I think we all know that to cross one’s palm means to pay for a service or even to pay for that service in advance. It often refers to a bribe to smooth the way for information or for an action to be performed. Sometimes we hear of crossing one’s palm with silver – an allusion to the tradition of placing silver coins in the palm of a fortune-teller before having one’s fortune told.

All of which this palm is taking seriously indeed! Criss-crossing, criss-crossing the palm all the way up to the lofty height where leaves still sway and dance in the wind.


Apart from the several flowering trees that are brightening our landscape, here are four interesting trees I have taken note of over the past week. The first one is a very old tree showing the scars of its long life.

This sturdy old tree grows next to a country road I frequent. It is covered with lichen and has produced several tangled branches during its lifetime. Like many large trees, it seems to represent solidity and a determination to face all obstacles.

Then there is a rather pre-historic looking tree that grows on the hills around Grahamstown, the Oldenbergia grandi.

I have featured the flowers of the Burchellia bubalina before. This is a young bush – one of many blooming at this time of the year: along the road, next to rocky outcrops, and on the local hills.

Lastly, here is a windswept tree growing on the edge of the Rietberg that forms one of the hilly borders of our town.


Our garden was dramatically transformed by the light rain received during December. One of the delights has been the prolific blooming of the Dais cotinifolia or Pompon trees, many of which are self-seeded. They are fast-growing indigenous trees that adorn not only our garden but many others in town. They have also been planted as street trees and are easily discernible in the wild, where the profusion of pink flowers stand out.

The blossoming of these trees will forever be associated with the annual visit to us by my late mother over the Christmas period – what a beautiful reminder they are of a truly beautiful woman whose visits we looked forward to enormously! Seeing them now, it is difficult to believe they were bare and skeletal looking the previous December.

The first sign of their recovery is the appearance of their smooth, simple leaves with their veins forming very clear patterns.

In the photograph of Klaas’s Cuckoo I featured recently you could see the round heads of the flower buds on the Dais cotinifolia.

In some you might just see the pink of the flowers in tight bunches inside. These heads pop open to reveal the beauty within.

The flowers attract butterflies, bees, as well as Cape White-eyes. The appearance of these pretty blossoms always signal a new beginning for me. They last for about three weeks and so are still looking pretty on this first morning of a new year.


We have come to the end of a year, the form of which none of us could have imagined. Watching the birds in our garden has been a saviour to me in terms of pleasure, variety and purpose – especially during the early days of the pandemic lockdown when we couldn’t even leave our homes. We have endured a dreadful drought, relieved a little by some light rain this month. Yet, the birds have endured. Their comings and goings are proof that life continues and their hope and the justification of their behaviour in terms of a belief in the future is one worth emulating: we need to dream, to make plans, and to believe in our future. Never mind that we have pandemic-related restrictions placed on us with little warning, that our plans have to change … we are adaptable creatures and are able to ‘make a plan’ in order to make the best of what we have. I take heart from the Lesser-striped Swallows that have had to wait for the rain to produce the mud they need to build their nest – only to have it fall down soon after completion. They take stock of the situation and try again!

An interesting variety of birds have visited our garden this month. Many are residents, while others are summer visitors. A Brown-hooded Kingfisher perched above one of our bird baths shortly before Christmas – the first I have seen here for some time. The ‘Friendly Fiscal’ has faced stiff opposition as the ringed one has become bolder and a third Common Fiscal has discovered a ready source of food. The three of them clash fairly often and the Friendly Fiscal has to keep a beady eye open when he comes. I was absolutely thrilled when it ate from my young grandson’s hands twice during his short visit here with his family.

Laughing Doves abound, as usual, and some are adept at clinging on to the hanging bird feeders to get to the source of the seed instead of pecking at the seed that has fallen to the ground. Meanwhile, we have been entertained by the calls of the Red-chested Cuckoo, Diederik Cuckoos and a Klaas’ Cuckoo. I am delighted to at last get a photograph – albeit not a good one – of the latter for they are not easy to spot among the thick foliage. This one is perched in a Pompon tree in which the buds are clearly visible before they burst open to reveal their beautiful pink blossoms.

Other birds that are notoriously difficult to photograph because of their ability to ‘disappear’ in the foliage are the African Green Pigeons, of which there are several feasting on the figs of the Natal fig tree.

Several Speckled Pigeons live in our roof yet they too enjoy the shade of the fig tree during the December heat.

Red-winged Starlings visit the figs daily to get their fill.

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Barthroated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Heron
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redchested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary