TRAVELLING LOCAL

The COVID-19 pandemic has clipped our wings in ways we would never have imagined a year ago. Initially there was the anxiety of repatriating South Africans abroad who needed to come home as well as the hundreds of people trapped here who had to return to their homes and places of work abroad. Then we were stuck: at first confined to our homes; gradually being allowed out to exercise; being restricted within provincial borders; and now we can – still with caution – enjoy what South Africa has to offer.

With so many overseas trips cancelled – and still not possible – ‘travelling local’ has taken on a new lease of life. There is a lot of ground to cover in this beautiful country! Friends and neighbours are taking advantage of setting off to explore hitherto unvisited areas or hiving off to the familiar delights of iconic places such as the Kruger National Park.

While confined to home during the initial lockdown phase, I got to know my garden very well indeed – as well as the creatures that share it with us. Nonetheless, I would gaze through our front gate with a degree of longing, yet only ventured as far as our local supermarket on my weekly grocery shopping expeditions.

Expeditions they have been too: rising in the pitch dark to enter the shop when it opened at half past six in order to avoid the lengthy queues that gathered outside after sunrise. I still go early even though the queues have somehow dissipated, and now can enjoy the fresh air and the birdsong at the start of the day. I am home by seven in the morning and the rest of the day stretches ahead, with the worst task already behind me.

‘Freedom’ first came in the form of being allowed to exercise close to home. We have got to know our local streets very well. How’s that for ‘travelling local’?

I clearly recall our first day visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. What a rigmarole it was to get in as we had to book the visit beforehand and show proof of our residence in the Eastern Cape. Then, as now, one had to fill in various forms and have one’s temperature taken – and of course wear a mask. Even though the shop, restaurant and the picnic area were closed, this didn’t detract from the sheer joy of leaving the confines of our town and being in the wild once more.

I have visited the area a few times since then, but the Mountain Zebra National Park was ‘calling’ too – especially once overnight accommodation was allowed. For the first time ever, we eschewed camping to stay in a chalet.

Another favourite place that has simply had to be savoured once more is the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Spending four days there was restorative for my soul.

We have not yet left our home province, but the rest of South Africa is beckoning …

URBAN DONKEYS

Apart from the Urban Herd that wanders through the suburbs at will, we have had to become used to donkeys walking through town. Increasingly though, they too have been making their way through the suburbs and even up to the abandoned golf course on the edge of town. I know we are not the only ones to take a few carrots with us now and then to feed them; several residents have taken to placing buckets or basins of water outside their gates for the donkeys to quench their thirst – where else will they get water? Cradock Dam is empty and the leaking water pipes tend to be in the middle of the road – not a safe place to drink at all!

Not long ago, five donkeys were grazing on the abandoned golf course. I got out of the car to photograph them more easily and was taken aback when four of them trotted right at me! The one in the background paid no heed – perhaps it was really hungry.

They pushed against me as I paused to pat them and stroke them – and tried to get a little distance to photograph one or two.

This wasn’t easy as I had no sooner lifted my camera when a head was shoved under my arm.

It was with a degree of reluctance that I left them nuzzling each other under the trees.

THE END OF WINTER

When winter ventures in everything looks sad, laments Tracey Blight in her poem The End of Winter. During our winter walks we have noted how the drought-stricken grass has turned to golden straw and, in places even disappeared. Some trees have been stripped of their leaves; and the regular winds still have a chilly edge to them. The end of winter is a sombre time – this year the edge of the sombreness has been honed to a keening for the social isolation that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon us. Cheerful gatherings to ward off the dullness of the cold forbidden; even travelling to feast our eyes on distant places has been restricted; the greatest loss has been the pandemic-imposed distance between family and friends that has prevailed for so long.

In a way these steps in our street epitomise that loss:

There was a time when these old stone steps led up to a gate in a low wall that opened into a garden of happiness. I remember how the old man who lived there when we arrived in the neighbourhood used to bring a basket around after the rain to pick the large white mushrooms that popped up all over our lawn. We learned so much from chatting to him as he went about this task and I was warmed by him saying more than once “it is wonderful to hear the sound of young children in the neighbourhood once more.” Both the man and the mushrooms have gone.

I remember a time when these steps led up to a gate that opened and shut several times a day as children came and went: such happy days when friendship meant entrance without question. I recall bicycles being humped up and down those steps to be ridden around the streets accompanied by laughter and shouting. That family left; the children of the time have grown up – some already have children of their own; most have sought their happiness in other towns or even abroad.

It was with a deep sense of horror that I noted the workmen outside one day. The gate had been tossed aside and brick by brick the gap in the wall was filled. The plaster was roughly applied, leaving the outline of that hole still visible to the casual eye. The happy entrance has been permanently replaced by a dull, cement-covered wall – leaving only the drive-way as an entrance to a garden one can no longer peep into as one walks past. A fortress of a wall shouts keep out!

Yet, the rough stone steps remain – worn in places from foot traffic from decades past; a reminder of happier times, freer times and, alas, safer times when people mixed more freely and neighbours knew each other better.

Winter is not all drab and dull: we have enjoyed the aloes that brighten the landscape and now, as the season turns away from us, the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina trees brighten the mood and point us to spring peeping from the wings, still too timid to take full stage. Looking down too at the debris of leaves and seeds shaken by the winds that have roared and tugged and made us shiver, we can see beauty in the end of winter:

This collection of leaves in a gutter represent what has gone and should be forgotten, the sadness that will heal with time, as well as the hope we need to nurture as we face our uncertain future. We move to Alert Level 1 of the lockdown on Monday … along with brighter prospects, a new season, and hope – lots of it!

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/end-of-winter/

WALKING PAST THE URBAN HERD

We had barely set off for a walk when, only a short distance from our home, we met this cow eating grass on a neighbour’s verge. As with most of these cattle that wander at will through the suburbs, this one looks in good condition. We found her calf lying down in the grass not far away. Apart from grass, they also eat aloes, succulents and browse on the branches of low-hanging trees.

Here is part of the rest of the herd grazing in the park between the street and the main road into town. The park hasn’t been mown for the best part of the year, so one cannot blame the cattle for being attracted to the green pasture – luscious compared to the dried out winter grass covering the rest of the veld.

These members of this Urban Herd had already started wandering up towards the industrial area on the edge of town. This lies at the end of the path and through the green bushes on the horizon. The mowing here has been done by the resident at the end of the road – not the municipality!

Many years ago this grassy area was a well-manicured lawn. No more: this cow is taking advantage of the municipality’s neglect to have a good munch before joining the rest of the herd going up the hill.