FIRESCAPES

I think it is human nature to be attracted to the flickering light of a fire – especially in the dark, when the heated coals show themselves as pulsing lights amid the flames.

There is something both mesmerising and comforting about sitting near a fire out in the open and looking closely at the shapes and patterns that are revealed to us as the logs burn.

South Africans often place extra logs on a fire, after having used the hot coals for cooking, for the sheer delight of chatting around the fire and enjoying each other’s’ company until those logs finally burn out – indicating it is time to turn in for the night.

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ON THE BEACH I

If you have never read Neville Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel, On the Beach then give it a try. It is probably more appropriate to read now – when nuclear threats are so real – than when it was first published in 1957. The novel came to mind while we were walking along an isolated beach in the Transkei, where we hardly saw another soul. I thought of the splendid isolation, the peace that comes with it, and marvelled at the ‘treasures’ not trampled or smashed by hundreds of human feet kicking up the sand. The contrast between our reality and that of the people in the novel awaiting the arrival of the deadly nuclear contamination from the northern hemisphere was a stark one. Here then is the first instalment of some of those ‘treasures’:

AGAVE ATTENUATA

While the leaves of the Agave attenuata, also known as Swan’s Neck or Fox Tail are attractive on their own, for me the real attraction is their flowers.

The long spikes of flowers appear as each of these rosettes of sharply pointed grey-green leaves matures over a period of four to five years.

As you can see, these flower spikes grow to be about 3m tall and bend over so that from certain angles they look akin to the curve of a swan’s neck – hence that common name, although it is also known here in Afrikaans as Die Sonkyker.

Probably due to their weight, these tall spikes reflex towards the ground before arching up again – apparently like the tail of a fox, giving rise to another common name.

Each of these spikes is filled with a myriad creamy flowers. Once a rosette of leaves has produced a flower, it dies.

This plant originates from Mexico and is a popular plant for large gardens and in public gardens. This particular specimen grows next to the road leading into our town, along with various colour varieties of bougainvillea – plants suited to ‘neglect’ as they have been planted on a bank and are never watered by the municipality.