WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE?

A bitingly chilly wind made me draw my jacket closer even though I was sitting in the shelter of my truck. I had resigned myself to a long wait in the car park of a busy shopping centre and amused myself as always by watching the coming and going of people, vehicles and even birds. The smell of cigarette smoke bothered me, especially as I couldn’t find the source of it. The vehicle parked next to me reversed, affording me the view a man sitting on the pavement on the other side of the close-linked fence.

He was bundled up against the cold, his head covered. He sat unmoving, seemingly watching the passing traffic. Occasionally he would wave at the occupants of a vehicle or shift to straighten his back against the fence. I could still smell the cigarette smoke but it wasn’t coming from him. The temperature warmed up. I removed my jacket and he replaced his beanie with a cap.

I took in his sun-burnt features and couldn’t help wondering where he was from; what had led to him sitting on this pavement on the corner of two busy streets in the city; what he was hoping for … three women stood near him, laughing while they ate some take-away food; a man called out to him from a passing car, they waved to each other – does this mean he was a regular? A well-dressed man tossed him a coin in passing … the cigarette smoke was still bothering me, as was the heat for the shade I had parked in had moved with the sun. He had no shade. Then he rose.

More questions immediately rose to the fore. How? Why? He limped a short way and spoke to someone out of sight then crossed the street and returned with a can of coldrink. The vehicle on my right departed, allowing me to see both who he had been talking to and where the source of the cigarette smoke was coming from: a well bundled up woman (his wife?) had selected a spot with scant shade from the tree I was parked close to. Is this where they both spent their days, hoping for enough donations to feed them (and purchase cigarettes)? Where do they shelter at night?

It was time at last for me to move on. Weeks have since passed and the questions remain swirling in my mind.

We do not know their story and can neither judge nor condemn them.

FOODY MOMENTS

Don’t expect anything glamorous or high class here. I was scrolling through my archives, getting rid of pictures as I went, when I realised that a number have got something to do with food or drink – all have been taken with my cell phone, so must have been taken to share with members of my scattered family. The random sample will begin with me preparing a camping meal on a particularly icy, windy night:

I warned you not to expect anything glamorous! A more genteel moment came with enjoying a cup of tea with a slice of cake:

I suspect the teapot and cup were the main focus – a gift from grandchildren. Another quietly domestic scene is a glass of wine at the start of our hard lockdown – when none of us realised just how long that confinement was going to last!

We didn’t realise then either that the sale of alcohol was going to be restricted on an on-off basis for well over a year. It is during the past year too that South Africans have had to bid farewell to many of their favourite magazines: no farewell, this is the final issue, sad to be leaving you in the lurch – they just vanished from the shelves!

There is nothing like home-baked biscuits to satisfy the need for a little sweetness. I baked many batches of ginger biscuits during the first few months of the pandemic – as you can see, some were snitched before they could even cool down:Here is some flat bread I made for a hasty lunch one day:

Lastly, an all too rare opportunity to eat out:

This was in celebration of my birthday – several months after the event!

BLESBOK

Look up Blesbok or Blesbuck (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi) on Google and one is immediately made aware that these fine looking antelope are popular among hunters! This probably explains why Blesbok are seen in fairly large numbers on farms and game farms in this part of the Eastern Cape, as well as in game- and nature reserves.

These ones are part of a herd in a local nature reserve only a few minutes from town.

Blesbok are endemic to South Africa and are one of the fastest breeding plains game species in southern Africa, so doubtless make ideal ‘fodder’ for the hunting community. Apparently people are drawn to them for trophy hunting – I would far rather see their horns on a live antelope than hung up against a wall. Published photographs of hunters posing with the dead animals, all grinning with their weapon of choice held in various positions turn my stomach – what chance does a blesbok have against a high-powered rifle?

These animals are easily recognised by the distinct white blaze on their faces. They are predominantly a social species, although mature males commonly form bachelor herds.

This large herd of blesbok are in the Mountain Zebra National Park, where their preferred habitat is open grassland with a source of water nearby.

During our regular drives along local country roads, we have noticed how skittish the blesbok tend to be. They are very alert to passing traffic and will frequently snort and move off if we stop the vehicle. At the sound of the car window opening or even the click of my camera, the animals closest to the road charge off. Could this be because they are hunted?

ROADBLOCKS

We are used to roadblocks in South Africa. These could be the kind requiring you to wait for oncoming traffic to pass through a section of road that is being repaired or a police roadblock during which you are required to show your driver’s licence while they check your vehicle licence and may even make a cursory check of the state of your tyres. These days we have to be increasingly on the lookout for roadblocks caused by the Urban Herd taking a stroll around our town.

Much further afield, only 3km from the Mpofu Nature Reserve in fact, traffic was halted by this herd of cattle that had no intention of moving out of the way in any hurry at all.

Some distance further on, the road was blocked by this herd of sheep being moved from one grazing area to another. Two sheep dogs assisting the shepherd managed to escape being photographed. They were doing an excellent job of keeping the sheep together and on the move in an orderly manner.

We were deep into the farming country of the Kat River district, so it came as no surprise when traffic had to back up while this herd of sheep crossed the narrow bridge – led by three shepherds this time and a single sheepdog (which also slipped away before I could ‘catch’ it) – and made their way through a large gate into a field next to the road.

These are a lot less daunting than this roadblock though!

WINTER SKELETON

Did the title grab your attention? I assure you that no cupboards have been opened, nor was this written on a ghoulish windy night with the moon scudding behind dark clouds accompanied by the screech of owls and pinging of bats in my ears.

Instead, this is a Datura plant – seen here in its spring glory.

This is a different plant at the end of the winter.

The dry stalk is akin to the skeleton of the plant, now stripped of leaves and any life-giving sap that once ran through it. The seed pods too have dried up and shrivelled into spiky shells of their former fruitfulness.

Dry winter winds have long since shaken the pods and dispersed the seeds to grow new plants in disturbed soil wherever they have landed. There is nothing left.

In time the frail skeletal remains of this plant will fall over and gradually become one with the soil that nurtured its beginning.