What better place to celebrate Earth Day than to spend time away from a built-up environment: we chose to visit the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. Some visitors had close-up views of lions, spotted hyenas and even a black rhino. We didn’t draw that card, but observed a number of interesting things nonetheless.

It is the rutting season for kudu. Large herds of kudu does accompanied by one or two males appeared in several sections of the park we drove through, especially around Rooidam. Our attention was drawn to a loud hollow-sounding ‘thunking’ noise close to the road: two kudu bulls were sparring; kicking up dust as they locked horns and pushed each other this way and that.

What magnificent horns they sported. This is the victor of that encounter.

The heat drew herds of elephant to the bigger waterholes. We watched a group of four adults and two youngsters approach the small Marion Baree waterhole. They sprayed themselves with water on arrival.

They then moved to the mud hole next door, where the elephants scooped up balls of thick mud to throw over their backs.

By then the water in the concrete-lined dam had settled so a few drank before watching patiently as a youngster claimed the shallow dam for its own fun.

One has to watch out for dung beetles crossing the road at this time of the year.

Zebras with their painted faces did not disappoint.

Several came to quench their thirst at Domkrag.

A large flock of Pied Starlings came to join them.

A Karoo Scrub Robin came to investigate.

An inquisitive Egyptian Goose approached our vehicle at Hapoor.

Several Fork-tailed Drongos kept an eye on us at the Rest Camp water hole.

As did some Cape Glossy Starlings, looking magnificent in the late afternoon sunlight.

My bird list for the day:

Redwinged Starling
Barthroated Apalis
Fiscal Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Southern Boubou
Common Moorhen
Redbilled Teal
Backsmith Plover
Redknobbed Coot
Spurwing Goose
Karoo Scrub Robin
Pied Crow
Common Ringed Plover
Egyptian Goose
South African Shelduck
Black Crow
Cape Sparrow
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Robin
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Korhaan
Helmeted Guineafowl
Crowned Plover
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Cape Wagtail
Grey heron
Forktailed Drongo
Cape Glossy Starling
Laughing Dove


Saturday is Earth Day. Every day should be Earth Day. We should think about what the Earth gives us and how we can give back to the Earth every day.

William Wordsworth warned us that:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Sunflower backlit by the autumn sun

He marvelled at the sheer beauty of nature:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:

Carpenter bee on lavender

Wordsworth also tells us that:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Aloes coming into bloom

Robert Frost describes the beauty of the changing seasons so well:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Virginia creeper changing colour

Lastly, this grasshopper in my garden has never heard of John Keats, who wrote:

That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.

For this one is perched on a telephone cable high above the pumpkin patch!

Grasshopper keeping watch


Thomas wiped the sweat off his forehead with an already damp handkerchief and stuffed it into the pocket of his frayed shorts. “Is Friday the best you can do?” The despair was evident in his voice.

“’Fraid so. Thursday’s a public holiday, you see. No-one delivers on public holidays.” The owner of the panel beaters kicked the tyre of the trailer the two men were looking at.

“Pity I can’t tell the cows not to provide milk on a public holiday,” Thomas muttered. “Look, is there not a temporary fix you can make? I’ve still got a load of cabbages to deliver this afternoon and the milk cans must go to the dairy tomorrow morning.”

The panel beater took in the suntanned face of the young farm manager, his work-stained clothes, the stockings rumpling around his ankles and the sturdy boots stained with mud and oil. He smiled kindly.

“We can remove the tailgate – we need to match it anyway – and I’ll see if we’ve got some piping we can do a hatchet job with. It’ll be nothing fancy mind.”

Thomas tried to cover the growling of his stomach with a cough. “I just need something to keep the cabbages in. How long might it take?”

“About two hours I reckon,” the man replied. “Leave the trailer here until three. We should have rigged up something by then.”

Three! Thomas had been up before dawn to supervise the cutting and bagging of the cabbages for market. There had been no time for breakfast as he had needed to get to the next town before the market opened at half past seven. The coffee he had downed there had long since evaporated in the heat. His stomach growled again. Man, he was hungry! If only he hadn’t stopped at the road stall in the hope of a bite to eat, then that stupid driver wouldn’t have reversed his truck into the back of the trailer! He’d missed out on the food anyway – fortunately the quad bike he’d brought back for Mr. Keneally had been unscathed.

“Sure,” he said gratefully. “I’m going to grab a bite to eat and deliver the cabbages in the bakkie to the supermarkets. Would you give me a call if it’s ready any earlier?”

“Will do.”

The two men unhitched the large heavy-duty trailer and parked it next to the workshop. Thomas slid into his seat and started the engine of his 4×4 truck then set off for town with a wave. He was really hungry now.

A fast-food place would be the quickest. Thomas settled into a seat at a table next to the window, from where he could keep an eye on his truck filled with cabbages while he ate. The glass of water the waitress had brought barely touched sides as it went down. Thomas leaned back, savouring the smell of cooking, almost salivating in anticipation of the plate of chicken fillets and chips he’d ordered. He inhaled deeply. There would be time to savour a cup of coffee afterwards, then he would deliver the cabbages to the three supermarkets in town. His cell phone rang.

“Theresa.” He couldn’t help sounding disappointed. His neighbour wanted him to pick up a load of fencing materials from the farmers’ co-op on his way back from town as her husband’s truck was still being serviced. “Sure thing. I might be later than planned though. Something’s cropped up.”

“Your chicken, sir.” The waitress placed his plate of steaming food in front of him and moved the circular tray of condiments towards him with practised ease.

Thomas checked that no-one was interfering with his truck while he extracted the knife and fork from the tightly wrapped paper serviette. He popped a hot chip into his mouth with his fingers and bent over his food. Man oh man, he was hungry!

The first forkful of chicken almost melted in his mouth. Thomas resisted the impulse to wolf the meal down. After all, there was plenty of time. The cabbages could wait. Theresa and her husband Harold could wait. He chewed slowly, keeping an eye on his truck parked on the other side of the street. There were so many beggars in town these days, one couldn’t be too careful. Ernest du Toit’s truck had been broken into only last week, a side window smashed … Thomas leaned forward to take his next bite.

“What the blazes? Hey! What are you doing?” he shouted as a hand plucked the two chicken fillets from his plate. A figure disappeared through the open glass door. “Someone has stolen my chicken,” he bellowed, almost upsetting the flimsy table in his haste to rise.

“We’re onto him sir.” The young manager and someone from the kitchen raced out of the door and sprinted down the pavement already crowded with afternoon shoppers. Thomas followed in hot pursuit and then lost them as they dodged between pedestrians and vehicles, crossing the road to the next block. Damn! He’d left his cell phone on the table! He hastened back and arrived out of breath, relieved to find the waitress had it in her apron pocket.

She brought him a glass of water and smiled sympathetically. “I’m sure they’ll catch him this time, sir. Alan nearly caught him last week but tripped over a root that lifted the pavement outside the undertakers.”

Thomas stared at the now cold chips on his plate while he tried to control both his breathing and his rage. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the two men frogmarching the thief back to the eatery.

“We got him, sir.” The kitchen assistant – he must be Alan – smiled broadly. “I tell you, last week I nearly caught him only I _”

“Tripped over a root on the pavement outside the undertakers,” Thomas finished for him.

Alan’s eyes widened and his face took on an excited glow. “Jissie, you heard about that already? I tell you, this time I said to Mr. Gough, I’m gonna catch this thief. And I did!”

Thomas looked at the man dressed in filthy rags, his hair matted with dirt, his bony knees shaking through the holes in his flimsy trousers held up with a length of plastic rope. “This is him?” He felt the need to fill the awkward silence as his stomach growled an angry response.

“We are pretty sure he is the right man.” The manager turned to the thief. “Where is the chicken?”

The thief gingerly reached into a filthy plastic shopping bag still clutched in his grimy hand and pulled out the chicken fillets. Slowly, one by one, he returned them to the plate in front of Thomas. Silence reigned. The three men and the waitress looked at each other. No-one moved. Even the other diners had fallen silent. Thomas felt snagged in time. His stomach growled again.

“What now?” the manager asked. “Do you want to press charges? It is your chicken after all.”

My chicken?”

“Well, you’ve already paid for it, so it is technically your chicken.”

“Perhaps we should just give it to him.” The waitress nodded towards the thief.

“Never!” Alan tightened his grip on the hapless man. “You know how fast I had to run to catch him, hey. I tell you, this time I just flew through the crowds. No thief is going to get away from Alan Harmse if I can help it!”

“What do you want us to do?” The manager asked quietly.

Thomas looked at his watch. His stomach growled just as his cell phone began vibrating in his pocket. He picked up his sweat-stained cap and stood up. “I just want to go home.”


Two years ago I posted an entry about the arrival of alien invasive plants in this country as a result of the seeds being brought in with the fodder required for the horses used by the British troops during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). To my surprise, there have been a number of regular views since then from people wanting to know more about Khakibos, known elsewhere as Mexican Marigolds.

While my interest stems from their link to a conflict from the past that has had long-term consequences in this country, I have been intrigued by the interest shown in it as a plant in its own right. As I have mentioned before, Tagetes minuta was dubbed Khakibos (khaki bush) by the Boers in South Africa because of the khaki uniforms the British troops wore during the Anglo-Boer War – in sharp contrast to the traditional red and white uniforms worn during the earlier Anglo-Transvaal War (1880-1881). The British Army probably realised that wearing drab coloured uniforms would be a better camouflage.

Despite being regarded as invasive alien plants, these hardy weeds have been put to good use over time. Khakibos has long been used as a tick and flea repellent – I can remember besoms being made of Khakibos to sweep around the farm yard and laying Khakibos in the farmhouse before it was closed for long periods of time in order to limit the presence of fleas. It has a pleasant aroma when dried and a distinctive smell when fresh – one that takes me right back to my childhood forays into the veld.

With the development of technology and a broader understanding of the advantages of this plant, it now forms an important ingredient in many pet shampoos and other products. Having grown up in an environment where the Khakibos was simply regarded as a weed, I still find it astounding that it is actually cultivated in order to extract essential oils by means of steam distillation. According to the late Margaret Roberts, it is also useful to include Khakibos in one’s compost heap as it discourages the presence of egg-laying insects. It has also been recommended as a natural insect repellent for the vegetable garden: either growing it alongside one’s tomatoes or pumpkins, for example, or cutting it and placing it between such plants.

So, far from being an invasive alien – still detested by some – the Khakibos has turned out to be a useful plant after all!

ALIEN AUDIT (3) Cotoneaster

A number of different species of Cotoneaster are grown in South African gardens, five of which have been declared as invasive aliens. Existing plants may be retained in one’s garden providing they do not grow within 30 m from the 1:50 year flood line of watercourses or wetlands, and that all reasonable steps are taken to keep the plant from spreading. They used to be popular hedging plants and we were advised to plant them as such in our Pietermaritzburg garden. They have been planted in some gardens specifically for their attractive clusters of red berries.

These trees originated from Asia and are spread by birds feeding on the berries – as we have discovered to our cost in our present garden. While this plant is a particular problem in the Western Cape, our experience is that we ignore a seedling at our peril because before long there will be a forest of fully-fledged trees. Unless removed, they can form dense stands which shade out indigenous plants. They can reduce available grazing land and, when eaten in quantity, the berries are toxic to animals.

Cape White-eyes have a predilection for the berries. Black-eyed Bulbuls, Black-headed orioles, Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds and Olive Thrushes feast on them too.

We have severely pruned some impossibly large Cotoneaster trees and actually removed others to little avail: seedlings continue to pop up all over the garden.


Waking up early to a sun that cannot yet break through the bank of weeping clouds; listening to the Knysna Louries chasing each other through the dripping trees against the swish-swish background sound of vehicles driving past on the wet road below our house; and welcoming the damp, while wishing for ‘real’ rain, I began to sift through an accumulation of papers that blink for attention on a shelf to the left of my desk. It is a good morning to sort through examination papers I no longer need, snippets of story ideas, the draft of a talk I plan to give – sometime – and to file others where they belong. It is a contemplative morning: quiet, dark, grey and damp. Solitude lends itself to thinking and so it was interesting to find an old photocopy of The Invitation amongst the pile of papers – no longer demanding my attention, for this gave me a solid reason to think about the joy my family brings, how fortunate I am, and what a wonderful world we live in when we really focus on what is positive. I share it with you in the hope that it will bring you a sense of peace and happy contemplation,

The Invitation by Oriah

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation



Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
– John Keats

Seeds of the Erythrina caffra

These are not the kind of fruits Keats would have had in mind when he penned his ode To Autumn, but as we do not have well-defined seasons in the Eastern Cape, a definite sign of autumn comes in the form of the dry, rustling leaves of the Erythrina caffra settling on the ground, followed by the black seed pods that burst open to reveal the scarlet seeds – often called lucky beans – within.