The promise of Proteas

“Remember that wherever your heart is you will find your treasure”  – Paulo Coelho

On most days the mountain whispers, softly, reassuringly. Then there are those rare days where it will declare itself with such an exclamation of exquisite beauty that you are lost for words.

A few short years ago I found myself at a very low point in my life. The details of that are not for this blog as of course I have long moved from that unhappy place and my life is immeasurably rich and full, for myself and my children. It was during this sad time however that I found myself once again taking refuge on my precious mountain.

I had climbed up a new section abandoning any paths and made my way up through the long grass and rocks. I had no destination point in mind, I just needed to climb, mechanically, one foot in front of the other. As my route became more difficult I leopard crawled, pulling myself over rocks and roots, avoiding the brambles and trying not to think about snakes.

The section near the top was quite difficult and I remember thinking at that point that I must be mad. There were two Pine trees near the top, whispering in the beautiful way that  Pine trees do. As I made my way up and over the lip of the koppie and out on to the top, I remember just standing there, mesmerized, gazing at the treasure before my eyes.

There was a little copse of Protea bushes, I think ‘Protea caffra’ or perhaps ‘Protea simplex” as they were not very big. They were at the height of their flowering which would have been beautiful enough, but each flower was a buzz with so much life. Various insects – bees and beetles of all kinds, were busily gorging themselves on the sugary nectar. As for the sun birds, they were so busy feasting on this smorgasbord that they paid no attention to me. This was my first sighting of a Malachite sun bird. His beautiful gem green feathers shiny and iridescent in the sun. I was awestruck.

I have safely kept this picture memory stored in my heart. I take it out often. I have cherished this experience as a gift – a precious promise.

Frosty mornings and African stone chats

“It is a serious thing, just to be alive, on this fresh morning, in this broken world.” Mary Oliver

Monday mornings trail run was certainly more than fresh. Often it is so tempting to stay at home, sensibly wrapped up and warm, then have to face a chilly run. But, I kept my appointment with my beloved mountain and showed up.

The frost was severe but so beautiful. Even the longer grass had not been spared and it looked as though someone had spray painted it white during the night. I stopped many times just to admire the effect of the ice encrusted leaves and stems of the bushes and grass. They looked as though they had been doused by a heavy hand with a thick layer of powdered icing sugar.

frosted leaf

The veld in Winter is pure magic. It is a rich tapestry of colour and texture, a feast for the senses. From  the tawny ochres and sepias, to the bleached straw of the grasses.

winter leaves

Near the top of the towers another bird has caught my attention. The ‘African stone chat’. These birds are more striking than their cousins the ‘Buff streaked stone chats’, as they have a lovely rich ‘brick red’ plumage. There are not as many of them either but they are beautiful and eye catching. I decided to use my pastels and charcoal for a change, although I love the illustrative quality of working in pen,  I wanted to try and capture the richness of the colouring of this bird.

 

A surreal encounter

Today I decided I would outsmart the cattle, and climbed up sooner through the trees. This path is quite steep and slippery and definitely not runnable – well not for me anyway!

The morning was beautiful and warm as I made my way along a rocky section of the path at the top. As I rounded a corner I came face to face with a female Mountain Reedbuck. I instinctively froze and to my delight so did she. She couldn’t have been more than six meters away. She continued to stare at me – as if caught in a cars headlights, flattening her ears to the side of her head and crouching a little so as to be less conspicuous.

I kept dead still not daring to breathe. After a while however, I started talking softly to her in a voice that I hoped was reassuring. I told her how happy I was to have met her and of course how beautiful I thought she was. After a minute or so of this unabashed flattery she surprised me by relaxing ever so slightly.

I took this moment to say my farewell, wishing her a good day further and telling her that I hoped to meet her soon again on the trail. I turned slowly and walked carefully off to the side so as not to startle her, picking up the path a little further on.

My only other encounters with Mountain Reedbuck have been of me admiring them from a distance as they bound away with their ‘bambi- like’ tails held up like flags. To have had the privilege of getting so close and ‘interacting’ with one (if you can call it interacting), is so unbelievably special. I will carry that image with me forever. A precious picture memory.

Scremountain reedbuck photographenshot_20180711-133724

Unfortunately not my very own special Mountain Reedbuck – but she was very similar.

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.

 

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