Yesterday, for the first time, I saw a fox! I had heard of fox mischief during my childhood but had never actually seen the creature, and so I was stunned to spot one in broad daylight, making its way up a hill, turning briefly to watch me scramble for my camera. The photograph below was the frantic post-scramble result, taken with a hopelessly inadequate lens, as I was set up to photograph landscapes, ill-prepared for the zoom necessary in the moment.
It was, undoubtedly, a Cape Fox (Vulpes chama), also called the Silver-backed Fox, a small animal—about 50 cm (20 in) long, the tail adding a further 30 or so cm (11 in); about 30 cm (12 in) at the shoulder—supposedly nocturnal.
I also saw a shrub in bloom on a north-facing slope which, like so many species of fynbos1, had been unassuming throughout the year, suddenly to impress in late winter. Unable to come sufficiently close to it, I could not identify it; however, it may be part of the Sutera family—a wild guess, based upon vague similarities with certain species in that family. When next I am in that spot, I shall make the precarious uphill climb and attempt to inspect it properly.
Another sighting (this time, photographed with a more appropriate lens) was of an adult Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus)—a bird I have photographed many a time, and which I captured in hallmark circling flight, three years ago2.
Fynbos (Afrikaans for “fine-bush”, pronounced [feynboss], with the [ey] in “feign” and the [o] in “or”, but shortened)—so named for the relative fine-ness of the shrubbery in the Western Cape province of South Africa—is an extremely heterogeneous heather-like vegetation exclusive to the region; indeed, the province (roughly the size of England) has more plant species than the whole of Europe.
This morning, I filmed Cape Clapper Larks (of the sub-species Mirafra apiata marjoriae) in display flight. They were at a distance, so one must look closely at the footage, but this was my first (spontaneous) attempt at recording their performance. Unlike Mirafra apiata apiata (the subspecies I first identified), M. a. marjoriae has two descending whistles: “Tseeoo, tseeuuuu!”
Incidentally, the loud “Kraaaank, kraaaank!” calls you hear throughout the video are those of the glorious—nay, divine—Paradise Crane1 (also known as the Blue Crane, Anthropoides paradiseus, the subject of another poem, “A Crane at Eventide”); the cackling at the 01:36 mark (and elsewhere) is the ubiquitous (and pesky) Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris).
See the “I watched a crane leaping in the wind” heading in “This January” for a brief account of a memorable sighting earlier this year.
Imagine my utter astonishment when late yesterday evening, I should see ten of the rare Grey Rhebok on a hillside! At first, I spied only two—a male and a female—near the lower part of the slope, but when the female darted uphill, lo—a herd!
Amazed, I started taking pictures without checking any camera settings lest I miss the opportunity to document the moment; the images you see here are the meagre results.
The male I presume the sire. Rhebok herds are comprised of one adult male and a group of about fifteen females and progeny. This is my second sighting of this shy species—and the greatest number yet, having seen only one male before.
On this winter’s morning in the Overberg countryside of South Africa, the low peaks of the Small River Mountain range are laden with sunlit clouds; and in the gentle valleys at their feet, mists enshroud the hills.
On this clear autumn evening in South Africa, as if in concert, all across the Overberg, the rolling hills are being sown with wheat and barley—the prelude to one of the most beautiful sights in the world: fields blown by the wind!
Over the past few months, I have been working on a new album. It began at about the same time as my collaboration with Krzyzis in late 2016. Early on, I knew that both projects would share a theme and have a similar concept. These were first explored in The Zephyr and the Swallow—the collaborative EP with Krzyzis—a combination of poetry and ambient music inspired by my love for the countryside. The EP was built around a couplet, a short poem of two lines I wrote to inspire the music; but for the album, I wanted to expand on the idea and write a larger work, a series of verses for a ballad.
The Zephyr and the Swallow EP illustrated a pastoral scene—the wind blows over a field and a swallow dashes into the sky—an idyllic moment of beauty set in a rural landscape. In my youth, at the height of summer, I would spend hours in the fields watching the wind making waves in the grass and the swallows flying overhead. Even now, I find this simple pastime a most enchanting and vivid experience. It is just such a scene I describe in the couplet I wrote for The Zephyr and the Swallow—“Over the field the zephyr blew, / Into the sky the swallow flew”—lines I set to music to create an ode.
Writing the Poem
I started writing the poem for the album in late 2016, going through numerous drafts until I eventually found a form and approach that felt appropriate. In much the same way one agonises over the notes of a musical composition, one pores over a poem—every syllable of every word carefully chosen to exquisitely articulate a meaning or express an emotion. After three months of assembling and dismantling verses, I finally produced “Forgotten Fields”, a self-titled ballad with six verses. In the poem, a daydreamer nostalgically recalls a happy moment in time, surrounded by fields and swallows.
Central to the theme of the poem is the feeling of wistfulness—a longing tinged with regret—conveyed by the imagery. It describes a world of endless fields, swallows impossible to catch, a memory forgotten and rediscovered. The lines are gentle and flowing—the musings of someone lost in thought. They are beautifully read by English narrator Chris Lateano for the compact disc release. “Forgotten Fields”, the all-encompassing title, is alluded to in the final verse:
Far away and left untrodden
Under summer skies
Lie the fields I had forgotten
Where the swallow flies!
This is part one of a three-part series about the new self-titled album. Read part two, “A New Album, Part Two: The Music”, next. Forgotten Fields will be released on 17 November 2017.