TRAVELLING LOCAL

The COVID-19 pandemic has clipped our wings in ways we would never have imagined a year ago. Initially there was the anxiety of repatriating South Africans abroad who needed to come home as well as the hundreds of people trapped here who had to return to their homes and places of work abroad. Then we were stuck: at first confined to our homes; gradually being allowed out to exercise; being restricted within provincial borders; and now we can – still with caution – enjoy what South Africa has to offer.

With so many overseas trips cancelled – and still not possible – ‘travelling local’ has taken on a new lease of life. There is a lot of ground to cover in this beautiful country! Friends and neighbours are taking advantage of setting off to explore hitherto unvisited areas or hiving off to the familiar delights of iconic places such as the Kruger National Park.

While confined to home during the initial lockdown phase, I got to know my garden very well indeed – as well as the creatures that share it with us. Nonetheless, I would gaze through our front gate with a degree of longing, yet only ventured as far as our local supermarket on my weekly grocery shopping expeditions.

Expeditions they have been too: rising in the pitch dark to enter the shop when it opened at half past six in order to avoid the lengthy queues that gathered outside after sunrise. I still go early even though the queues have somehow dissipated, and now can enjoy the fresh air and the birdsong at the start of the day. I am home by seven in the morning and the rest of the day stretches ahead, with the worst task already behind me.

‘Freedom’ first came in the form of being allowed to exercise close to home. We have got to know our local streets very well. How’s that for ‘travelling local’?

I clearly recall our first day visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. What a rigmarole it was to get in as we had to book the visit beforehand and show proof of our residence in the Eastern Cape. Then, as now, one had to fill in various forms and have one’s temperature taken – and of course wear a mask. Even though the shop, restaurant and the picnic area were closed, this didn’t detract from the sheer joy of leaving the confines of our town and being in the wild once more.

I have visited the area a few times since then, but the Mountain Zebra National Park was ‘calling’ too – especially once overnight accommodation was allowed. For the first time ever, we eschewed camping to stay in a chalet.

Another favourite place that has simply had to be savoured once more is the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Spending four days there was restorative for my soul.

We have not yet left our home province, but the rest of South Africa is beckoning …

THE END OF WINTER

When winter ventures in everything looks sad, laments Tracey Blight in her poem The End of Winter. During our winter walks we have noted how the drought-stricken grass has turned to golden straw and, in places even disappeared. Some trees have been stripped of their leaves; and the regular winds still have a chilly edge to them. The end of winter is a sombre time – this year the edge of the sombreness has been honed to a keening for the social isolation that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon us. Cheerful gatherings to ward off the dullness of the cold forbidden; even travelling to feast our eyes on distant places has been restricted; the greatest loss has been the pandemic-imposed distance between family and friends that has prevailed for so long.

In a way these steps in our street epitomise that loss:

There was a time when these old stone steps led up to a gate in a low wall that opened into a garden of happiness. I remember how the old man who lived there when we arrived in the neighbourhood used to bring a basket around after the rain to pick the large white mushrooms that popped up all over our lawn. We learned so much from chatting to him as he went about this task and I was warmed by him saying more than once “it is wonderful to hear the sound of young children in the neighbourhood once more.” Both the man and the mushrooms have gone.

I remember a time when these steps led up to a gate that opened and shut several times a day as children came and went: such happy days when friendship meant entrance without question. I recall bicycles being humped up and down those steps to be ridden around the streets accompanied by laughter and shouting. That family left; the children of the time have grown up – some already have children of their own; most have sought their happiness in other towns or even abroad.

It was with a deep sense of horror that I noted the workmen outside one day. The gate had been tossed aside and brick by brick the gap in the wall was filled. The plaster was roughly applied, leaving the outline of that hole still visible to the casual eye. The happy entrance has been permanently replaced by a dull, cement-covered wall – leaving only the drive-way as an entrance to a garden one can no longer peep into as one walks past. A fortress of a wall shouts keep out!

Yet, the rough stone steps remain – worn in places from foot traffic from decades past; a reminder of happier times, freer times and, alas, safer times when people mixed more freely and neighbours knew each other better.

Winter is not all drab and dull: we have enjoyed the aloes that brighten the landscape and now, as the season turns away from us, the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina trees brighten the mood and point us to spring peeping from the wings, still too timid to take full stage. Looking down too at the debris of leaves and seeds shaken by the winds that have roared and tugged and made us shiver, we can see beauty in the end of winter:

This collection of leaves in a gutter represent what has gone and should be forgotten, the sadness that will heal with time, as well as the hope we need to nurture as we face our uncertain future. We move to Alert Level 1 of the lockdown on Monday … along with brighter prospects, a new season, and hope – lots of it!

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/end-of-winter/

A PATH TO NOWHERE

This is our garden path to nowhere. Nowhere, because during this lockdown period we cannot go out for walks and so the gate remains shut.

We can glimpse an empty world beyond the gate – no pedestrians, no dogs and hardly any vehicles pass by anymore. It is a beautifully shady place to be when the day becomes unpleasantly hot. If I stand still for a while and look up I might see Cape White-eyes flitting through the canopy of trees; I saw a Black-backed Puffback there recently; a pair of Knysna Turacos might jump across from one branch to another if I am lucky; and yesterday I was alerted to several Black-eyed Bulbuls arguing with each other in the crown of the Cape Chestnut tree – the leaves of which are in the foreground.

Looking out of the gate, I might see vehicles passing along the road into town – a surprising number of them given the current restrictions on movement. There is evidence of neglect: see how tall the grass has grown on the verge.

Not even the Urban Herd has been around to graze in the grassy area below our street. The path extending from our garden steps suffers from equal neglect with grass growing between the stones and the Tecoma capensis threatening to take over. The darker leaves come from a Bougainvillea that crept through from our neighbour’s garden a few years ago and needs to be trimmed again before it too lays claim to the space no longer used. If I am not careful, and if the lockdown is extended even further, the vegetation will be akin to the hedge that grew around the castle whilst Sleeping Beauty slept for a hundred years!

I don’t live in a castle, but if you peep through the gate and up the path you catch a glimpse of my home.

The lawn has not been mowed and grass is claiming its space between the stones here too. Home is where the heart is: this is my haven and the garden around it my heaven. It is here that I find peace while watching the birds; exercise by pruning and weeding; joy in watching geckos; an outlet for my creativity as I scribble in the shade of the trees or try to photograph butterflies and bees.

Yes, at the moment this is a path to nowhere. The lockdown is making us more aware of what lies withing: a cornucopia of love, adventure, discovery and peace.

IMPOSING GARDEN GATE

This rather imposing garden gate caught my eye recently.

A paper sign reads along the lines of: Please use the gate next door. This gate does not work. Then I wonder, has the stone work shifted? The wooden gate has swollen? The shrubs next to the path have become overgrown?

WAR MEMORIAL: FORT BEAUFORT

The town of Fort Beaufort, in the Eastern Cape, was established as a military post by Lt Col H.M Scott of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1822. It was named in honour of the 5th Duke of Beaufort, father of Lord Charles Somerset, then Governor of the Cape, and is situated at the confluence of the Kat and Brak Rivers. The War Memorial there takes the form of the Cross of Sacrifice, a simple yet effective memorial to those from the area who died during the First and Second World Wars.

Surprisingly, the bronze plaques and cross on this memorial are still in place – so many memorials and graves all over the country have been plundered by unscrupulous scrap metal thieves!

The Cross of Sacrifice was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the then Imperial War Graves Commission. It is mounted on octagonal base and takes the form of an elongated Latin cross on which a stylized bronze long-sword, point down, is fastened to the front. This form of memorial has been used in Commonwealth war cemeteries all over the world.

The surrounding area is fenced and, despite the drought, is reasonably well-kept. There is an unlocked entrance gate.

This has an interesting detail in the top corners, showing the ravages of time and benign neglect.