PRINTS IN THE MUD

Long-term readers, don’t get excited on my behalf. The mud in the picture below is the result of a burst pipe and not the longed-for rain. Still, it provides an interesting record of what has passed along this way:

A vehicle, a dog and a person. Seeing these prints in the now dry mud made me think of prints that have been preserved of dinosaurs for example – all a snapshot of an ordinary day. Imagine what future generations might make of these – if they too were preserved like that.

SUSPENSION FOOT BRIDGE: THEN AND NOW

It was in 1979 that friends visited the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park – as it was called then [it is now part of the Garden Route National Park] – and sent us a post card depicting this view of the Suspension Foot Bridge over the Storms River. The card has faded over time, yet shows the spectacular view of the bridge from the path that winds through the forest.

We had not yet visited the area and were taken by their description of it: We are enjoying this very beautiful place and are sure you would too. Even in rainy weather it is a lovely place to be. We were living in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal at the time and it wasn’t until we were living in Mmabatho several years later that we made our way down there – and fell in love with the place! So much so that we have returned many times – most recently in October last year.

Although this photograph is not taken from the original perspective, you can see how the area has been developed over the past 41 years – especially the footbridge. The original one is still there, but has been augmented by others.

Our friends continued: Unfortunately the Otter Trail is fully booked but we are enjoying the shorter walks. Great bird life!

How right they were too. There are a number of interesting walks along the coastline and through the natural forest that hugs the steep slopes of the mountains. Every time we visit there I am astounded by the number and variety of birds we see – even around the open camp sites. I have written elsewhere about walking the Otter Trail, which I did a couple of years after moving to Grahamstown.

As an aside: the postage stamp on this postcard is 3c. During the intervening years postage has increased to R5,34. Given how dysfunctional our postal service is, I wonder if people bother to send post cards anymore!

UNWELCOME SMOKE

There was an acrid smell in the air and the usually clear blue sky had turned a pale grey. The sweetish notes suggested a grass fire, although no smoke was visible from our garden.  That was until we drove to the top of the hill.

A veil of thin grey smoke rising into the air was clearly visible against the blue sky that had been hidden from view further down the hill. Judging from the direction the strong Berg wind was blowing, it was easy to tell why. Once on the N2, we could see the thick smoke billowing on the slope of the Rietberge that overlook town.

The extent of the veld fire was more evident from the 1820 Settler’s Monument.

As the sky darkened, the flames racing through the dry grassland were clearly visible – the choking smoke had now been blown right across town, filling the valley and moving way beyond the town.

It was apparent that the flames had taken hold and were blackening the mountain in a fury; their hungry journey hastened by the strong wind and the dry conditions of the veld.

The fire burned late into the night. We woke to a black mountain that now looms around us as a stark reminder of fires in the past and of how careful we must all be as the veld is tinder dry right now.

I VALUE MY GARDEN

I am in awe of beautiful gardens with carefully landscaped paths leading through various ‘rooms’, some of which may have a water feature or a focus on flowers in a particular palette of colours. In these water-wise days there are also gardens featuring aloes, cacti and a wide variety of succulents. I read about gardeners bringing in truckloads of soil, or even hiring earth-moving equipment to reshape the landscape; of bringing in – or removing – large rocks; and of installing elaborate irrigation systems. I see diagrams of gardening plans to be followed throughout the year. Gardens like these featured in magazines always look beautiful.  In my garden a mixture of indigenous flower seeds – such as these African daisies and cosmos – scattered in a bed bring me joy.

While most visitors enthuse over my ‘wild’ garden, others openly declare it to be ‘messy’ and ‘overgrown’. Some express an itch to cut down the trees – many of which we planted decades ago – and to prune the hedges. This is understandable for my garden tends to be ‘wildly creative’ rather than ordered into shape. For example, I let the canary creeper grow and flower where it pleases before trimming it back so that the weight of it won’t break other plants.

There are many practical reasons for this: the garden is too large for me to manage in an orderly fashion on my own; we are – and have several times before – experiencing a prolonged drought and so there is no water with which to maintain lush flower beds and a prolifically productive vegetable garden; and, until I retired a few years ago, I was seldom home for long enough to mow the lawn, never mind prune, weed, dig and plant. This is a section of what I call the ‘secret garden’, where nature takes it course.

I have always valued my garden for what it is: a place for solitude and relaxation if I need it, and a haven for birds – such as the Village Weaver below – as well as insects and any other creatures that require a home within our suburb. Over the years I have recorded 107 different species of birds seen either in or from our garden; have come across several snakes, a variety of butterflies, spiders and moths; observed bats, beetles, praying mantids, lizards and geckos; there have been swarms of bees, several frogs and toads, mole rats, a mongoose and even a couple of tortoises. We once even found a terrapin in our swimming pool – and still don’t know how it got there.

It is easy to tell why I value my garden for its tranquillity and its diversity. Never has this been truer than since the arrival of COVID-19 and the hard lock-down that came in its wake. For over three decades I have watched the garden evolve from a gravel and cactus ‘desert’ to a forest of trees and shrubs; from a hot and shade less place to a haven of shade and dappled sunlight’; from a habitat birds would rather fly over to one where many have chosen to nest and to seek food for their offspring.

Thanks to all of these visitors, I value my garden for the bird song that begins before sunrise to the haunting sounds of the Fiery-necked Nightjars late at night. I have enjoyed seeing an Olive Thrush pulling up a long earthworm from a crack in the old kitchen steps; watching a Fork-tailed Drongo swooping down to catch a caterpillar unearthed while I am weeding; observing a flock of Cape White-eyes splashing about in the bird bath; and have thrilled to the light touch of a Common Fiscal as it perches on my hand or foot to receive a tiny offering of food.

I garden for peace. I garden for the therapeutic quality of my hands connecting with the soil. I garden for the excitement of watching bright yellow flowers taking on the form of a butternut or a gem squash; for the joy of transplanting seedlings that have sprouted in the compost; and for the pleasure of finding self-seeded flowers or herbs growing in a place of their own choosing.

My sentiments about gardening echo those of the essayist and poet, Joseph Addison (1672-1719), who has been quoted as saying I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.

FIBRE IS COMING TO TOWN

We might have potholes you can almost swim in; we might have dry taps now and then; we are often sans electricity; we have cattle and donkeys roaming through the town … streets are breaking up; sewage bubbles to the surface in places; and clean water pours down the streets at times. This beautiful town is creaking at the seams and yet … fibre is coming to town.

Trench diggers have been working for months, from one side of town to the other, readying the ground for the laying of fibre. They reached our area last week – the netting along our pavement is hiding the open trenches, which were covered over only a day later.

Some people have complained about the constant digging, the sound of machinery, and (quite rightly) the litter that gets left behind as the workmen make their way through the suburb. The time will come though when this will all be forgotten and they, in their turn, will connect to fibre so that their internet speed and capacity can improve. The picture below shows the section next to our drive that has been cordoned off before a moling machine was used to tunnel under it to feed the fibre through without damaging the driveway.

Yes, our town is fraying like a piece of old cloth. Despite all its problems, it is still a beautiful place to live. Now, the town is seamed with a fibre network filled with potential. Time will tell