Braving the Brahman

I was looking forward to my trot up the mountain today. I relished the thought of an hour or so spent in my favorite environment, alone with my thoughts and creative daydreams.

It soon became apparent however that today’s run would be spent dodging the Brahman cattle that graze on the mountain. Usually they are restricted to certain areas but today it was ‘Brahman central’ wherever I turned.

Trail running requires a certain level of bravery. There are the occasional encounters with snakes and various other critters. Of all the ‘beasts of the field’ however, the cattle are the true test of my courage – I was not raised on a farm swinging my whip!

I am of course much braver when tucked behind a running friend or two. When I am on my own, as I often am, I will go to great lengths to avoid meeting them face to face.

Today was a ‘zigzaggy bundu bash’ of note, through blackjacks, brambles and fences. This may seem a bit extreme, but let me tell you it is not funny being chased by one or more of these bovine beasts. It is terrifying.

Being chased while with friends, although scary at the time, is hilariously funny afterwards as you shriek and giggle at your narrow escape. Being chased on your own is just plain terrifying!

There is one dame in particular who has earned the title of ‘Cruella de Ville’. She has one crooked horn and glares at you with an evil glint in her eye. We avoid her at all costs as she seems to be afflicted with a chemical imbalance, and one never knows if she is going to jump out of the bushes and charge, or just stare malevolently at us as we go by.

Then there are the ‘buttercup cows’, docile and sweet with their big brown eyes which stare myopically at you as they methodically chew their cuds. The calves are delightful, especially when playfully gamboling on shaky new born legs. They are inquisitive and innocent.

Of course this all makes for adventurous moments and memories – which is what trail running is all about.

 

Birdsong

The poet Micheal Langley wrote that if poetry could be music it would choose to be birdsong.

My first birdsong encounter of the day is the cheerful conversation of the Robin outside my kitchen door early in the morning. I love listening to the melodious chatter as I bake muffins for the guests and get the day started. We have quite a few Robins in the garden and they love eating the cat food.  They must find it irresistibly delicious as they will risk life and limb with the chance encounter of any one of eight Penryn kitties by coming inside the kitchen to find it!

Along the trail the birdsong really stands out – probably because of the stillness and peace that envelops the mountain. As you make your way up the path you move very quickly away from the hustle and bustle and into another world. A peaceful haven where the only sounds are the bird calls and the whisper of the breeze. Only very windy days are unpleasant and have a depressing mournful feel about them.

My favorite birds are the Buff streaked chats and of course the sun birds. There are many different sun birds on the mountain. They are dainty and quick – flitting here and there among the nectar rich plants. The ‘Lions ears’ and Aloes have provided a banquet this Winter for many of the nectar feeding birds.

My all time favorite sighting has been of a Malachite sun bird. This is one of the bigger sun birds in South Africa. It is, as its name – a beautiful jewel green. Its iridescent shiny green plumage  a perfect compliment to the many shades of orange on the mountain during Winter.

malachite sun bird

 

‘Scabious columbaria’ and writing

When I started this blog I didn’t have a ‘set’ idea about what I would write about or where it would lead to. It very quickly found its own course however and turned naturally to the things that inspire me and give me joy.

Writing or journaling is a self-revelational exercise. It gets you to pay attention. Paired with reading it is one of the best way to to learn about yourself. It has also taught me to pay closer attention to my environment. Every time I step out for a run or simply just to walk on the mountain for some inspiration and ‘Prozac’, I am amazed by how much there is to see and learn about.

Even as we start heading into the bare bones of Winter where the veld is becoming bleached by the elements and the grass is turning powdery underfoot, there is always some treasure to find.

This week the sweet scabious – ‘Scabious columbaria’ has caught my attention. it has started to flower here and there along the path. This is a grassland perennial herb that flowers on and off through the year. There are lilac and white forms of it but so far I have only come across the white on the mountain. In medieval times the Scabious species was used to relieve the itching caused by scabies and skin sores.

Scabious columbaria is a hardy and pretty little plant that is both drought and cold resistant, adapting to most habitats. It self seeds easily if left undisturbed. Traditionally the roots and leaves were used to treat a number of ailments – from colic to sterility. The flowers are lovely cut for the vase as they are not only attractive but also long lasting.

I love it as it appears naturally in the veld, its petals remind me of coral. I love the way it has started flowering despite the elements – a tough and beautiful little plant.

Running

There is something so soothing and calming about the simplicity of one foot in front of the other. A rhythm so inherently primal. A dance between the rhythm of of my feet and the rhythm of my breath.

It is a long forgotten link to my childhood. A safe place I can step into, where words like productivity, responsibility and deadlines are momentarily forgotten, and left behind for a little while.

I can escape to a place where all that matters is the moment, the sensation of the air over my skin and into my lungs and the steady reassuring  beat of my heart…

My meditation in motion.

Buddleja and De’je’ vu

I am so enjoying the Buddleja auriculata. It is flowering prolifically on the mountain and in my garden right now. The branches are weighted down with trusses of sweet honey scented ‘pom poms’.

I got to thinking about scents and how powerful they can be at evoking a mood or memory. A flash of de’je’ vu wherein one is instantly transported back in time.

For me it is the smell of jasmine in Spring. The sweet heady scent sweeps me back to a specific childhood memory. Playing hide and seek outside at night with my cousins. Running around feeling the freshly cut grass under my bare feet. The cheerful chirruping sound of crickets. The butterfly like rush of excitement and joy in my stomach.

It is that lovely carefree abandonment of reality which is the short lived gift of childhood.

‘Gnidea capitata’ and surviving the paradox of creativity

This pretty little shrub I only just noticed a few trail runs ago because it had survived a fire break and did not seem the worse for wear despite it’s scorching. It is a new species for me. I can’t be sure which Gnidia it is – but because of it’s grey more hairy leaves I think it may be Gnidea capitata.

There is not too much information on the Gnidia either.  It is a grassland and coastal plant which belongs to the ‘Thyme’ family. The flowers are a lovely ‘butter’ yellow and they are a food source for insects and butterflies. Apparently it can flower for months and although an attractive garden plant it can only be sourced from specialist indigenous nurseries.

This is the only little shrub of it’s kind that I have come across on my mountain excursions. I hope to find some more, it is not listed as threatened. One of those overlooked  little plants which of course is why it appeals to me.

The last two weeks have been challenging. Between work pressure, UIF audits and the Winter sniffles – I sank into a horrible malaise. I felt demotivated and uninspired. A few trail runs later and some ‘down time’ – which for me just means dialing down the pressure to ‘produce’ or ‘create’ and just ‘be’, just do the necessary – did the trick.

So here I sit at 4:30 in the morning feeling excited and motivated about an idea I have for my botanical drawings. Creativity is a strange affliction at times. It can be both amazing and brutal. It can take you on a ‘roller coaster ride’ which can make you question your sanity.

I love this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert from her book Big magic. She speaks about the ‘central paradox’ of creating. “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it must also not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).” Crazy true words! Somehow one needs to move between these two margins if one is to stay sane as a creative.

 

Aloe Arborescens – ‘krantz aloe’

Finally I have finished the Aloe arborescens drawing. This is a big piece of work – 60/90 cm and is a wash and pen drawing done onto masonite. It will be a partner for the Aloe maculata finished last month.

The krantz aloe grows into a large multi headed shrub – although it has been given a national tree no, no – 28.1. The flower spikes are usually various shades of orange, but sometimes one may be lucky enough to find bi-coloured or pure yellow ones. This one is a bi-colour and I found it growing near the top of Empati mountain.

All Aloes are an important nectar source for our sun birds and they are loved by insects and bees. The krantz aloe is highly adapted to many habitats although it does prefer rocky cliffs and bush veld.

Medicinally Aloe arborescens have special extracts in their leaves which are excellent for wound healing – especially burns. They have anti – bacterial, anti – ulcer, anti – inflammatory, and anti – carcinogenic properties.

These aloes are fast and easy to grow enjoying full sun. They hybridize easily with other aloe species.

I love not only their colourful flowers through winter but also their structural leaves – this one I enjoyed drawing immensely.

Spreadsheets and Gum trees

So right now I should be doing a spreadsheet. Especially as it is for an audit with the Labour department and it’s due on Friday. Yes, spreadsheets are important – and who doesn’t love spreadsheets. My creative right-brain just thrives on spreadsheets. So,to survive the dreaded spreadsheet – which will probably take hours, I had to go for a run up the mountain first for some much needed fortifying ‘Prozac’.

This morning was the coldest it has been so far this Winter and I made my way up the frosted path dressed like an Eskimo. My hands and feet stung in the icy cold. Halfway up the sun was peeping through though and felt glorious on my face as I continued resolutely with my escape. By the time I got to the top I had thawed out and needed to remove some  layers of clothing.

The spreadsheet will get done before Friday of course. On my run this morning however I saw a painting in some gum trees. I crushed one of the leaves and breathed in the sharp menthol scent and was taken instantly in a flash of memory back to my childhood. I found some Kudu spoor in the mud and I watched a ‘Greater collared’ sun bird flit through the aloe shrubs, stopping every now and then to feast on the nectar.

I came back down feeling alive and motivated again. Now for that spreadsheet!

yellow aloes

The Yellow ‘Aloe maculata’ are finally starting to flower.

 

Golden light and Weeping Sage

I only managed to fit in a trail run later yesterday afternoon. As always it was worth the effort. There is something so beautiful about late afternoons in the veld. As the sun starts to dip and the shadows lengthen everything becomes bathed in a warm honeyed glow. This golden light is juxtaposed against the deep inky shadows and the result is quite magical.

I made my way back down the trail admiring this gorgeous effect. As I went through the forested section I got the distinct honeyed scent of something flowering along the path. I stopped to investigate. It was coming from the Buddleja Auriculata or ‘weeping sage’ bush – as it’s commonly known. These have just started flowering. There are two Buddleja species on Empati. The Buddleja auriculata and the Buddleja Salvifolia. The latter has grey sage like leaves while this one has a more glossy leaf and a weeping habit. It is found on forest margins and rocky slopes. All the Buddlejas are good for attracting butterflies and insects which in turn become food for our insectivorous birds.

I have recently planted both species in the garden. When I went to take a look at ours once home, I was pleased to see that it has also started flowering even though it is only a meter high at this stage. This shrub is both drought and frost resistant and it flowers through Winter into Spring which is a bonus.

No time for drawing it as I am still trying to get the Aloes finished! I did take a photograph of the flowers from our garden. You can see how glossy the leaves are – quite different from it’s cousin although the flowers are very similar.

buddleja garden

 

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