Wisdom from ‘the mouths of babes’ and Pentanisia prunelloides

Most of this week has been unusually hot. My Tuesday morning trail trot was no exception. As I made my way up the winding mountain path I was quite relieved to find it breezy on the top after my climb. There are a few brave floral faces beginning to show themselves in anticipation of Spring.

Aha! I was pleased to find the first blue pentanisias peaking through the dry veld. There will be many more as this is quite a common veld wild flower. The sight of them takes me back to a memory of a morning out walking with my son Matthew last Spring.

We had been walking on the mountain searching for ‘treasures’ as we sometimes like to do. I was keen to find the first Spring grass orchids as these are not common and a bit elusive on our mountain. I had just been learning about these mysterious and beautiful little plants and I had developed a kind of ‘orchid fever’ in my hopes of finding some.

In my enthusiasm and eagerness to find the orchids I was a little less enamored by the other more common veld flowers that day. The lilacy blue Pentanisias were everywhere and I had become so accustomed to seeing them that I had in fact stopped seeing them. I did not even know what they were called.

My son looked at me at one point during our walk and said “Mom, why don’t you like these pretty blue ones?” He had noticed that I had been completely overlooking them in my search for the Orchids. I answered that it was because there were so many of them and they were everywhere. He looked at me with a scowling disapproving face and promptly told me off for thinking like that! He was right! I have never forgotten those nuggets of wisdom from my then ten year old son.

Pentanisia prunelloides

So this year I have been eagerly awaiting the blooming of the Pentanisias! Now I know them by name and I have done a little reading up about them to share.

Pentinisia prunelloides or ‘wild verbena’ is widespread in Southern Africa. it is used extensively in traditional medicine and is a veritable ‘cure all’ for a wide range of ailments. The Zulu name for it is ‘olamlilo’ which translated means – ‘that which puts out the fire’. In Afrikaans it is the ‘sooibrand bossie’ meaning – ‘heart burn shrublet’. It is an attractive plant in the veld or garden flowering from August to January. It is also a favorite source of nectar for many butterflies. It has a large root system which allows it to survive veld fires and trampling by livestock. According to SANBI PlantZAfrica – the Pentinisia does not enjoy having it’s roots disturbed, but can easily be propagated from cuttings in Spring and Summer.

Penryn ‘Kitty’ Hotel

The first Penryn kitty to move in was an adorable friendly tabby kitten found by Paige in the garden. He was completely on his own, hiding in the ivy growing around the Jacaranda trees. Paige named him Solo, as he was indeed ‘solo’ when he was found. He would not be ‘solo’ for long!

To this day I often wonder how he even got there. Was he perhaps placed in the garden – as a test by the the other homeless hopefuls? Perhaps word on the street was that a newly single distraught looking woman had moved into the neighborhood, and she had ‘crazy cat lady’ potential written allover her forehead – only of course she didn’t know it yet. Were the other strays perhaps waiting behind the scenes, one can almost imagine them saying “send in the kitten”!

And, so, that was first of many cats and kittens that have come and gone through the gates of Penryn and into our hearts. Some have been lost to illness or to unfortunate accidents on the busy road outside of the guest house, and some have stayed, living out their nine lives. All of them have added to our joy and amusement and have been part of our family.

Of course each and every cat we have ever had certainly deserves a chapter, but that would be allot of writing, and chapters and chapters about cats may just seal my fate as ‘crazy cat lady’! I have decided to just do a few – for now. Some of these kitties have passed on sadly.

Blacky Jack

‘Dartanian’ aka. Blacky Jack, is a very handsome and neat tuxedo clad black and white stray that moved in a few years ago. He is a cat sporting many talents and interests. These range from yodeling, an eerie caterwauling sound reserved for special occasions – to an intense interest in motor cars, or anything with wheels for that matter. No sooner do you have your car door open, and in hops Blacky Jack. I am surprised that he has not gone off with one of the guests yet. He is also the self appointed car guard, and can usually be found sunning himself in the car park or lounging on top of a car bonnet.

Poppet was donated as a tiny mewling three day old and had to be bottle fed. A leggy brown tabby who has never forgiven me for extending the menagerie. At one one time preferring to live on the roof for almost a year because she despised a particular new addition. Only when the poor ‘new addition’ succumbed to illness a year later did Poppet grace us with her presence again. Cats have an amazing ability to spite one another – it has to be seen to be believed!

Miss Muppet – the vanilla princess

Muppet the ‘vanilla princess’ was found by my staff in the township. Also only about three days old and needing a bottle and ‘new born’ care. The prettiest creamy blue eyed cat with cinnamon ears and tail. She was quite a character and really crept into my heart. I was devastated when she went missing about a year ago.

Meow cat, aka. Mouses, was spotted living in a tree outside our kitchen door. He would come down at night to eat when no one was around. Slowly we gained his confidence and once he had a taste of being stroked and loved he was hooked! A big handsome solid cat – like a giant plush toy, with a wonderful personality. He oozed love and cuddles, looking for any opportunity to get as close as possible to you. He would work his charm on the guests too, shmoozing his way into their rooms, adoring the attention. Not only was Meow cat a big hit with the guests, he was also popular with the other strays. A sort of kitty ‘God father’, deciding who could stay and who could not. Sadly Meow cat had to be put down recently because of feline leukemia. To say that we were heart broken would be an understatement.

Meow cat

Noodle is the latest addition. Another donation. How could we possibly say no to this cutie pie. The tiniest little scrap of a kitten, her fur looks as if it has been knitted in multi color wool. She is grey ginger and white, her beautiful green eyes fringed with pale ginger lashes. She has a foot fetish, and being small enough will happily curl up on whom ever’s foot happens to be near by.

Fortunately the grounds and house are big and spacious with plenty of trees for our collection of cats to enjoy. Sitting out on the veranda in the early evenings and watching their antics and fun and games has provided much laughter and entertainment for us and the guests. Life would not be the same without our feline family.


‘Mchulu’ – The African magic far away tree

This morning Mathew and I decided to hike out to our favorite Mpati mountain tree – Cussonia Spicata, or ‘mountain cabbage tree’.

The shortest way to get there is to park at the top of the mountain and make your way down a rocky and partly forested piece of the mountain. There is a path here thankfully although quite overgrown. It used to be part of the Mpati hiking trail many many years ago, now it is only really used once a year during the ‘death by mountain’ Mpati trail running race which happens every September. It is also used by a few people still enjoying nature and the beauty of the trails.

The path is clear enough to find but it is quite slippery in places. Once out of the forested bit one clambers down a thick grassy steep hill to get to the plateau below where this particular mountain cabbage tree is growing.

The path through the grass is quite overgrown and slippery. This Eastern slope is sheltered and the soil stays damp and rich. The number of shrubs and plants growing here is staggering, a real treat. Each season bringing something new to delight in.

Today the Buddleja salviifolia shrubs are flowering – taking over from their cousins the Buddleja auriculata. Every now and again their sweet honeyed fragrance is wafted over on the breeze. I notice for the first time that there are lavender flowering ones here in this section amongst the more common cream flowering ones.

Buddleja Salviifolia

Poking through the grass are a few patches of Helichrysum cooperi plants. Their bright yellow papery faces like miniature sunflowers popping up through the tangled vegetation.

Helichrysum cooperi

I am also pleased to see the first Polygala virgata starting to flower. These have dainty bonneted fluffy lilac tufts at the end of their graceful stems.

Polygala virgata

After a bit of a slip and slide we are at the bottom and there, finally, is our ‘magic African far away tree’ – Cussonia spicata. Commonly known as the giant mountain cabbage tree.

According to SANBI PlantZAfrica, there are eleven different Cussonia species in South Africa. They are variable, some being more frost tolerant than others. Our Cussonia is growing up and out from the side of a huge slab of rock, which possibly provided shelter in the beginning years.

To say that it is huge is a gross understatement and sadly our photographs do not do it justice. I have taken one with Matthew in the foreground to give a sense of scale.

Matthew in front of the huge mountain cabbage tree

The trunk has divided into two huge stems quite low down. Matthew and I measure the base with my tape measure – which has been bought along for this purpose. It is just under 4 metres wide! The two stems have spread to each side and have created an enormous canopy. The bark is pitted and rough, corky almost. I love feeling the deep gnarled grooves under my fingertips.

Spot the gnarled face in the bark

Matthew and I clamber up onto the huge slab of rock that is conveniently growing under our tree, to explore and investigate all we can. We decide that our tree needs a name.

‘Mchulu’ is a Zulu reverential term , meaning ‘majestic’ and ‘great’. This particular Cussonia is both ‘majestic’ and undeniably ‘great’- ‘Mchulu’ it is.

After our exploring session is over and many photographs have been taken, we bid Mchulu a cheery goodbye, and begin our climb back up the slippery slope.

A few younger Cussonias – the typical shape reminds one of Dr. Seuss trees!

A serial thief and ‘desperate times’ – a true story.

A few short years ago I found myself the victim of a spate of robberies at the guest house. These ranged from television sets being stolen out of the rooms, to my bag – twice, and one night even my car was stolen out of the parking lot! After each incident we would fortify as best we could, hoping to solve the problem, but the thief or thieves surprised us by brazenly trying new ways to get inside. On one occasion breaking my office window and on another forcing the front door open with presumably a crow bar! This all whilst my children and I were sleeping upstairs.

There is nothing more terrifying than being woken up by the sound of shattering glass. I can still remember the feeling of utter panic and the overwhelming sensation of my heart racing and pounding in my chest, while I crept from room to room upstairs, my hands shaking so much I could barely dial for help.

Over the next few weeks I did what I could to keep the intruders out. The palisade boundary fence was raised and fitted with rolled barbed razor wire, making the whole property look like a mini Fort – knox. The windows were all burglar – guarded. Eventually an alarm system complete with panic buttons was installed at great expense.

The agony and inconvenience of having to apply for new Identity card, bank cards, and drivers license not once but twice in six months, I am convinced has shortened my life span by a few years!

The procedure of finger prints being searched for and statements being given each time felt a bit like a lost cause to be honest. Somehow however, the wheels of justice kept slowly grinding away and eventually a Mr. Ngwenya was arrested for a number of house robberies in the area, including those at Penryn.

Myself and a neighbor received a summons to appear in court to testify against the notorious Mr. Ngwenya. The first time the accused, unsurprisingly, did not bother to show up. The second time, some of the evidence had been mislaid or left behind and once again we spent a morning wasted in court. We were informed however that the accused had pleaded guilty anyway, without our needing to be there eventually. Much to our relief!

Things settled back into there normal routine thankfully and as the months past Mr. Ngwenya was forgotten about for a while. That was, until I received a phone call one morning from our local prison.

Mr. Dube the prison warden, politely inquired as to my health. I replied that – yes thank you all was well, and how could I help Mr. Dube. Did he perhaps require accommodation? No he did not require accommodation, but would it be possible to see him the next day at the prison? When I hesitatingly asked  in connection with what. He very jovially replied that there was nothing to worry about, he would explain all when I got there the next day. This had exactly the opposite effect and I worried all afternoon and had a sleepless night to boot!

My head was spinning by the time I arrived at the prison and I had managed to work myself up into a bit of a state! I was informed that my cell phone and bag would have to be stored in a locker whilst I was inside. I was then led down a series of long corridors and through a courtyard, finally to be shown into an office. I was told to wait, Mr. Dube would be there shortly.

After about a twenty minute wait, In strolled a large, spectacled friendly looking man. Mr. Dube. Close behind followed another uniformed man, presumably an officer or guard, and with him, a prisoner wearing  bright orange overalls and handcuffed. Mr. Ngwenya!

Introductions were made, all the while Mr. Dube keeping up a sort of forced over friendly banter, perhaps to make me feel more at ease. It was all very unreal and disturbing. If he had sported a grey beard and chuckled “ho ho ho” at this point it would not have seemed out of the ordinary. The whole experience was beginning to feel like a Mad hatters tea party and I was Alice trying to make sense of it all. I listened in a daze to what was being said, and tried to piece together why I was there in the first place. This was difficult as the explanation was long winded and dramatized for effect.

First Mr. Dube took great pains to explain how full – in fact, over full, the prisons were, and prisoners were being given the opportunity to come forth, and did I know, he went on, that these were desperate times! This last bit was said with great emphasis and a raising of his voice. I still did not know what the prisoners were coming forth about, but I nodded my head nervously in agreement.

He then proceeded to go on at great lengths, extolling the many many virtues of forgiveness. This solemn sermon would be interrupted every now and again by a “Thank you Jesus, thank you!” from Mr. Ngwenya – Mr Ngwenya who had now been reformed it seemed by his short spate in the ‘over full’ prison, in these ‘desperate times’.

After this long winded sermon like speech, they all turned to stare at me, and I realised that I was now expected to say something. Still feeling a bit dazed I stammered something to the effect that – yes it was a good thing to forgive another human being, especially if that person had changed his ways and was remorseful. To be honest I could not wait to get out of there. I was uncomfortable with the whole thing and I had very unfairly been put on the spot.

There was obvious relief at my reply because the whole atmosphere relaxed and changed again. The other officer in the room even went on to give Mr. Ngwenya some practical and sound advice. Mr. Ngwenya was to tell his friends that the next time they wanted to steal, they should at least leave the identity cards and drivers license cards behind. Did he not know what a great inconvenience this was for the poor people they were robbing! Very inconvenient he repeated while shaking his head sternly.

This should have sufficed as the cherry on the top, but no, there was more.

Mr. Dube then turned to me and in total sincerity, asked – if  “mamma Carol” did not perhaps have a job for the poor Mr. Ngwenya.  After all, he sighed sadly, these were very very desperate times indeed.

Friday morning musings

Misty mountain path

Misty mornings on the mountain are beautiful. They are so beautiful that they are distracting. This morning I found myself stopping ever so often to photograph spiderwebs that had been highlighted in silver, or the seed heads of  grass stalks shimmering with dew droplets, transformed into miniature chandeliers.

Grass seed head transformed by the glittering dew

Finally I stopped clicking away with my phone camera and settled into my run. The sun had broken through the misty cloud and it was beautiful and clear higher up. I decided to follow a path that I had not used in a while and headed off. it was a little overgrown but still familiar and all went well until I decided to turn for home along another loop of the  same path – that I thought I knew so well.

For some reason or other the path had decided to reproduce during the Winter and now sprouted baby paths – which all looked exactly the same. I ended up in a zig – zaggy confusion. Although I was lost as to the path, I was not lost as to my whereabouts. I could clearly see the plateau below and other various landmarks. If I wanted to I could make my way down the hill through the long grass and over the rocky terrain to another more familiar part of the trail, but I would have preferred the comfort of staying on a path.

Eventually however I decided to be sensible and scrambled down the hill and out onto the next plateau which I knew quite well. I was back on track again and enjoyed meandering down the rest of the way and finally to my vehicle.

Aloe arborescens

Once home I went through the various photographs and material I had taken on the trail as I usually do. On  this run I had stopped to take a short thirty second video of a particularly breath taking vista. I had remained as quiet as I could during the filming of it, hoping to also capture the trill of the bird call that was so lovely in the back round. My intention was to send it to someone and in so doing share my lovely experience. When I played the video through first to check that it was as I hoped it would be, there was no bird call or song of any kind. This had been completely drowned out by the sound of my rather heavy breathing, from the exertion of the climb. Way too creepy to send to anyone and it would have certainly not have had the intended effect!

This however got me thinking about breath and the automatic and invisible process of breathing during a run. In meditation one is taught that ones breathing can be used as an anchor point. The breath can be focused on as a practice of calming and centering oneself.

During a run, unless one is gasping up a hill or pushing far beyond ones comfort zone by ‘speeding’ (which I never do!),  breathing is taken for granted. It is the simple act of one breath leading to another and one step leading to another. In doing this I am moved forward – for a little while at least. I am taken out of the 24 hour auto wash, rinse and spin cycle of my life. Creativity also has this power. The power to lift upwards and forwards, even if just for a little while, from the wear and tear and the hum drum of everyday life.

spider web spun in silver
Continue reading “Friday morning musings”

Of friendships and butterflies

A friendship built and formed over running is a special one indeed. It has been layered over time, run by run and conversation by conversation. Until one day on reflection, you suddenly realise how deep that friendship goes.

It is a gradual building of trust, a trust earned over many kilometers shared and endured together. Conversations that vary in depth and mood just as the terrain may vary in the actual  run. From light hearted chit chat to intense discussions. From giggles and shrieks of laughter to tender and vulnerable confidences. Even when one of you is not in the mood to talk, the company is comforting and understood, never awkward.

There have been many shared vistas and views, interesting and beautiful finds whilst sharing trail runs with my running friends over the years. Above all of these there is one particular early morning, late Autumn trail run, that stands out for me.

My friend Jenny and I had run to the top of Mpati mountain and we were making our way down through the valley. The path for quite a way is merely a cattle path, quite rocky and technical. It is scenic and interesting however, criss- crossing a stream in places. About halfway down the valley the path leads to a rickety small bridge. This has been made from a few planks nailed together. Once crossed it leads onto a man made mountain biking path for a little while.

It was as we stepped onto the bridge, Jenny leading the way, that a cloud of what seemed like a hundred or more royal blue and black butterflies fluttered up serenely from underneath it. Needless to say we stopped dead in our tracks to stare – gob smacked, at this unusual and beautiful phenomenon.

Not knowing too much about our local butterflies, I scoured the net hoping to ID our fluttery friends from that mornings run. They seem to fit the description of ‘Pecis Octavia’, or otherwise – ‘gaudy commodores’. They are in no way ‘gaudy’ – they are beautiful!

I was fascinated to learn that these butterflies have two distinctive seasonal forms. In Summer they are predominately orange, whilst in Winter they are blue and black, sometimes displaying a little orange. Steve Woodal writes in ‘What butterflies can be found where when and how’ – “The blue Winter Sesamus is found skulking low down along stream banks, caves and hollows.”

Well, ‘skulking’ or not, the site of these beauties floating up from under the bridge was dreamy and ethereal. A surreal and special treat to be shared with a special friend.

stamp gaudy commodore

These butterflies are fairly common throughout Sub – Saharan Africa. I quite enjoyed this depiction of both the Winter and Summer form displayed on this Ugandan stamp.

Below is the link to another blog article I rather enjoyed, it gives quite a bit of information about the gaudy commodores and the photographs are stunning. It is by ‘Nature back in’

Take me to your Commodore: Garden butterflies from the African savannahs


Picnic’s, Panini’s and Pride Rock

A short while ago my son Matthew and I had taken a road trip and were visiting my daughter Paige in Grahamstown. The three of us decided to go on a short hike one morning. There was great excitement as we planned our walk. A picnic was packed and possible trails and routes discussed. The fact that we had chosen what seemed like the windiest day in Winter in the Eastern Cape did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm.

The route we settled on was close to town and I parked my vehicle at the top of the hill near the start. The wind was so strong that as I opened my door it was snatched and flung from my hand with a surprising force! Never the less, we gathered ourselves together and undeterred by the gale set off. I think we were all questioning our sanity at that point, but no one said anything and anyhow we were already on our way.

This was a different wind, one that we are not accustomed to in Northern Natal. It was icy cold and relentless. I kept a watchful eye on Matthew, for I feared that a slightly built eleven year old could easily be blown off the side of the mountain in a gale such as this! Conversation was impossible against the constant roar and we each kept our thoughts to ourselves and trudged on.

We settled into it. The momentum and rhythm of walking is a wonderful thing, such a simple act, one foot in front of the other. Soon we were warmed up by the exertion of it and even the dreaded wind became tolerable. The hills around Grahamstown are a pure delight to an avid, all be it amateur, naturalist. The fynbos is so different to the Northern Natal grasslands. My jaw dropped at the variety of bushes and plants, many of them flowering. The highlight botanically were the many bushes of Protea cynaroides or ‘King Protea’ bushes as they are referred to, dotting the hillsides, a few were even flowering.

Our destination point was ‘Pride rock’. A name like that is self explanatory and we kept our eyes open for any rock that might fit such a grandiose title. ‘Pride rock’ however turned out to be a little less proud than we envisioned. Never the less photographs were taken and we all took turns to pose on the said ‘Pride rock’. If you cut off the foreground and aimed the camera at the top half of the rock, one could create an illusion of an impressive overhanging ‘proud’ rock. In any case we had arrived, the view was pretty and the walk had been invigorating albeit ‘fresh’!

By now we were starving and looked around for a sheltered spot to enjoy our picnic. Pride rock may not have had the visual iconic effect we had expected, but it certainly made up for this by being an excellent picnic spot. The three of us huddled close together underneath the overhang with our backs leaning against the natural rocky wall behind us. We dug into our picnic ravenously!

And what a picnic it was! Paige had earlier that morning lovingly put together a simple picnic meal, but one to be remembered. As we tucked into our cheese and tomato panini’s laced generously with caramelized onions – these made from scratch in her student kitchen, I was glad that I had not been assigned to provide the food. I am ashamed to confess that I would probably have chucked some Nik naks and Winegums into the bag with a few oranges tossed in as an after thought.

Every bite was delicious. Huddled together like that to keep warm and savoring the delicious food while the wind whipped icily around us turned out to be the highlight of the whole excursion. I memory made to treasure.


A daisy in the dust

A late start to the day made me decide against a run this morning and I walked the trail instead. The path is incredibly dry. Even the vegetation along the edges has been rubbed , chaffed and trampled underfoot, mixing with the powdery red dust.

Only the toughest of grassland flowers would attempt to flower at this time of the year. You can imagine my delight and surprise to find this little golden veld Gazania bravely and brazenly showing it’s face, despite the tough conditions.

The fact that two or three of it’s petals are missing does not detract from it’s beauty, but seems to add to it instead, making it’s bold yet fragile appearance in the barren dry landscape even more meaningful.

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