THERE’S AN ANT IN MY NECTAR!

The level of the nectar feeder has been going down very slowly of late. While this is not particularly unusual at this time of the year, with the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and the aloes blooming, what has been strange is the behaviour of the few visitors that have alighted on it. The sunbirds are cautious feeders anyway. Now, one might perch, look around, dip into the feeder once only and leave. Even the robust Fork-tailed Drongos barely perch for more than a second or two: very odd behaviour.

Ants are the problem. During this prolonged drought, they have fanned out in search of moisture and discovered a lethal source of liquid gold in the spout of the nectar feeder.

Lethal, because so many of them are drawn right into the bottle, from which there is no escape. They probably get shoved in ever deeper by the sheer mass of ants thronging around the rim or ‘swimming’ in the opening of the feeder.

I now dip a stick into the feeder whenever I go past and when I withdraw it I find the stick crawling with ants. A whole lot of them fell off in a ‘blob’ before I could take this picture.

SNEEZEWOOD POST

National tree number 292, Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum), has been used as fence posts on farms all over the Eastern Cape for centuries. During that time they have survived the onslaught of sun, wind, decay, fungi and even termites and continue to hold up fences. This is a typical example of a Sneezewood fence post on a local farm.

Sneezewood has also been used for railway sleepers. It is believed that Sneezewood sawdust can be used as an insect repellent. With so many of the original farm fences having been uprooted over the years to make way for larger lands or for game reserves, Sneezewood fence posts have been collected to make benches, for garden steps and to make decorative fences around homes and lodges. The weathered patterns of the wood – and its longevity – suggest a knowledge of the many changes that have taken place where they have stood steadfastly through time.

THE NUMBERS GAME

Think of W.H. Auden’s poem, The Unknown Citizen, which opens with

(To JS/07 M 378

This marble Monument

Is Erected by the State)

Have you ever considered how, like JS/07 M 378, we too are unwittingly a part of a universal Numbers Game? We are so deeply into it that much of what happens in our daily lives wouldn’t function without strict adherence to the rules.

Take my name, for example. I would like to think it is unique. A Google search, however, shows several other women bearing my first name attached to either my maiden surname or my married surname! Anyone trying their own moniker for a gmail address is bound to have a similar experience – unless they happened to get in first. What really makes me unique, in this country anyway, is not my name, but my identity number.

My name aside, I cannot do anything official – like open a bank account, enter the Home Affairs premises, renew my driving licence, take on a paid job, or even pay my income tax – without providing that unique identity number.

My tax number is required by anyone who employs me, by the bank, and by lawyers or estate agents should I wish to sell any property.

The landline that connects me to the rest of the world has a telephone number, which requires me to punch in a number code if I wish to retrieve any recorded messages or a series of numbers should I want to make contact with anyone else via that means. I also have a cell phone number and I need to remember the PIN that will let me use the phone should I have switched it off. I cannot even enter my locked home without disarming the alarm by entering a special numeric code!

I cannot access my laptop without entering a password. I cannot access my online bank account without using both a password and a code. Even accessing income tax online requires of me a password and a code.

Then there is the PIN to verify my credit card. A registration number identifies my car among the many others of the same make and colour in every large parking lot. Our house has a street number and both that address and my mail address gets sorted via a postal code.

Some people use number codes for their front gates – you have to shout at mine because either the bell or its batteries get stolen from time to time. Cyclists use a code for their bicycle locks; some people require a number code to open their home safes; these days many parents have to punch in a number to gain access to their childrens’ school sport facilities.

Having to keep all these numbers, password and codes in one’s head can be a tad confusing – and forgetting one holds the dire prospect of being locked out of one’s cell phone, being denied access to one’s banking facility, or prevented from using one’s credit card: three strikes and you are out!

How interesting it is that the thumbprint – once the preserve of the illiterate – is making a comeback, albeit in a digital format. Names and numbers aside that is the only thing that makes each of us truly unique.

TREES TAKE A LONG TIME TO GROW

Trees take a long time to grow.

I remember being astonished when neighbours, who had purchased a house nearby, announced that they had at last had the tall trees in their garden cut down because they ‘were sick and tired of the weavers building their nests there and making a mess.’ It wasn’t long after that they complained of the heat from the sun that shone into their living room all afternoon during the summer months!

Trees take a long time to grow.

A few years later a friend lamented that their new neighbours had removed the large Erythrina tree from their garden to deter the Hadeda Ibises from roosting in it at night and  ‘making such a noise’ which woke them ‘so early in the mornings.’ We had a good laugh, for she later reported that the Hadedas had simply moved to perch in another tree across the road!

Mary Lisle’s poem springs to mind:

They have cut down the pines where they stood;

The wind will miss them – the rain,

When its silver blind is down.

Not only do trees take a long time to grow, but they support and shelter a variety of life forms as well as being intrinsically beautiful. I have often mentioned the myriad birds visiting the Natal Fig in our garden and how pleasant it is to sit in the forested shade on our lawn.

Trees take a long time to grow.

A matter of only weeks ago I visited a site close to the CBD to observe Sacred Ibises and Cattle Egrets coming to roost in three tall trees growing next to a block of flats at the end of the day. Some of the latter had fledglings in their nests, while others were flapping their wings whilst firmly gripping the slim branches in the afternoon breeze.

Letters of complaint have appeared in the local press from time to time about the noise these birds make. The number of Cattle Egrets have probably increased with the influx of cattle grazing all over town – I passed seven of them sleeping on the pavement outside one of the schools this evening.

Gerard Manley Hopkins decried the loss of the avenue of Binsey Poplars:

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,

Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

All felled, felled, are all felled.

Trees take a long time to grow to maturity; to extend their branches; to put out their leaves, their flowers and their fruit.

I drove past that roosting site a few days ago. A single Sacred Ibis was perched atop the skeletal remains of a single tree. Someone had cut down the other two and prepared the third for removal!

Trees take a long time to grow; yet as Hopkins points out, it only takes

Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve

Strokes of havoc [to] unselve

The sweet especial scene.

All three trees have now been felled – I hope the residents of those flats roast once summer returns!

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.  – William Blake

BLACK-EYED SUSAN

The Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) is a vine that occurs naturally from tropical East Africa to eastern South Africa. It grows on forest margins and is attractive to both bees and butterflies. I have a self-sown one growing next to our swimming pool.

These flowers have also featured on South African postage stamps, which are illustrated below:

I have only now noticed – 17 years later – that the Black-eyed Susan is referred to on the stamps as Black eyed Susy (a name I am not familiar with)! These stamps were first issued in 2000 and reissued in 2003 as part of the standard postage series, which continued for a long time afterwards. In the image you can see them featured alongside a giant girdle-tailed lizard (a 5c stamp issued in 2000) and a much older stamp in a series that featured wild animals of South Africa, this one being a blue wildebeest, issued in 1998.