Summer – 8 December 2016

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Turrea obtusifolia Wild honeysuckle

Elemoments and Those “Circling Skies”

Not too long ago I had days of grey skies, promising rain and uncomfortable wind.  Today is the same and it reminded me of some special moments I would like to share. Some evenings, bolts of lightning had overhead thunder shaking a fine dust from the thatch and rattling the windows, yet only a few drops fell. A couple of days ago there was a severe lightning warning for the area and I experienced a light show no 4th of July, Guy Fawkes or New Year celebration could compete with as the sky lit up from here to the Mozambique coast.

 It reminded me of when the wind finally died down and left an almost imperceptible breeze that barely moved the fresh new growth of leaves and blossoms on the trees. I ventured out to find flowers, to see what the lack of a scorching sun and a 40 degree heat would conjure to colour this world of grey skies, red earth and emerging green foliage.

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Terminalia prunoides Purple-pod Terminalia/Cluster-leaf

There was a lot of colour to be found. The Terminalias were in full bloom; their cream coloured spikes hinting at their kinship with the Combretums and infusing the air with that mix of a sweet scent and a pungent aroma. Jasmine, where it can be found, added another, more pleasant perfume and one can only take deep breaths of its beautiful scent, to try to fill the senses with the memory of it for it will be a long time to flower again next summer.

The Xerophytes, those brown, drab, candle-like protuberances one finds on hilly, stony ground, had wisps of green, as their grass-like leaves began to grow and starkly contrasted with the mauve to lilac blooms that seemed to miraculously emerge from what appear to be lifeless husks.

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Xerophyta retinervis Baboon’s tail

Then there are still the occasional Crossandras, little red to scarlet half-flowers that hide at the base of an odd tree here and there and are only noticed when their red stands out like shiny baubles among the creeping green carpet of herbs and forbs that appear out of bare earth and, everywhere, the Heliotropes pioneer their way with their rows of white stars and it is but a beginning of the splashes of colour on a canvas ravaged by drought that this summer will paint.

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Crossandra greenstockii

During my quest for floral fecundity, I came across an ele bull near Sibon Dam, a bull I am not sure whether I know or not. He seemed to subtly acknowledge my presence but made no move to object to it. He was feeding on a small Knobthorn he had just felled.

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Afternoon greetings

Soon, the sounds of another bull pushing over a tree came from behind my left shoulder. He was well hidden by foliage and, at first, I couldn’t see him at all. He fed a while, I suspect a pretence to investigate my intrusion but he soon appeared, heading straight towards the back of the Landie. When he came level with my door, I began to film him and he made no effort to hide his inquisitiveness. He made a complete 360 of the Landie, showing only mild curiosity before returning to the tree he had originally felled.

As the other, older bull snapped yet another sapling, another bull appeared from the west, new to the party. He approached the older bull and lifted his head in greeting, prompting the older bull to do the same as they entwined trunks, then placed the tips of their trunks in each other’s mouths in a formal greeting and clashed tusks playfully and briefly before continuing to feed.

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Every couple of minutes they would face off and spar, loud cracks rang out in the quiet, late afternoon as their tusks knocked against each other’s, not in aggression, but clearly a greeting of sorts and an enforcement of a bond and hierarchy that only elephants know and which we humans can only guess at.

Soon their antics brought them close to me, only metres away but behind some trees and it was when they were exposed by a small gap in the trees, that the late-comer broke off his sparring, turned toward me and tested my resolve by flaring his ears, taking a bold step in my direction and kicked some sand towards me. 

A ploy. 

A move to intimidate that I am quite accustomed to by now and as soon as he saw that I was unresponsive, he turned back to the older bull and they began to parry once again.

I lost sight of them as their antics took them into thicker bush, only the sounds of tusks hitting tusks, their flanks brushing trees and branches breaking with their frivolity fading as the sun sank behind the tree-line.

I so needed an elemoment!

An ele-fix.

I have been in such a box!

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Heliotropium sp. with a visitor.

Calmed and grounded by the encounter, I moved on to the dam where I witnessed a marvel one might only see once a year. For this type of spectacle, time and place are everything.

On a scale of 1 to 10 for entertainment, it might not have been an elemoment or a pride of lion on a kill or even the mating ritual of two rarely seen skinks but  for me, the moment was exhilarating given the circumstances and would be up around an eight.

Swifts and swallows were arriving en masse. What at first might have seemed  an endless spiral of the same birds swirling over the rippled surface, diving and dipping for a drink on the wing after a turn or two over the water, became something else entirely as wave after wave of clans came and went.

As each wave of swallows circled and skimmed the surface for their drink, they moved off in different directions and as each wave disappeared over the trees, a new wave descended.

Looking up to the high ceiling of cloud that was breaking up into patches of blue and pink in the glow of the setting sun, out of thousands of feet, new clans dropped altitude and circled the dam.

This was the arrival of some of our regular European Summer migrants and this was the end of an epic journey, having spent weeks on the wing, flying across Europe and Africa and starting their summer vacation.

Eventually, the water’s surface stilled. All except for the hopeful terrapins that swam about and the frogs and aquatic insects that made raindrop-like ripples as they broke the surface for air. As dusk closed out the day, not a feather filled the sky, not a breath of wind stirred the trees and the night woke up with little knowledge of what the day had done.

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Heliotropes Rows of stars

Love y’all lots!

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