DUTCHMAN’S TROUSERS

I have grown up with drought. My father, a farmer, used to look up at an overcast sky and shake his head sadly saying “There’s enough blue sky to patch a Dutchman’s trousers, so it won’t rain.” I was always intrigued by this expression, which I never heard being used outside my family – although I have passed it on to mine. He explained that ‘Dutchman’s trousers’, was a nautical term referring to the patch of blue sky that appeared when the weather broke, indicating fine weather to follow. The phrase refers to the very wide-legged blue pants that Dutch sailors used to wear – and which obviously needed to be patched from time to time.

While searching the Internet to verify this, I came across this interesting and informative song composed by Tom Lewis:

Dutchman’s Trousers

In the times when I was nothing but a lad,
I never did see much of m’Dad,
Oft’times that was reason to be sad,
For him and m’Granddad too were deep-sea sailors,
But m’Grandmother took me for walks by the sea,
To teach me the ways that the weather can be.
She’d study the sky and say to me:
“There’s just enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.”

“In the wintertime when the North winds blow,
And the sky takes on a silvery glow,
That’s a certain sign that it’s going to snow.
You must be ready to chip the ice from the rigging,
But if the wind is from the Southwest,
And the spray’s being blow back from the wave’s crest,
Batten down the hatches and hope for the best,
If you’re lucky you’ll see the blue of the Dutchman’s trousers.”

Chorus:
The Pilot gives us a “farewell” hail,
Haul on the halyards of the mainsail,
The wind is steady, there’s a following gale,
With just enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.

So when I became an Able Hand,
I remembered the lessons that I learned from m’Gran
The mates would call me: “the weather-man,”
On each ship I was the one with the reputation,
Who knew if a breeze or a gale would blow,
When I came on deck from down below
The Skipper would always want to know:
“Will there be enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers?”

Where the saying came from I really don’t know,
The Hollanders used to be our foe,
That was a very long time ago.
For centuries now we’ve sailed the seas together.
From the great Southern Ocean to the Mediterranean,
On a sailing ship or a submarine,
The days are few and far between
When there’s not enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.

AIRBORNE

Since the COVID-19 pandemic sowed pandemonium around the world in the wake of borders of provinces and whole countries being closed, local and overseas flights being cancelled, and stringent restrictions being placed on the movements of citizens, the sky above our town has been quiet indeed. No local planes being flown for fun, no hangliders, and certainly no sight or sound of large aeroplanes moving between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, for example. What an unusual sight this is then:

This has not been oft repeated. There was a time when the low hum of a large plane flying overhead was ignored, now I look up and wonder where the passengers are going … and whether these flights are going to be regular once more … only to be followed by days of silence in the sky. The national carrier is still grounded, smaller airlines have had to shut up shop, and those that have opened tend to bypass Part Elizabeth – our nearest airport.

ANTS ON STEPS

There are few conditions like drought and heat to bring the activity of ants to the fore. We have both in abundance. I happened to sit on the steps outside our kitchen for a few minutes the other day and captured these images with my cell phone. My attention was first drawn to this gap in the wall:

The fine grains of sand spilling out of it is detritus from the mining activities of the ants as they have burrowed deeper into the ground behind the stones that make up the edge of the steps leading up to the top of the terrace. A spider has taken advantage of this gap to catch unsuspecting passersby. Where there is ant activity, there must be ants. I didn’t have far to look:

Here some of them are, walking up and down the leaves of this succulent plant growing right next to the steps. All of them were busy – too busy to stop and look around; to chat to their fellow workers; or simply to take a rest. All were focused on whatever job they had to do. Now among these ants are some construction workers, some of which must have tunnelled holes between the stone risers and built these towers:

I cannot help wondering if these are ‘cooling towers’ such as we see at some of our (dysfunctional) power stations on the Highveld.

FENCES

Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) was favoured for making sturdy fence-posts and even railway sleepers in the Eastern Cape from very early on as this hardwood is well known for its durability. Below is an example of a fence no longer in use, yet the sneezewood fence-post continues to carry out its duty.

There are many such abandoned fences in this part of the world. The following photograph shows a suburban fence made up of a collection of sneezewood fence-posts.

While they might look old and bent at different angles, these posts did their job very well and are still as strong as they were when they were first erected during the 1800s. The holes in them have not been bored by insects, but show where the fencing wires were threaded through them. In sharp contrast is a section of a modern fence, common in these parts where a number of game farms or private game reserves have sprung up.

These tall, multi-stranded fences are high enough to keep most wild animals from roaming – yet a kudu can sail over them with ease should it wish to!

THE OTTER TRAIL 23 – 27 FEBRUARY 1990

Having recently visited Nature’s Valley, Dries (https://dewetswild.com/2021/02/05/natures-valley-garden-route-national-park/) asked me to share my experience of walking the Otter Trail with eleven other women in 1990. Sadly, I did not own a camera at the time.

DAY 1

Our group started walking the Otter Trail at 12h30 – it felt wonderful to be walking along a route with such commanding views of the sea!

We passed over a strandloper midden and stopped to look at Guano Cave – which goes in an incredibly long way – and reached the waterfall at 2 p.m. It is strong flowing and the river is full! We all stripped and enjoyed a glorious swim for about an hour before leaving for Ngubu, the first hut. Along the way we saw cormorants, oyster catchers and I nearly stepped on a puff adder on the path! We paused to watch a seal swimming in the sea.

After settling into the huts there was plenty of time to explore the very rocky ‘beach’. The sea is full of thick, dirty foam, but we managed to find a reasonably clear area to swim in. The seawater wasn’t nearly as cold as the waterfall had been ‘though it took some getting into! Where there isn’t foam, the water is so clear we could see the fish swimming at our feet.

It is so peaceful to sit alone on the rocks and watch the seagulls, the last rays of the sun catch the white foam and to listen to the thunder of the waves beyond the rocks.

The night sky is magnificent too: the Southern Cross almost obscured by the Milky Way such as we seldom see. Another beautiful phenomenon to watch are the phosphorescent waves breaking in the dark, once the sun has set ‘into’ the sea.

DAY 2

Woke at five, but didn’t rise until six and then walked down to the rocky beach to enjoy the solitude of the sea. Left the hut at seven and crossed the Kleinbosrivier at 10h25, where we enjoyed a brief swim. Here one simply must go upstream to swim in the long deep pool which ends in a narrow channel leading up to a cascade of water.  It is like swimming in stout – dark water with dirty white foam on top.

There is a reasonably steep climb up from the river followed by a most pleasant walk through the forest, where it is good to see Saffron trees again; to inhale that clean, damp, earthy smell of the leaf litter; to see bracket fungi in a variety of colours. There is the constant booming of the sea and the high-pitched sound of cicadas to accompany us. We left our packs at the Blue Bay turnoff before swimming and lunching at Blue Bay at about 12h30, watched by two seagulls and a cormorant. There we enjoyed a long and lazy lunchtime while the tide came in, before leaving at 14h30 up a very steep slope (about twenty minutes of uphill plodding). The reward was a wonderful bird’s eye view of Blue Bay!

I kept my eyes peeled once we were in the open for any sighting of dolphins or seals – no luck. We followed another steep downhill before reaching Scott’s Hut situated next to the Geelboshout River with a private beach.

The weather has been clear and sunny with no wind. We bathed in the river on arrival to wash off the salty water. I should have brought more teabags! My collapsible water bottle is useful as the water tank here is empty.

At about 19h00 some of us walked up the right hand tributary of the Geelhoutbos River to see the most exquisite cascades, one after the other. What a pity we discovered it so late for we felt like going ever upwards. The setting was magical, like something from Lord of the Rings: trees, water cascades, deep pools, cycads … magical! A MUST!

DAY 3

We all woke at five and left Scott’s Hut at half past six: a beautiful walk through ferns before a really steep climb. Then walked along the top of the rocks and crossed the Elandsbos River at 07h30. We used our survival bags even though the river was shallow as we were unsure of the sandy bottom. This time we had only half an hour for breakfast as most of the party were concerned about crossing the Lottering River, especially as the water levels are high.

Today’s walk would have been more pleasant had there been time to explore the rock pools. The path is not particularly good and is very steep in places – not memorable walking, although we did see dassies, oystercatchers and seagulls along the way. There was lots of evidence of otter too as well as holes dug by porcupines – saw a porcupine quill along the path.

We reached the Lottering River at 10h15 and crossed it easily – waded through sans shoes. Weather-wise it has been another beautifully clear, calm day – very pleasant – and so a group of us decided to laze on the river bank before tackling the last section to Oakhurst Huts. These overlook the sea in a very exposed position with no natural shade and are reached by a path through the forest, from where one has a good view of the channels in the river as the tide comes in.

Because we arrived at our destination so early, we spent about three hours enjoying the sandy beach, swimming in the river and exploring upstream for as far as the infestation of wattles would allow. I saw a beautiful otter print and caught a glimpse of a Knysna Loerie flying into the forest, the sun brilliant on its wings.

At Oakhurst two cormorants were standing sentinel on a large rock at the edge of the sea, diving down now and then to catch a fish. The sea is still characterised by the dirty scum. Can it really be dead plankton? Some may come down with the rivers for at every river and stream we have crossed the rooibos-coloured water has carried with it flecks and bubbles of foam which build up in the quieter pools. We have obviously become accustomed to the cold water for the temperature is no longer cause for comment.

DAY 4

We left Oakhurst just before six in order to reach the Bloukrans River at low tide. Today’s walking was varied and on the whole very pleasant. We stopped for a brief breakfast at the Witels. There seemed no need to rush and so we stopped off at several good viewing sites along the way and found a shady area for a leisurely lunch. The long stretches through the forest were so pleasant: I could hear a lot of birds, saw a variety of flowers and leaf shapes and loved the patterns made by the lichen on the trees as well as the different colours of the leaf litter. We also passed through areas of fynbos with a variety of Ericas in bloom.

Fortunately we reached the Bloukrans River as the tide was turning and so we could still wade across. There were lots of fresh otter spoor along the beach and the edge of the river. Again it was wonderful exploring upstream – must remember to leave packs well above the tidal level as the water rises quickly.

The André Huts cannot be seen from above at all, in fact not until you reach them! It is important to collect logs for firewood at the top of the path (not far from the turnoff to the ranger’s house) before descending to the huts. A puzzling sight has been the number of shells and shell grit high above sea-level – sure these are not all strandloper middens or they would have had to have been very athletic strandlopers! Rounded stones, such as are found all along the seashore are also to be found on top of the cliffs in the fynbos where it is sandy too – uplifting?

DAY 5

It was sheer pleasure to wake after six and to lie in bed reading.  We enjoyed a leisurely start to the day, reading on the beach and exploring rock pools before embarking on the torturous-looking climb to the top. Walking through the fynbos at the end of a glorious trip made me want to hold onto each of the experiences: beautiful views, the smells, the sounds … all too soon we would be hurtled back to the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

As we got onto the beach at the end at Nature’s Valley, we all stripped for an oulaas kaalgat swim in the sea – not realising there was a lone fisherman on the rocks who got an eyeful of twelve women prancing about in the nude.  Doubtless he had a real fishy story to tell when he got home!