A leaf of the Dais cotonifolia catching the light of the sun within the shaded forest area of our garden.
Many years ago, more than I care to count, one of the young girls I taught gave me a dream catcher that she had made for me. It was a parting gift to protect me from bad dreams – and it would surprise her if she knew I still had it!
I was reminded of this earlier in the week when we woke to a thick mist – in typical fashion, this meant a scorching day ahead – that left tiny droplets of water on leaves for that short while before everything was sucked up by the sun. I saw this mist catcher … capturing the fine moisture in the mist just as dream catchers capture the ethereal dreams.
The large (up to 8cm long), rather fierce looking Emperor Moth caterpillars (Bunaea alcinoe) are back in our garden after an apparent absence of three years. I first encountered them in 2014, when several of them chomped their way through leaves of a Cussonia spicata (widely known as the Cabbage Tree/ Kiepersol). What happened to them after they had defoliated the tree is anyone’s guess for they simply disappeared after a day or two.
These caterpillars must have been feeding off other trees in our garden such as the Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild Plum), Celtis spp (White Stinkwood), and the Ekebergia capensis (Cape Ash), for my Cussonia remains untouched so far.
The picture above shows what is left of a cluster of leaves in the Cape Ash tree after the caterpillars had feasted on them. There are many of them crawling across the grass and in the compost area – I counted about twenty of them in various parts of the garden yesterday. I can only imagine that they are looking for suitable place where they can bury themselves in the ground, where they will transform into a pupa awaiting the completion of metamorphosis before emerging as a moth. Having seen several of them on the lawn, I wonder if they bury themselves under the grass too. This one is in the compost area.
The caterpillars must surely be food source for birds, although I have not seen any of them having been eaten. Three dead ones found on the lawn this morning show no signs of having been pecked at.
When our forebears travelled from their countries of origin – initially by sea – to South Africa and then – by ox-wagon – to settle in various parts of the country, they had to be completely self-reliant. That meant packing for the future: clothing – and the means to make more; tools (so many initially unsuited to this part of the world); seeds; furniture; basic domestic goods and so on – including all their crockery and cutlery.
Now when we go camping we take unbreakable plates, cups, and even wine ‘glasses’ – these people travelled with the real McCoy: real glassware, and real crockery. Imagine packing those precious, breakable things for a journey into the unknown with the knowledge that they would not easily be replaced!
We have visited sites all over the country where early settlers would have made their homes, be it farm homesteads or early fortifications. A careful survey of the veld around these areas generally reveals some shards of the domesticity of those days.
This first example comes from Fort Willshire, in the Eastern Cape, which was erected by the British military in 1818-1819 and abandoned in 1836. Left to the elements, it is now a ruin that has become overgrown by natural vegetation.
The next comes from an area close to the old stone homestead at Hell’s Poort, a farm not very far from Grahamstown.
These shards of crockery have been picked up from various places in KwaZulu-Natal.
With the exception of the pink piece, the others all show various patterns of blue and white. Notice how thick they are. These shards are typical of the porcelain brought to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company and by the early settlers and give us an inkling into the domestic lives of those who came before us.
Some people shudder at the very thought of encountering one of South Africa’s venomous snakes, the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus). It is also called a Tree Snake because of its habit of moving through trees and shrubs – this was the exact type of habitat in which I observed one in my garden. The Boomslang is a shy creature and, although it can deliver a lethal bite if threatened, it seldom bites – my view is that it is best to let them be by not interfering with them – most recorded bites have occurred when the snake has been handled.
Having seen one in the canopy of our trees earlier in the week, when I heard the cacophony of birds outside a second time, I was wise enough to take my camera with me – all I could catch though was the strikingly patterned underbelly of the Boomslang using its muscles to weave itself sinuously through the branches at considerable speed.
It made not a sound, not even rustling the leaves or scratching the twigs together. The main sound was made by a pair of Cape Robins, which were clearly anxious to protect their spotted offspring from harm. The Boomslang feeds on birds, nestlings, frogs, lizards and occasionally on small mammals. Its presence in the garden probably helps to keep rats and mice at bay.
The frantic-sounding Cape Robins were joined in their quest to send this predator on its way by a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos, an Olive Thrush and several Cape White-eyes. The latter was the only one I managed to photograph in the gloom of the undergrowth. A pair of Black-eyed Bulbuls also appeared from nowhere to mob the intruder.
I watched as the Boomslang seemed to thread upwards through the vines and branches, then I stepped back as it flexed its way above my head, its own head moving from side to side as it perused opportunities for a snack. I saw it slide down the trunk of a tree only to turn back towards where, I suspect, the robin’s nest was before disappearing into the hedge.
Once it had slipped out of sight, the cacophony stopped and the birds went back to what they had been doing before – a tragedy had been averted: all in the day’s work for the avian community.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
Excerpt from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Ringing out from our blue heavens,
From our deep seas breaking round;
Over everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound;
From our plains where creaking wagons
Cut their trails into the earth
Calls the spirit of our Country,
Of the land that gave us birth.
At thy call we shall not falter,
Firm and steadfast we shall stand.
At thy will to live or perish,
O South Africa, dear land.
English version of the former South African national anthem.