AND STILL THEY COME

The Urban Herd continues to expand – there seems to be no intention by the municipality to curb their intrusion into the urban area. Here a small group is peacefully chewing the cud in open land on the outskirts of the suburb I live in. While they look relaxed and comfortable in the late afternoon light, they would have wandered through the town and up the hill before settling on this temporary resting place.

These cattle have been around for so long that we have seen some calves being born and witnessed others growing up, like this one grazing on a pavement outside a house.

This one is taking a rest while its elders graze on.

They do a lot of resting … or waiting.

On some occasions we can count over 30 head of cattle moving together.

This dam they frequent is now dry.

And still they come, fanning through the suburbs to graze in public open spaces (is that why the municipality seldom mows them anymore?), along pavements, pulling at overhanging branches of trees, and feasting on any garden plants within their reach.

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FROM KINDLING TO COALS

What would camping be without a braai fire? The early evenings in a campsite spawn a number of fires in various stages of completion, and the air is soon filled with the aroma of burning wood / charcoal / cooking meat. Faces are lit up by the flames, laughter abounds … later some fires are damped down as people turn in for the night, while more wood is added to others to fuel an evening of shared stories.

All begin with something small, perhaps some kindling.

This brings with it the anticipation later of coals just ready for cooking.

Sometimes, campfires also serve the purpose of thawing a beer left in the freezer for too long!

There is something magical about sitting outside in the dark, replete after a fine meal, watching the flames licking round a log and the glow of the embers in the dark.

ABANDONED FARM HOUSE

This is one of several abandoned dwellings in the rural areas of this country: built during a time of hope from materials that were available locally. Each suggests a story of hardship as a family set out to tame a wild area enough to earn a living. Tales of hardship abound in the early diaries and letters of the people who settled in this area as they contended with unfamiliar landscapes, unfamiliar plants, diseases, the drought, wars, pestilence, loneliness, rustling, and the ever-present need for water.

This fairly substantial building consists of a combination of local sandstone and sun-baked clay bricks. Whether the depression in the foreground was a dam once or has been made since, it is hard to tell. Every time we pass this building, I think of the people who once inhabited those rooms; who set about their daily tasks with the grim determination of those who have to be self-sufficient because there is no other way. Why did they leave? Did the burden become too great? Did the youngsters turn their back on this kind of lifestyle to seek their fortunes in the developing towns? For whatever reason, time has taken its toll as the buildings are taken over by grass, trees and prickly pears.

MEMORIES

“What is your earliest memory?” We ask this of siblings and friends alike. Do we really remember those very early events of childhood, or have we become familiar with them through the repetition of family stories or from paging through the family photo albums so often?

What do children do now that photographs are digitally stored on an adult’s computer to which they have no easy access? Do families with young children go through their digital collections with their children now and then whilst recounting events from when they were really small?

“Do you remember when …? Conversations with family and friends can toss up, stir and retrieve memories of events we might have thought were forgotten – that we had even forgotten that we had forgotten them. Then, in those moments of reliving past events with others the smells, sights, sounds, feelings and people return in a flash. We find we can add details others may have forgotten as their anecdotes revive our own memories – all of which emerge stronger and clearer than before.

Some memories are attached to things. I don’t know who owns it now, or even if it is ever used, but my mother often wore a brooch that for some reason we children used to call her ‘flea cage’. Just thinking about it in absentia brings my lovely mother to the fore, along with the wish that we could still converse. There are other more banal items that do the same, such as her (now) very tattered Concise Oxford Dictionary that she kept at hand for cryptic crosswords and that was the arbiter of our Scrabble games.

Memories fade when they are not shared and revived when they are. Sometimes a particular sound, smell, texture or sight opens the floodgate of memories either happy or less so. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and writer, has been quoted as commenting that

We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and re-categorized with every act of recollection.

It is that act of recollection that we owe to our children: the sharing of their upbringing and ours; the threads that root us to our families; the lifeline for the years ahead. As families scatter across the globe in pursuit of better careers or more comfortable and secure lifestyles, memories are what keep us together. Nurture them!

BEHIND THE TIMES

We all know that Geological Time is measured very differently from the time we measure daily by virtue of clocks, watches, and a calendar or even by watching the passing of the sun. The International Union of Geological Sciences held their 35th Annual Congress in Cape Town in 2016. I bold that date for this prestigious event was commemorated by the South African Post Office in the form of international postage stamps – a good choice in terms of exposure.

These stamps are finely detailed in colour and what is unusual about them is that on the back of the sheet are black and white drawings with the key to what each stamp reveals.

Behind the times? Well, the first time I set eyes on these stamps was about a month ago when I finally managed to wiggle some international stamps from the post office – this is in 2018! Where have they been in the interim? Languishing between the pages of stamp books because so few people actually buy stamps anymore? Did someone forget to send them to post offices outside the main centres until the event was long past?

This is symptomatic of a postal service that seldom delivers anything on time – if at all!

‘TIS THE SEASON…

… when advertisements and magazines and shops encourage an image of glittering decorations, tables groaning with food, the imbibing of lots of drinks … and the notion of families and friends having a great time together. Yes, they say, ’tis the season to be merry tra-la-la-la-la. The pressure is on for the ‘perfect Christmas’. Forget the tinsel and the shiny paper, I say; forget the lashings of food that no-one can finish, I say; focus on what is good and true in your life.

Focus on family connections and the affection that threads real friends together. Focus on what makes you happy. Focus on showing that love and affection by being with your nearest and dearest instead of fretting about the perfection of presentation and the cost of gifts. The real gift is you.

What William Shakespeare is reputed to have said about friends is equally true of family:

A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.

Take time to just ‘be’ during this run-up to Christmas; listen; love; and let the spirit of the times enfold you.