Think of the South African landscape in winter and the fiery colours of aloes are bound to spring to mind: they grow all over the country and appear in a variety of forms and shades of colour. So ubiquitous are they in the Lowveld region where I grew up that we tended to take their spiky appearance and winter beauty for granted – as we do now in the Eastern Cape.
Aloes have come to mean a lot more to me over the years: our garden at Sheba Gold Mine consisted of various rocky terraces. The one above the driveway had so little soil between the rocks that my mother created a beautiful display of aloes. Most she had collected during our various drives through the countryside, while others my father brought home from places he had visited on the mine. The majority of these were Aloe ferox, which provided a feast for birds and bees during winter.
Even as a little girl, I loved playing between these aloes which – at the time – towered above me, and observing the skinks and spiders that inhabited the stems covered with dried leaves.
Aloes are imprinted on me. Should I ever have to leave this country, I think aloes are high on the list of what I would miss. To me they symbolise hardiness, tenacity, patience, abundance, and resilience. They can survive on their own, and mostly do. In a way, aloes represent independence. While I would never be counted amongst the bravest of people, I have often astounded myself with what I have achieved over the years. Some of these achievements have helped to nurture the quality I value highly in myself: independence.
The seed of independence is as hardy as the aloe plant and has driven me to:
- Attend a university far from home where I knew not a soul. I left there after four years ready to begin my teaching career and having made a lifelong friend who was to become my husband.
- Learn to rock climb – probably the scariest of all my solo undertakings, yet a good way to conquer fear and to learn how to trust others. That activity, along with mountaineering, put me in touch with a group of the most wonderful people I have ever met.
- Steadfast and loyal to the point of stubbornness.
- Prickly at times yet protective of those whom I love and who mean a lot to me.
- Nurturing is in my soul – providing shelter, sustenance, a hug, a shoulder to cry on when the need arises, as well as a listening ear.
- Having moved several times, I am happy to put down my roots wherever my heart is and to make the best of what we have.
As the aloes provide shelter for smaller creatures and their bright blooms attract birds, bees and other insects to share their bounty, so I glow best when surrounded by my growing family. That is when I know that despite the hardships and unexpected hoops I have had to jump through, life has been good to me: I am loved and have plenty of love to offer.