River Indigo seeds and the magic far away tree.

A few months ago I stumbled across a pretty pale pink flowering shrub on the Empati mountain run route. I mentally made a note of it’s location meaning to go back and photograph it. I never got round to doing that until this morning.

I decided to explore the same path today. Well, all was well at first but eventually the further I went the higher the grass seemed to get until eventually I was doing a kind of ‘breast stroke’ with my arms just to part a way through! I could have turned around but I had come this far already and it seemed silly to give up now. I tried very hard not to think of what could be slithering or crawling around my feet and bravely pressed on.

At last! I found my shrub but alas it had long finished flowering. I did triumphantly manage to get some seeds though. I think my shrub is a kind of ‘River Indigo’ although I can’t be sure until I see the flowers again. I shall sow the seeds in spring and hopefully they will germinate!

As I had made it this far I decided that I may as well climb out through the last steep stretch of the route. Just before this climb out there is the biggest cabbage tree – ‘Cussonia spicata’ or ‘Kiepersol’ that I have ever seen. It must be as old as the mountain. It is the ‘Magic faraway tree from Africa’. It’s trunk is huge and it’s branches twisted and gnarled. The bark is flaking off in big pieces like old skin being shed. The ends of it’s branches form a strange candelabra like structure of spikes, some of them withered like witches fingers with age.

I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic in the long grass however and did not linger to take photographs. I will do so when I’m not alone up there. The higher I climbed the shorter the grass became again and finally I was climbing through the forested section near the top. This little area is deeply shaded, cool and damp. There are a no of beautiful lacy ferns and bright green moss, ‘fairy grass’, growing like a thick velvety carpet on some of the rocks.

Here I did stop to take it all in. This ‘other world’ where time has stood still. These ancient rocks and trees were here long before me and will be here long after I am gone.

Finally I was out into the bright sunshine again.  I made my way back down, feeling content and frankly quite chuffed with myself.

cabbage tree  Not the original African ‘magic faraway tree’ – but a lovely one along the road up the mountain.


Aloe Maculata – ‘bontaalwyn’

Both the Aloe Arborescens and the Aloe Maculata are coming into their own now. There are some gorgeous colour variations. This was one of the first Aloe Maculatas flowering on the mountain this month. I have been wanting to paint or draw aloes for the last three years! Finally here is the first one finished. This is quite a big work so it took some time. The yellow ones have just started flowering so perhaps will make a nice companion for this one.

Aloe Maculata is widely spread and very adaptable and obliging – growing almost anywhere except dense shade. All Aloes are very medicinal and a valuable food source for our lovely sun birds in the winter months.

Kalanchoe Luciae and Woodhoopoes

One of the many ‘joys’ of being in hospitality is that sometimes you get to run around at night trying to fix faulty televisions, air conditioners, wifi connections etc. etc. Last night was one of those nights and included an emergency trip to the 24 hour Spar at nine at night to buy bug spray for a guest who had two ants in her room. – This is why I run!

I set off with great enthusiasm to make my escape this morning and in my haste along my way tripped over a tree root. This resulted in one of those ‘albatross like’ moves where I was literally running horizontally, only to just avoid a ‘face plant’ by the skin of my teeth! Thankfully I was running alone so my ego was spared.

Things improved quickly after that though. Today the Red-billed Woodhoopoes were cackling in their characteristic way above me as I moved along through the trees. They are a  common sight with their bright red bills and long speckled tails. Their feathers are a lovely iridescent greenish blue.

Near the top of the mountain within a sunny rocky section are a no of interesting succulents. This one is of the ‘Kalanchoe’ family. I think ‘Kalanchoe Luciae’. They have sent up their stems and their buds are finally opening. Their many flowers are a primrose yellow. They are beautifully structural and this one was a joy to draw.


Polygala Virgata – ‘purple broom’

I decided to take a stroll along one of the trails this Saturday to photograph a shrub I have been eyeing out, ‘Polygala Virgata’.

This lovely indigenous dainty shrub is flowering beautifully on the mountain. It has a slender single base stem which branches out at the top. The deep purple magenta flowers are found at the end of it’s branches. It is fairly common and widespread.

Polygala is easy to grow in the garden and works well if planted in groups near the back of a mixed border. Once established it can tolerate some drought, wind and frost. It is easily propagated from seed in Autumn or Spring. Polygala  looks beautiful arranged in the vase, I picked a few branches for this and now they look stunning displayed in the dining room.

polygata shrub

While walking I came across this gorgeous chap. I watched him change color in a matter of seconds from bright green to tawny brown and ochre. Fortunately chameleons are by nature not in any great hurry so he sat quite obligingly while I took his photograph, all the while never taking his curious eyes off me.


Petrichor – “the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil”

There is nothing more annoying than mud packing onto the bottom of your trail shoes. Eventually I was wearing muddy high heel wedges by the time my run ended. The reward however was the smell of the damp earth as I came back down through a forested section of the trail. I ennhaled big gulps of it.

The word ‘petrichor’ has Greek origins. “petra” for stone and “ichor” meaning the ‘ethereal blood of the gods’. Scientists have discovered that the scent is from a yellowish oil trapped in rocks and soil that get’s released when it rains.

In India they have managed to capture this scent in a sandalwood oil, they call it “matti ka attar”, or ‘earth perfume’.

I found my favorite birds – ‘Buff streaked Stone Chats’ near the top of the mountain. They are always happily hopping about and chattering and calling to one another on the rocks. Not even the cold could deter them today.

A chilly but invigorating run.

Finding joy in the ordinary

Town runs are not my favorite. I make sure I’ve prepared the night before with music or a podcast downloaded to enjoy and distract me, this way I can block out the noise and busyness, and not feel so conspicuous. My thoughts can freely drift in and out between my own inner dialogue and  what I’m listening to at the time.

Never the less today was a good run. I felt energetic and fluid and the podcast was interesting. The first section of my route was quite busy. There were lots of cars and pedestrians. I made my way along the sidewalk totally lost in my own head.

As I ran past the post office and turned into Ann street, I side stepped a small group of House Sparrows busy gorging themselves happily on the bits of food they had found on the pavement. They paid no attention to me but hopped around busily, pecking at their tasty find.

I got home an hour later and that simple image, which had really just been a few seconds, a flash, for some reason stuck in my mind. Not just the image, the feeling it evoked too; joy.

These ordinary, normally overlooked little birds, scurrying around happily. The colorful autumn leaves from the Plane trees scattered on the ground around them and at my feet. The smokey plumes exhaled from my breath in the chilly morning air. That simple moment frozen in a vivid cameo to be stored away in my memory.

House Sparrows were introduced from Europe and Asia to Durban in the late eighteen hundreds. They spread rapidly from one settlement to the next, along roads and railways. They are now found everywhere and classified as invasive birds in South Africa. This is quite ironic as in the UK they are on the red list of endangered species and have almost disappeared! Michael Mccartney writes extensively about this in his beautiful book ‘The moth snow storm’.

I’ll end with a quote from his book. “There can be occasions when we suddenly and involuntarily find ourselves loving the natural world with a startling intensity, in a burst of emotion which we may not fully understand, and the only word that seems to me appropriate for this feeling is joy.”

coin sparrows

Mountain Reedbuck and Blackjacks

Today was one of those days where I had to take a deep breath and do a ‘Mel Robbins 54321’ countdown just to get out of bed, never mind run.  I ended up going a little later than usual.  The glorious sunny day did the trick however and was just what the doctor ordered.  I was soon trotting along happily. Feeling adventurous I decided to try a path that I had not used for a while, knowing that it would probably be over grown and covered in black jacks. It was. Cursing myself for my foolish decision I made my way up the overgrown rocky path with difficulty. I had to stop often to find the path and to pick off the scratchy black jacks!

I was rewarded however, as I started to make my way down, by the sight of three female Mountain Reedbuck. It’s been a while since Iv’e spotted any and I was beginning to think they had all been poached or had cleared off. As I had been walking quietly at the time I luckily saw them before they spotted me. Once they realized they were not alone they whipped up their bambi tails and bounded up a hill to a safer spot where they stopped and stared at me. I thought I had hit the jack pot with a sighting like that but more treats were install for me.


These wild Impatiens, ‘Impatiens Hochsteteri’, are tumbling down a bank along a stream through a shady forested area of the trail. Iv’e seen them before but today they were flowering rather generously. They look like little mauve butterflies, delicate and dainty. They are found throughout the country in forests and marshy areas where ever it is damp – preferring to get their feet wet. They are not as flashy as their cultivated garden cousins, but they are beautiful in their quiet, serene way.

The birds are bountiful and busy on the mountain with all the good rain which has provided for all the flora and fauna so well this season. The final cherry on the top for me was the sighting of a pair of African fire finches chattering gregariously to each other near the end of my run.

fire finches


Running and ‘Lions ears’

As much as I love running and it has always been a part of my life, I have come to realize that running also evolves and changes, it ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s great to have a goal to work towards and train for a race, and other times, most times, it’s just a part of my daily soul food, my Prozac.  At times I’m completely demotivated, and then it is a lesson in discipline and pushing through. Other times I can’t wait to get out the door! Running for me is a constant friend – no matter how I’m feeling.

The best runs are of course on the trail, preferably on a mountain somewhere with my backpack and phone for photographing new and interesting material. An escape from reality for a little while, a chance to inhale again. I remind myself often that I don’t have to do this, I get to do it.

This week while on the trail, it is the ‘Leonitis leonurus’ – lions tails or wild dagga as it’s commonly known, that has caught my attention. It is flourishing and beautiful after all the rain we have been blessed with. Flowering prolifically with it’s velvety orange petals and  providing a feast of nectar for sun birds and insects.

This is a common soft-woody shrub occurring throughout the country.  There are also  white, yellow, apricot and cream forms of it although these colours are not often seen. I have come across a cream clump flowering next to the side of the road on the way to Normandien. The seeds secrete a sticky oil- like substance that ants enjoy.  This causes them to carry the seeds off, insuring that they are spread far and wide for germination.

The early Khoikhoi would smoke the dry leaves and flowers – these are said to have narcotic properties and induce a sense of calm and euphoria – but it is not in any way related to the actual Cannabis plant.

The ‘Lions ear’ plant or ‘wild dagga’ is easy to grow in the garden as it is both drought and frost hardy. It is a lovely plant for attracting bird life particularly sun birds and is one of the host plants to the ‘Bush bronze’ butterfly – ‘Cacyreus lingeus’.bush bronze butterfly



The grass Orchids of Summer

I have came across these bright yellow beauties growing in the veld on the mountain every summer. It was quite exciting to discover that they are actually grass orchids – ‘Orthochilus Ensatus’. I have since been looking out for grass orchids (terrestial orchids), every time I’m up on the mountain, or walking in the Berg. So far I have found 3 on Mpati mountain although I’m sure there are more to be discovered.

This one I came across on a berg hike in the Monks cowl area, it is ‘Satyrium cristatium’. The flowers are speckled and streaked in maroon and bronze.Orchid satyrium On our Mpati I have also found a pale pink and white ‘Satyrium Longicauda’ and a lime green and cream dainty grass orchid which I think belongs to the ‘Habenaria’ family. Drawing projects for next Summer! Unfortunately my photographs did not do them justice.

All our indigenous Orchids are protected by law and may not be dug out or picked for the vase, or the seeds removed. They are very specific to their own little micro climates and they seldom survive when dug out and tranfered to a cultivated garden anyway. So have fun finding them but take pictures only.

As I have been taking note of what I see growing on the mountain, I have realised what an abundance their is if one chooses to pay attention. With our hurried and harried pace we have become oblivious to the beauty around us.

Lynne twist writes “true abundance flows from enough, never more”. Take time to slow down and open your eyes to the abundance that we already have on our own doorsteps.

Fill yourselves up – there is more than enough.

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