It’s drizzling and the driveway looks sparkling and green-ish – needs weeding one day – on the brick from my kitchen window, so I took a picture which doesn’t look as good as it does. The camera – or the cameraman – hasn’t captured the mood . .
Yesterday the meadow popped some tiny little flowers when the sun popped out:
Your pinky nail would cover them.
In the drizzle the squeakers (Arthroleptis wahlbergi) are squeaking and the robin is prrrp prupp (Red-capped Robin-chat).
A new tenant just moved in – some renovations were asked for and some will get done. I thought now that we’re taking photos and tidying up I better prepare for when I’ll be letting the flat myself, without a letting agent. Here’s my sales pitch:
Lovely old-time building; Well-maintained; Big rooms; High ceilings; Two bedrooms, one airconditioned; Bathroom with shower and bath; Separate toilet; Built-in cupboards; Large lounge with adjacent enclosed porch looking onto a private garden; Fitted kitchen; Tenants have all been lo-ong term and have all loved staying here.
Off-street parking; On-street lockup garage; Lockup storeroom in courtyard; Secure gated entrances for pedestrians and vehicles; Secluded garden just big enough for a picnic or braai under two beautiful old tree aloes.
It was a sad fact. The Umgeni was going to be dammed. Again. The fourth big dam on its course from the Dargle to the sea. Many people love dams. I hate them. They ruin the valleys and change nature for ever. Dams wipe out species – many before we even discover them; they flood huge areas of wetlands, riverine forest and grasslands; they displace people and affect everything living downstream. Large dams hold back not just water, but silt and nutrients that replenish farmlands and build protective wetlands and beaches. If you love rivers, dams are the enemy – the disease that kills. Dams don’t just change the river valleys in our waterways, they obliterate them. Yet people love them.
So the Umgeni was going to be dammed and damned; and I wanted a last paddle on that part of the river which was destined to be for ever gone.
So I rounded up some boats and some non-paddling friends in August 1988. Come and paddle a part of the famous Duzi Canoe Marathon course, I said. And the suckers fell for it! Geoff Kay, Mike and Yvonne Lello, Pete Stoute, sister Sheila; and wife Trish joined me in the valley. Some brought some kids, and some valley kids joined us.
We launched the boats with fanfare, breaking a bottle of champagne on each one’s hull (OK, not really) – AND:
They didn’t float! The river was so shallow they hit the bottom, even thought their draft was like two inches!
Oh well, it turned out to be not a paddle but a trudge. And – literally – a drag. But fun nonetheless!
I stared at the banks and the valley walls as I trudged. Soon yahoos would be racing outboard motors here. Soon this life and interesting variety all around us would be drowned forever.
It’s been a long time since I last heard the plaintive, mournful-sounding hoot of the Buff-spotted Flufftail, Sarothrura elegans. But the last few nights he has been hooting gently outside my window in Westville above the Palmiet River:
Hope they stay awhile . . .
I heard it for years at 7 River Drive on the Mkombaan River in Westville, but although I searched and stalked and lay in wait at all hours, the only one I saw was one the bloody next door cat killed! Something like this:
And then at last I saw one of Crispin Hemson’s flufftails at Pigeon Valley in Durban. One lone male. And just for a few seconds before he ducked into the undergrowth. I was pleased to see one of Crispin’s pictures has been used in wikipedia.
William Tyrer Gerrard sent a stuffed aardvark to Derby! How cool or how bad ass is that? You receive a parcel from your botanical collector: Here are some flowers and some leaves; oh, and one aardvark! Poor bloody aardvark had to stare out on grey Pommie skies from then on.
I went looking for his story after seeing a Forest Iron Plum tree at Sand Forest Lodge in Zululand, the Drypetes gerrardii.
He was an English professional botanical (and anything else) collector in Natal and Madagascar in the 1860s. Born in Merseyside in 1831, he worked in Australia, then in Natal, where he collected over 150 previously unknown plant species and . . it was a Natal aardvark he stuffed and shipped to England. He left Natal in April 1865 for coastal Madagascar, where he made large collections of plants, insects, and birds. He died age 34 of yellow fever in Mahavelona on the north east coast of Madagascar, north of Toamasina.
Gerrard was obviously good at finding plants, as In the early 1860’s he gathered the only known specimens of an Emplectanthus and an Adeniaspecies. Considered Critically Endangered and possibly Extinct according to IUCN Red List criteria, they were only re-discovered in the lower Msikaba River valley and the lower Tugela River Valley in 2006 and 2016 respectively.
Johan August Wahlberg (1810 – 1856) was another Swedish naturalist and explorer. He traveled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, especially in Natal and South West Africa, sending thousands of natural history specimens back to Sweden.
The journals of his travels are generally brief and objective (and I haven’t been able to find them yet! So I know little about him, even though his name is honoured in many species – moths, lizards, birds, plants, etc), and his portrayal of people he met is usually reliable and unprejudiced.
Wahlberg is commemorated in Wahlberg’s Eagle, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and the beautiful little bush squeaker frog Arthroleptis wahlbergi. That’s my pic on top of one of the little squeakers; fully grown, he’s the size of your top finger digit. This one lives in our garden in Westville.
‘Sport’ in those days consisted of shooting as much as possible for the tally, the ‘bag.’ These pale chaps ran amuck, trying to score a century, even though cricket was only 240 years old in 1838.
His diary in Natal: 23 August – near Umgeni river: (shot) 1 Ichneumon taenianotus (a mongoose); 1 Boschbock; 1 red-buck (red duiker?); 1 birds.
‘I was so intent on the bucks that the fall of darkness took me (by) surprise. I lost the path and so entangled myself in the thickets that I sure that I should have to pass the night in the woods. I shot six alarm-shots. I was glad to hear them answered by regular salvos from the village. Flayed the boschbock and left the carcase in the wood.’
31 August – near Umkamas river: ‘Continued hunting hippopotamus; no luck. In the evening, accompanied only by one Hottentot Bastard we came sufficiently near to hippopotamus. Two bullets went whistling at the same moment, and found their mark in the head of a young sea-cow. She came to the surface several times, spouting blood high in the air. An adult now appeared; once again our shots sounded as one; it showed the whole of its body above water, dived, a strong furrow appeared in the water, moved rapidly towards the shore, and soon the whole body of the monster was visible above the surface, in form and attitude like a gigantic pig. With incredible swiftness it hurled itself once more into the stream, and rose several times in succession, each time spouting blood. Darkness fell and we were forced to return.’
1st September – ‘We looked in vain for the hippopotamus.’
2nd – ‘Saw numerous buffalo but was unable to get near them. Clouds of locusts darken the sky. We go further afield to a smaller stream.’
3rd – ‘Lying in wait for the buffalo. Hear them approaching at full gallop through the bushes. Climb an acacia. Give the first bull a bullet, which makes him fall back upon his hind-quarters. He gets to his legs again and escapes.’
Well, at least this time Africa got its revenge! Wahlberg was killed by a wounded elephant while exploring along the Thamalakane river about 10 km northwest of Maun just south of the Okavango Delta in today´s Botswana.
Gathering the troops for family meetings used to be hard. You’d no sooner get one to the table than they had disappeared when you got back with the other. Not anymore: For instant family gatherings, with everyone – including Cecilia – crowded round the router with a WTF look on their faces, just switch off the wifi.
Early mornings are not young people’s best. It’s not just Christmas when ‘all through the house; Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;’ I get up in the morning and all is dead quiet. To use another Free State Reed-ism ‘not a leaf stirred, not a dog stirred’ (geddit?*).
They lie low as I pad up and down the passage. Even if I stick my lips at the door crack and ask ‘You Awake?’ not a peep.
Until I walk past with shoes on. Then it’s instantly ‘Where’re you going?’
. . not a dog’s turd. This Reed-ism is best orally, not so good in print.