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.

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.



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


Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑