SCABIOSA COLUMBARIA

Scabiosa columbaria, also known as Bitterbos or Wild Scabious, is widespread in South Africa, occurring mostly in grasslands, on rocky slopes and in bushveld habitats. Scabiosa, is derived from the Latin scabies meaning ‘to scratch’ – possibly because the plants were used medicinally to relieve the itch of scabies and skin sores. The flowers attract a number of butterflies and make a beautiful show when growing en masse – it is not always easy to appreciate this effect in the grasslands though!

They are in bloom at the moment and are well worth looking out for.

References:

Gledhill Eily Veldblomme van Oos-Kaapland Cape Nature Conservation (undated).

Manning John Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa Struik Nature 2009.

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OENOPHILE

It has taken me a long time to become something akin to an oenophile – not as a connoisseur you understand, but simply as someone who enjoys wine along with pleasant company. Although my parents were not regular wine drinkers, they introduced us to wine from an early age. At special dinners we were allowed what would amount to a few drops in a liqueur glass so that we could join in with the toast for whatever the celebratory occasion happened to be. I wrinkled my nose at it.

Even once I had reached the legal ‘drinking age’ and was at university, I eschewed wine in favour of beer – or a soft drink! Beer tended to be far more thirst-quenching, and therefore satisfying, after a weekend spent hiking in the Natal Drakensberg or having expended a lot of energy playing in a squash tournament.

I had recently begun teaching when we attended a work-related dinner. The brief look of shock on the face of our host has remained etched on my memory: I asked for a beer in response to his “What would you like to drink?” on our arrival. What a social faux pas! He politely handed me a beer in a tall glass with a narrow base and only then did I notice that the men were drinking theirs from beer mugs and all of the other women present were delicately sipping white wine! To my uninformed eyes it looked such an elegant drink. I felt very raw and unsophisticated and allowed my beer to last a very long time.

White wine still tends to have a sophisticated air about it. I entered the ‘adult’ social world when ‘wine rules’ were still strictly adhered to: white wine with fish and chicken; red wine with beef and lamb. The prevailing custom also seemed to be that women had white wine before dinner. My problem was that I simply didn’t like the taste of white wine!

I can no longer remember when I was introduced to red wine. For decades however, it has been my preference: robust, dark red, and not sweet. Believe me, I tried the white varieties now and then but, compared with red, I didn’t enjoy either its bouquet or its taste. Red was the way forward and that choice sometimes made me feel awkward during early adulthood.

An example of this is a formal dinner we had been invited to. Our hosts had spared no detail with either the table settings or the menus. I did not miss the slight lift of an eyebrow, however, as our host filled my glass with red wine – all the other women present had opted for white!

Happily, times have changed and now we can choose white, red, or rosé without anyone turning a hair. We can now actually enjoy being an oenophile [from Greek oinos (wine) and –phile (love)] without fear of falling foul of any ‘laws’ of etiquette.

Price and occasion still determine my range, although I admit to shifting the limit as I age and my palate becomes more appreciative of the intricacies of wine. I am also happy to choose wine according to the labels; I have become familiar with different types and brands; and I regularly take note of ‘good’ wines tasted elsewhere.

Last year the South African Post Office commemorated the local wine industry by issuing a set of five small international letter rate stamps on 6th October 2017, designed by Rachel-Mari Ackermann of the SA Post Office. I can only show you four of them: the missing stamp depicts Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa. The stamp on the top left shows the Groot Constantia wines, Duke of Northumberland 1791 and Grand Constance 1821; next to it is the famous South African Pinotage wine – the first bottled vintage Lanzerac wines 1959; below left shows workers collecting grapes at Babylonstoren; and lastly a collection of wine barrels.

White wine? I admit to only venturing down that path about four years ago. I still take tentative steps, many of them experimental, and take careful note of what works for me or not. I am gradually gathering a repertoire of white wine I can serve with confidence. To me, white wine is best enjoyed in summer – they still battle to find a place in my winters.

ERYTHROS

Erythros is the Greek word for red. The genus Erythrina is derived from this word – an allusion to the colour of the flowers, such as this Erythrina lysistemon, photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

I have often mentioned the Erythrina caffra that towers over our back garden. Collectively, Erythrinas are known as coral trees these days, although some also refer to them as ‘lucky bean trees’. This is a reference to the bright red seeds that split from the black pods. These can be found scattered on the ground below the trees and are often collected simply to look pretty in jars, or to be made into necklaces or bracelets.

Combine erythros with phobia to form erythrophobia and you have the word to describe an extreme fear of blushing, or a hypersensitivity to the colour red. My dictionary also gives me erythrocyte, which is a blood cell of vertebrates that transports oxygen and carbon dioxide combined with haemoglobin.

Given all this information, could we then (just for fun) describe a particularly red sunset as an ‘erythrostic’ sunset? I present two examples, both taken in the Kruger National Park, for you to look at while you decide.

WILD FOXGLOVES

The Wild Foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba) reminds me of summer and early autumn in the Lowveld. Ceratotheca refers to the horned capsules and originates from the Greek kerato (horned) and theke (a case), while triloba refers to the plant having three leaves.

It might not be as ‘showy’ as the exotic ones favoured by gardeners, but it has a beauty of its own – especially when seen growing in clumps, as we did in the Kruger National Park.

The bottom flowers bloom first and form fruits while buds are developing higher up. Here a plant is being given a thorough going through by a Baboon.

This process left many of the tall spikes stripped of their blossoms and the stems bent and broken.

It is always pleasing to see them on our infrequent visits to KwaZulu-Natal too.

Here it is easier to get a closer look at the trumpet-shaped lilac flowers with their characteristic dark streaks at the throat. The latter are easier to see from close up as the flowers hang in clusters – hiding this beautiful aspect from the average passer-by.

They tend to grow in disturbed soil and so are commonly seen along the side of the road and in grasslands. Despite its name, this ‘foxglove’ actually belongs to the ‘sesame’ family!

ANIMAL SPOOR

It is interesting to note that the word spoor, commonly used in South African English, originated c. 1823, from the Afrikaans spoor, which developed from Middle Dutch spor, which has the same linguistic derivation as the Old English spor, all meaning a ‘footprint’ or a ‘track’ which can be traced. Here spoor refers to the visible tracks of animals that allow us a glimpse of their presence even though they may have left an area.

These are tracks of an unidentified bird on a beach:

Snails and other creatures have created a veritable highway on the sand:

It is exciting to come across the tracks of animals, such as this antelope, while driving through a game reserve.

Of course this generally means that one cannot get out to look at them more closely or even to measure them, but with time, one can learn to tell one animal from another.

This is the spoor of a Cape Mountain Zebra:

Because we had seen one nearby, we can reasonably assume that this is the track of a Black-backed Jackal:

Selecting these images from hundreds of photographs of birds, animals and insects, has made me realise that photographing animal tracks, or spoor, may be a worthwhile activity in the future.

SCOTCH-CART

This is a Scotch-cart parked outside the museum in Prince Albert. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information relating to it inside, although it clearly forms part of the history of transport in this country. Interestingly enough, according to the online dictionaries I have consulted, the name Scotch-cart is of South African origin (only one referred to it being of English origin). As you can see from the photograph, it is a light, strongly built, springless two-wheeled tip cart with a detachable back, which would have been drawn by horses or oxen. These carts were typically used for transporting small loads of, say, gravel, wood, or manure and were popular with farmers. The name may have a connection with the design being thought to have originated in Scotland.

Here is an excerpt from my father’s memoirs in which he recalls such a cart in Wales, where he spent his formative years:

I remember once there was a two-wheeled scotch-cart going along the little track next to the beach on the other side, it was accompanied by a man and a dog. I could hear the rumble of the cart, the sudden spit as the wheel split a small pebble with its iron shod tyre as well as the spoken commands of the man to the horse. It was as though I was standing next to them. W.D. Curror: A Brief History of the Currors.

WON’T BE HERE

There was an intriguing sign outside the Calitzdorp post office:

It was so odd that I halted for a closer look:

This is what the sign announced:

Why would the post office be closed for that length of time?

It turned out that the sign did not actually relate to the closure of the post office, but to the small hair salon tucked behind the arch in the same building. The hairdresser found it amusing that so many people would pop in to ask why the post office would be closing!

I hope she gained a few more clients as a result.