IS IT RIGHT TO FIDDLE WITH NATURE?

Hunters in South Africa seem to have become imbued with a desire to bag ‘something different’ – what else but demand (and the monetary rewards from satisfying such demands) would drive the selective breeding of wild animals for different colour mutations? While it is true that natural colour variants occur from time to time in free-living wildlife populations, these are rare occurrences. Are these ‘novelty’ animals now being bred to encourage more hunters? Do people breed them simply because they like seeing white Blesbuck

black Impala

or coffee-coloured Springbuck?

As the natural colouration of animals suit their natural environments, I wonder what benefit breeding animals specifically for unnatural colour mutations can have for the individual animal, the species, biodiversity or conservation as a whole. Apart from the initial ‘look at that’ factor when seeing the results of such breeding, I cannot help thinking that the originals still look better!

Having said this … perhaps there is an advantage tucked away somewhere … are we not better off with the carrots, beans and potatoes we have today instead of the ‘originals’, not to mention cows and all we get from them.

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SIGNS OF SUMMER

Daily temperatures fluctuate up and down, with more ups than downs; we have been blessed with some rain at last; there are birds aplenty in the garden … all signs that summer is moving into its seasonal space:

The promise of a feast of plums

 

The Pompon trees are coming into bloom

 

Nasturtiums brighten the dullest of places

 

As does the odd Californian poppy

 

Bold marigolds make a show

 

Swimming time

 

And we need to keep an eye out for Puffadders

WHEELS

Contrast in size of a cannon wheel and a wagon wheel

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Excerpt from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ringing out from our blue heavens,
From our deep seas  breaking round;
Over everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound;
From our plains where creaking wagons
Cut their trails into the earth
Calls the spirit of our Country,
Of the land that gave us birth.
At thy call we shall not falter,
Firm and steadfast we shall stand.
At thy will to live or perish,
O South Africa, dear land.

English version of the former South African national anthem.

WORDS AND MEMORIES

Words are things; and a small drop of ink

Falling like dew upon a thought, produces

That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

 

I often reuse paper that has been printed or written on one side only. The other side of a page I used today contains a rough outline for a lesson I once was preparing about a novel that had been prescribed for examination purposes.

Explore the notions of TRUTH, MEMORY and IDENTITY I had written some years ago. The actual lesson has become lost in time, yet I still ask myself, what is our relationship between memory and truth? What do we truly recall from our childhood: what really happened; or are our memories infused with the oft retold family anecdotes; or jogged by the familiarity of photographs that have been poured over so many times? Do we ‘shape’ our pliant memories by ‘forgetting’ awkward acts or once expressed opinions once they become problematic in our present circumstances?

Then there is the written word. Along with the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War has come a plethora of publications, many of them based on previously forgotten diaries, letters and post cards: those words falling like dew upon a thought that have been reconsidered and brought to light, ‘re-packaged’ if you like, are making thousands, perhaps millions, think – albeit with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight – about the causes and long-term ramifications of a war that has, until now, mostly been dissected and discussed based on ‘official’ records.

It has taken a century for us to begin to appreciate what ordinary soldiers, sailors, nurses, airmen, housewives, mothers, lovers, and even teachers, thought about the turbulent times they were living through.

I still have letters from friends detailing the process of settling into new countries; the heimwee they still feel for this one; accounts of the amazing holidays their new locations and stronger currencies have afforded them; along with the continual interest they show in the country of their birth whilst embracing what their new one has to offer.

What will happen to your letters, diaries, e-mails or blogs one day? Like those ordinary writers of old, you probably do not write a single word with the intention of it informing the generations to come about what it has been like to have Donald Trump in charge of the United States, or to weather the storm in the wake of Jacob Zuma’s decisions that have sent South Africa hurtling towards Junk Status.

All words. All small drops of ink. All memories that combine to form a picture of the topsy-turvy times we are living in. Our words help to express our identity, our truth, and our memory and might, collectively, make thousands, perhaps millions more in the future think.

WHEN WILL THE DROUGHT BE BROKEN?

‘Drought’ is probably among the earliest concepts I learned – one would as the daughter of a farmer. Perusing the headlines of newspaper articles over the past two years gives one an idea of the longing – these days even by townspeople – for the drought to be broken:

South African drought not broken after the driest year in South Africa’s history.

Latest rain not a break in South Africa’s drought.

Western Cape drought not broken despite massive storm.

Drought has not been broken.

Recent rainfall won’t break drought.

Where there is rain there is hope.

Hope for the dams to be filled; hope that crops will grow; hope that gardens will thrive; hope that rainwater tanks will overflow; hope that domestic water will no longer have to be purchased or collected … we all hope that good rains will spell the end of ‘drought’.

Rain 2017

Of course we must be grateful for every drop of rain that falls. While rainfall provides some form of drought relief, many people have the false impression that any rainfall means that the worst of the drought must be over. Stock farmers, for example, know only too well that it takes two to three years of significant rain for the grazing to recover.

Kruger National Park 2016

The prolonged drought across South Africa has remained severe, resulting in increasingly alarming accounts of dams and reservoirs drying up; the introduction of severe water rationing in towns; and the need for consumers to stop being complacent about the provision of potable water to their homes. Everyone needs to think twice about how they use water in their homes, in their gardens, and whether or not a beautifully clean car and lush green lawns are worth the amount of water required.

Settler’s Dam 2010

Some experts say that 100mm of consistent rain over a ten day cycle would lead towards the breaking of a drought cycle. Others insist that it takes three consecutive seasons of above-average rainfall to break the drought – this is so that rivers and dams can fill up as well as allowing for the rise in the levels of ground water. This ‘soil water’ is needed to support the growth of grazing and crops.

Maize fields 2015

So, we don’t really know when the drought will be broken. Flooding has occurred in some parts of the country, light rain has fallen in others, temperatures rise and they fall, snow is forecast for some places over the next few days, while in other areas dams have already dried up with no rain in sight.

WROUGHT IRON GARDEN GATE

This heavy wrought iron gate is typical of garden gates across South Africa for as long as I can remember. Some parts of it are spot-welded while others have been riveted together. This one no longer has its original hook; bent wire serves that purpose. The chain wrapped around it on the left looks new and does not appear to be attached to anything else.

At least this gate is still in use – other similar gates in our neighbourhood sport chains with locks (I wonder if the keys are still handy) or have been covered with razor wire. Yet others have, over the years, been removed and the pedestrian gate entrance bricked up as residents move towards surrounding their properties with high walls to increase their security – sadly, this has become necessary.

THE STORIES WITHIN US

In his autobiography, The Outsider: my life in intrigue, Frederick Forsyth explains that within the mind of a writer entire worlds are created or erasedPeople come into being, work, love, fight, die and are replaced. Plots are devised, developed, amended and come to fruition or are frustrated … In children, daydreaming is rebuked; in a writer it is indispensable.

Few of us think our lives are particularly interesting or remarkable enough to record. If we did, publishers would be inundated by autobiographies. Yet, eavesdrop at dinners or the meeting of strangers on holiday and you will become attuned to the stories plucked from the lives of ordinary people to inform, build bridges, or merely to entertain. We all have a story to tell.

Some of these anecdotes have been told so often that partners often finish them for each other, or egg each other on towards the highlight. The familiarity of these stories fixes them, making them difficult to change. They nonetheless get retold to show an alternate side of ourselves to people who have come to know us in a different context; to confirm our allegiances to others; or to illustrate the connection between the present and the past. An element of trust is at play when we share our personal stories.

This was particularly evident when I attended a series of workshops a few years ago. The participants were issued with pens and paper and, as we sat in a circle, we were asked to write down various aspects of our lives on cue – describe one of your most frightening moments; an occasion that made you face your innermost fears; a choice you made that was out of character for you. Of course these did not happen all at once, but as we diligently set about writing in response to the first instruction, none of us realised we would be required to share them.

Sometimes we read them ourselves. At other times a randomly chosen partner read them on our behalf; yet on other occasions we were asked to talk about the particular experience during a shared ‘chat session’ with yet another randomly selected partner. As uncomfortable as this was initially, the experience proved to be both interesting and enlightening. We ended up being surprised at the hitherto unknown inner strengths, fears and accomplishments of colleagues who gave no hint of such things on the surface. We unwittingly learned about empathy, respect and to realise that so much more lies behind the faces we work with every day. I recently threw out my notes from those sessions. Before doing so, however, I reread what I had written and surprised myself by what had been laid bare – I would never have imagined that anything in my life was ‘write worthy’, yet some aspects of it had been gently coaxed out of me.

No matter the occasion, when people are together for any length of time, an exchange of stories will begin. This might be in the form of a tentative exploration of where we come from; a delicate process of sussing out what we have in common; an exchange of opinions; or even a confession of sorts about health, personal circumstances, concerns or joys.

Stories are part of the way we understand our history and shared anecdotes go a long way towards understanding the lives of the people within our social and working orbit. In this sense, the stories we tell about ourselves can be powerful – as are those stories we tell ourselves while seeking an understanding of where we are, why we are, and what we are becoming.

Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety is a marvellous depiction of the friendship between two couples through their waxing and waning fortunes, as well as their trials and tribulations spanning forty years or so. Their back stories and shared experiences form the weft of their relationship, weaving their lives together with increasing strength and flexibility.

I have just finished editing the first draft of my late father’s memoirs. On the surface he was as ordinary a person as any of us are: a miner, a farmer, an amateur historian, a husband, a father and grandfather. If only I had known about this endeavour before he died, I would have been able to explore so much more! What a story he has to tell of life as we will never know it again; of courage and perseverance; of love and adventure. It proves the point that the unfolding of our lives are stories with no end. As ordinary as they may be, they help others to make sense of our lives and they deserve to be shared – at least with the next generation.