numbers she wants. I hear she has even invited Professor Emslie. He’s the one who helped Theresa get through her final year Geography and Afrikaans-Nederlands examinations by letting her board with his family for two weeks at the end of her final year.”

“She is making the effort a bit late in the day,” Mary ventured. “We’ll have to go – and we cannot really leave just as they are about to serve the food.”

Helena almost leapt out of the chair. “But to be there at four o’clock! Are we supposed to watch the spit go round?”

“A spitbraai can take four or five hours.” Erin signed the card and slid it along the table towards Mary. “No ladies, we must stick to our plan. Mary has a point. It would be rude to leave – “

“I am not spending my entire Saturday out on a farm in the middle of nowhere with people I don’t know from Adam watching a beast being braaied on a spit and listening to people wondering what to say until they have had enough to drink not to say anything anyway!” The air seemed to leave her for Helena sank back into the chair like a limp balloon. “I really want to spend the evening with Ollie and Retha,” she whispered, no longer her usual formidable self. “They’re driving down from Johannesburg and I haven’t seen them for months.”

“Then we’ll stick to the four o’clock idea.” Erin and Mary spoke in unison.

“Mary, are we not down to be on chaperone duty at the school dance on Saturday evening?” Erin cast her eyes towards the duty list on a board too far away to read from where she was sitting.

“There’s no school dance,” Mary looked puzzled.

“Yes, there is,” the rest of us chorused.

“As of now there is,” I said. “Helena’s spider won’t know about what goes on at school anymore.”

“In fact,” Harriet chimed in, “I see Helena is meant to be chaperoning a group of girls to a debate at the university on Saturday night!”

“Tea it will be then,” Helena smiled broadly.

“Tea it is,” Mary and Erin echoed.

A rent-a-crowd twenty-first birthday celebration for a mild-mannered, isolated child who had been denied the opportunity to be young. She had been old-fashioned from the beginning, so much so that it seemed to someone who had seen her recently that she would never change: her short curly blond hair wisped about her pale face, her blue eyes slightly bulging and her pretty pouting lips still suggesting a softness and tenderness to be unlocked. We were all silent for a moment, caught up in the same thought that Theresa would have a new world to discover once she gained the courage to move away from the farm. We all hoped her party might be the catalyst for just that.

STERNUTATION

You know what it is like: silence descends in a church or a hall, during a family gathering – any place where the proceedings have moved forward to pause for a solemn moment, be it to pay homage, show respect, await an announcement of some import … the hush is all encompassing – and you sneeze!

Sternutation seldom happens as a once-off interruption. It frequently causes faces to turn your way – some of those glaring looks sharply prick their way through the crowd and, in flinching from them, you sneeze again … and again!

Someone nearly always sneezes during a dramatic pause in a play, an opera, or a symphony concert. I have listened to a concert of sternutation at church services and public lectures. At some times of the year the situation is direr than at others – especially when there is a yellow haze of pollen about.

Crossword lovers would have come across this scientific term for ‘sneeze’ in cryptic clues.

I wonder what the term is for the inclination to want to giggle during solemn moments.