Late afternoon runs and Orchids in the grass

After an extremely busy week I finally managed to get out for a trail run late this afternoon. As I made my way up the muddy path I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy to be out there, doing what I love in my favorite environment. If the path was not so full of cow pats I might have gone down on my knees and kissed it!

A lovely trot up the mountain was just what I needed to escape the bustle and busyness of the last few days. A blissfully quiet and peaceful reprieve with the only interruption being bird song and the whispering breeze.

On the way back down I almost over looked this little beauty peeping through the dry grass. The first,rather early, Spring flowering grass Orchid – ‘Eulophia Hians’. There are more than 200 species of Eulophia Orchids, most of these are grass orchids spread through the Eastern parts of South Africa. They need summer rain and are usually Spring flowering. Although this little Orchid is not threatened, all indigenous Orchids are protected by law, so take pics only. I cannot wait to see what other wild grass flowers are in store this Spring.

Chilly days and ‘Halleria Lucida’

This morning I stepped outside into the chilly air and I almost stepped back in again. It had started to rain lightly and the sky was gloomy and grey. I wrestled with the temptation to go back inside, but instead took a deep breath, and headed out for my midweek mountain run. I have found that if I overthink the decision to go for a run – I can easily talk myself out of it. Best to shut off the brain chatter and just go.

A little bit of rain had fallen onto the path and I found myself mesmerized by the patterns of the splashes the drops had made – like a sprinkling of polka dots in the powdery dust. The overcast cloudy sky had a way of blanketing everything in a lovely peaceful silence. Even the birds were a little quieter this morning. I enjoyed my run despite the cold.

There are a number of ‘Halleria Lucida’ shrubs or small trees growing on the mountain. These have been flowering on and off, even through the Winter. Because they are evergreen, you have to look closely for the pretty orange or sometimes yellow trumpet like flowers. The sun birds feast on them.

This shrub I photographed had lots of flowers hidden in the greenery and some bright green berries which will go almost black when ripe, more for the birds! Sometimes flowers will form directly on the main stem as well as the branches. Traditionally the Zulus used the ‘Halleria’ to treat skin and ear complaints.

A new adventure

“Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” – Mary Oliver

Sometimes inspiration can arrive quite suddenly out of the blue, with no invitation, and you are completely taken by surprise. Sometimes it is just a little thought, the merest whisper of an idea, but as it lingers and distills in your mind, it grows, it takes on a life force all of its own and sweeps you up with it in its enthusiasm to be explored. That is how I found myself a few weeks ago, sitting in front of my sewing machine (which I had to look for – its been that long) making bags.

Let me start from the beginning. I had been feeling at a bit of a creative slump.  I love drawing and painting – but what to do with all of my art. I have paintings and drawings lining the walls of my home and the Bed and breakfast. I have sold some, I have given away some, I have sketchbooks overflowing.  I had reached a point of ‘now what’ – creatively speaking.

So the idea that found me – just the littlest seed of an idea, was to print my art onto fabric. This fabric would then be used to make various items, perhaps…. ladies bags. I had purchased many years ago a ‘tote’ and ‘shoulder’ bag pattern – and never used it. I rummaged through my drawers, found the pattern, along with my sewing machine, and began making prototypes.

Being the ‘stubborn – lets just wing it’ creative that I am,  I redesigned the patterns – they were not exactly what I was wanting to create and needed improving. After much head scratching, cursing and re- takes, I was happy with the new looks.

I first painted the designs onto the fabric with fabric paint. This all though effective, proved to be way too time consuming. I wanted a different look and I wanted to be able to do more than one a week! I approached a local Screen printing company and after many painstaking instructions to the poor printer – I left my pieces of fabric in his hands. I held my breath and tried to be patient. The result was lovelier than I had anticipated.

So to cut a long story short, I have started a small bag making business. I have called it – ‘Nyoni art’, ‘nyoni’ being the Zulu name for ‘small bird’. ‘Nyoni’ was my childhood nickname and as you know, if you have been following my blog, I love to draw the beautiful ‘nyonis’ around us.

As with any venture or project, I know there will be obstacles to overcome and things to learn.  Apart from growing my venture, my next challenge is finding a seamstress! As much as I have loved doing all of this sewing I cannot possibly do all of it. My first batch of ‘Nyoni totes’ has almost sold out! Okay, so it was a small batch I admit.

I have decided to blog about the process and I would like to share it with you. Writing about something you love and want to do, and sharing it publicly – holds you accountable. It is making the commitment to ‘show up’. Whether this succeeds or fails I am going to give it my best shot.

I will end with a quote from my favorite author, Brene Brown – “You have heard the whisper, now stay the course.”

Nyoni tote bags

Curating and creativity

To feed ones creative spirit it is necessary to be a ‘curator’. One must collect and gather ideas, words and images – just as one collects pebbles or shells on a beach. Sometimes a beautiful shimmering word, expression or image may pop into your head. Then you must act quickly. You must snatch it up, before it is gone again, and drop it carefully into the bucket of your soul, for you never know when you may need to use it.

Today on the trail, the ‘Aloe Maculatas’ were begging for my attention once more. They are everywhere on the mountain, flowering prolifically in various shades of sorbet –  tangerine, naartjie, lemon and lime. A beautiful winter display.


Windy days and ‘Fiscal flycatchers’

Some days the wind when strong can be mournful and unpleasant on the mountain. Not on Friday. As I made my way up and out of the forest the wind appeared out of no where as it sometimes does. I enjoyed its refreshing company.

The sound as it moved through the grass was a constant swooshing, I enjoyed it in the same way a baby is soothed and comforted by white noise. I needed to feel it go right through me, sweeping away the cobwebs that had hung themselves up on my week.

There are so many varieties of birds on the mountain and I am trying to learn about as many as I can. Not an easy task as I would need to run with binoculars ideally and spend much more time up there – which I don’t have.

I poured through my trusty ‘Roberts book of birds’ to id this little chap.  At first I thought he was a Fiscal Shrike, but no, this is a slimmer bird – about the size of a Robin. He does not have as long a tail as the Fiscal shrike either, his tail is rounded and shorter. Apparently quite a common South African bird. At least now I can put a name to him.


A splash of red

I have been closely watching the Greyia Sutherlandii or ‘Natal bottlebrush’ as they are also known for a while now on my mountain excursions, waiting patiently for them to start flowering. I was quite delighted to find this little tree tucked away against the side of the mountain, showing off a gorgeous splash of red, one of the first of this species to flower.

Greyia Sutherlandii is endemic to South Africa and is one of the first trees/shrubs to start flowering in Spring or late Winter. It is a deciduous plant and in Autumn its leaves turn many shades of red. The showy bright fire engine red flowers provide a long display and continue into early Summer.

The Natal bottlebrush is a good addition to a small garden as it is not only pretty but also a food source for many insects and birds. Some of these small trees on the side of the mountain must be ancient. Their stems and trunks are twisted and gnarled. They will soon all be ablaze of colour. Something to look forward to!

Natal bottlebrush shrub

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.

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