A Wayside Wonderland

Bulbinella nutans, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A Bulbinella in bloom. (B. nutans)

During my excursion with botanist Dr Chris Whitehouse a few weeks ago, I mentioned to him the field guide I use to identify fynbos1 species. He quickly reminded me that the area in which I live has predominantly Renosterveld2 vegetation rather than Fynbos (though there is an overlap, since here one transitions into the other) and recommended to me a brand new field guide on that subject by Dr Odette Curtis-Scott (whom I also hope to meet).

Following the exchange, I ordered a copy directly and collected it on 4 September 2020, the beginning of Spring in my country, South Africa. During the trip, the first part of which takes one through the countryside upon a dirt road, I stopped frequently to admire and photograph the countless species in bloom—most of which I saw for the first time—charmed as always by the kind that fascinate me most: those most dainty and unassuming.

Your humble amateur botanist was soon engrossed, attracting baffled glances from passersby; but, with new species flowering by the day, I was determined not to miss a single bloom. Unable to write this update that weekend, I spent whatever hour I could spare during the two weeks since working through my photographs (of which there were hundreds) to identify species and select the most interesting to include in this text.

Bulbinella barkerae, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Bulbinella barkerae (left) and possibly B. nutans (right)

Beginning then with 4 September, I spotted Bulbinella barkerae first, a flash of white against the hill so impressive I had to stop; and once I did, my gaze was fixed to the ground, marvelling at all the other species in bloom—like the desperately yellow Hemimeris racemosa, a flower no more than 5 mm (0,2 in) wide, and Lessertia frutescens, its blossoms ten times larger in striking red, like small flamenco dresses. For half an hour, I was transfixed.

Hemimeris racemosa, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Hemimeris racemosa
Hemimeris racemosa, 11 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
H. racemosa
Lessertia frutescens, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Lessertia frutescens

Hundreds of Heliophila pendula adorned the scene, flowers so dainty, there were dewdrops larger; I could not help but laugh with delight! Too minute to photograph from any distance other than up close, some blossoms but 2 mm (0,079 in) wide, they all but disappeared to the lens. (In the accompanying photograph, it appears as if the flower is set upon a blade of grass, but look closely for the slender vertical stem that holds it there.)

Heliophila pendula, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Heliophila pendula

Where the earth was most disturbed (by roadworks), patches of what must be either Delosperma, Disphyma or Drosanthemum carpeted the ground as if to repair it—some in bloom, others not. Nearby flowered what I believe to be Drosanthemum striatum—according to the guide, a vulnerable species—in a location somewhat insecure, growing directly below a barbed wire fence at the feet of a group of young invader species trees.

A member of the Aizoaceae (Ice Plant) family, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A member of the Aizoaceae (Ice Plant) family. Possibly Delosperma, Disphyma or Drosanthemum.
A member of the Aizoaceae (Ice Plant) family, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
As above.
Drosanthemum striatum, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Drosanthemum striatum

I also saw a relation of Nemesia lucida—that family fast becoming a favourite after seeing it some weeks ago for the first time—N. barbata, so named for the tiny white hairs at the top of its deep blue and equally beard-like lower lip (barbata is Latin for “the bearded”). These were plentiful, shaking their little heads in the breeze. In the second photograph of this set, it is looking longingly at what I think is Geissorhiza inflexa.

Nemesia barbata, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Nemesia barbata
Nemesia barbata and Geissorhiza inflexa, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
N. barbata (left) and Geissorhiza inflexa (right)

Then there was Diascia, a species related to Nemesia—one sees the resemblance in the captivating little flowers about 7 mm (0,28 in) wide—but which, I cannot tell, since none of the petal shapes in the guide quite resemble it (the closest match is a species listed only as Diascia sp. (“species”, to indicate that it is not yet described)); and near it, Zaluzianskya divaricata with its remarkable flowers, equally small.

Diascia sp. and Zaluzianskya divaricata, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Diascia sp. (left) and Zaluzianskya divaricata (right)

For Dolichos decumbens, I was all but prostrate—and appropriately so, for decumbens is Latin for “lying down”—to admire and photograph its orchid-like flowers (about 10 mm or 0,39 wide), deftly painted with violet and white.

Dolichos decumbens, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Dolichos decumbens

I also happened upon another Cyphia, possibly C. digitata, a relation of the one I saw on my excursion with Dr Whitehouse, entwining itself with Clutia polygonoides whose modest blossoms it shamelessly upstaged.

Cyphia digitata and Clutia polygonoides, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Cyphia digitata (purple) and Clutia polygonoides (yellow)

Similarly twining was Microloma tenuifolium whose waxy flowers were so intensely and luminously red that had I not seen it, I would not have believed it. (I should note that I make only minor adjustments to my photographs to show as closely as possible what I saw with the naked eye; thus, the red here is true to life.)

Microloma tenuifolium, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Microloma tenuifolium

Happening upon a specimen of Eriocephalus africanus in a more accessible spot, I was better able to capture it, this time with its furry seed heads exposed, covered in the morning dew, giving yet more credence to its common name, the Cape Snow Bush. I found another still in bloom with near perfect flowers.

Eriocephalus africanus Seed Heads, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Eriocephalus africanus seed heads
Eriocephalus africanus Flowers, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
E. africanus flowers

Lachenalia too is now in bloom. The first, possibly L. perryae, I photographed on Saturday and the second, either L. lutea or L. orchoides subspecies orchoides, that seemed to glow with an inner light, on 4 September. The third and fourth (also photographed Saturday), are both incarnations of L. rosea.

Lachenalia, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Lachenalia, possibly L. perryae (left) and L. lutea or L. orchoides subspecies orchoides (right)
Lachenalia rosea, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
L. rosea

At intervals, a solitary Gladiolus liliaceus (whose praises I have sung before and shall reluctantly refrain from reciting here) would wave from an unworthy dirt road bank or ditch, and elsewhere on the route, from a sea of sedges, Gladiolus tristis would summon me to its side—whom I duly obeyed.

Gladiolus liliaceus, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Gladiolus liliaceus
Gladiolus tristis, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Gladiolus tristis amid possibly Cyperus textilis
Gladiolus tristis, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
G. tristis

There were also birds to be seen, including Buteo rufofuscus, the majestic Jackal Buzzard, which I recently photographed, and Ardea melanocephala, the Black-headed Heron, near a waterhole (just out of frame), tolerant of my presence but flying off once it tired of posing for the camera.

Ardea melanocephala, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Ardea melanocephala
Ardea melanocephala, 4 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A. melanocephala

This weekend past, I ventured out again, greeted by yet more species in bloom. Amongst others, a relation of the exquisite pink Ixia scillaris that first stunned me in the summer of 2018, almost certainly a white Ixia flexuosa, a pendulum swaying to the slightest movement of the air.

Ixia flexuosa, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Ixia flexuosa
Ixia flexuosa, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I. flexuosa

There was also a little Lyperia antirrhinoides with its dark purple face paint; Babiana patersoniae with a lilac stigma (unlike the white shown in the guide); and Colchicum eucomoides, yet to open and reveal its strange flowers, which I hope to revisit and photograph this weekend.

Lyperia antirrhinoides, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Lyperia antirrhinoides
Babiana patersoniae, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Babiana patersoniae
Colchicum eucomoides, 12 September 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Colchicum eucomoides
  1. Fynbos (Afrikaans for “fine-bush”, pronounced [feignboss], with a shortened version of the [o] in “or”)—so named for the relative fine-ness of the shrubbery in the Western Cape province of South Africa—is an extremely heterogeneous heathery vegetation also known as Cape Flora, exclusive to the region.
  2. Renosterveld (Afrikaans for “rhinoceros-field”, pronounced [RhnossteRfelt], with a trilled [R])—so named for the Renosterbos (Afrikaans for “rhinoceros-bush”, pronounced [RhnossteRboss], with a trilled [R] and a shortened version of the [o] in “or”) (Elytropappus rhinocerotis) its predominant shrub, in turn, named for the rhinoceros, now extinct in the region, seen by European settlers—is in some ways a lesser Fynbos, equally heterogeneous and endemic, but almost wholly supplanted by agriculture for which vast swathes of it was cleared to create “the breadbasket of the Cape”, as this region (the Overberg) is known. Consequently, it is estimated that only 5% of the original Renosterveld remains, wherefore I have sworn to do what I can to help preserve it.

A Ramble

Fynbos in the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Whilst the scenery was spectacular, it was the flowers that captivated me.

Last Friday, I walked up the Little River Mountains range, which often appears in my writing and photography, in the company of Dr Chris Whitehouse, a botanist who owns—or rather stewards, as he reverently puts it—a swath of land upon one of its eastern slopes.

A fount of knowledge—how envious was I of his command of botanical names1—he introduced me to many species that bloom there this time of year (the end of winter in South Africa), waiting patiently whilst I admired and photographed the flowers and scenery2:

The mountain was laden with Leucadendron whose green conquered the slopes in spectacular fashion.

Leucadendron on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Leucadendron on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

Rocks and rock formations, expertly composed by Nature’s hand, created intricate visual scherzos.

Rock Formations of the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Rock Formations of the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Rock Formations of the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Rock Formations of the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Rock Formations of the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

At times, the cliffs were surreal in photomontage-like contrast with the surrounding landscape.

Rock Formations of the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Rock Formations of the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

In their seams, Ikebanaesque arrangements burst forth whilst lichens freckled their faces.

Fynbos Ikebana in the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Lichens on a Kleinriviersberge Rock, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

We would often encounter my beloved Lobelia, mostly L. Pinifolia, in violet and white.

Violet Lobelia pinifolia on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.White Lobelia pinifolia on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

I also saw for the first time, Gladiolus debilis, a lily my mother sometimes recalls from her childhood3.

Gladiolus debilis on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

Other first sightings included Cyphia volubilis winding up the slender stems of a reluctant Restio;

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Drosera cistiflora and D. pauciflora with their delicate petals distracting from tentacles below;

Drosera cistiflora on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Drosera cistiflora on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Drosera pauciflora on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

Salvia africana, its scruffy flower perching with a twig in its mouth (a protruding stigma);

Salvia africana on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

Manulea cheiranthus with its small yellow starfish flowers cavorting atop the stems;

Manulea cheiranthus on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

and a little Nemesia lucida4, most delightful of all, which, were it not for the attentiveness of my companion, I would have missed! Its adorable expression so captivated me that, reflecting upon it yesterday, I composed to it a little ode—a sketch for a future anthology!

Nemesia lucida on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

  1. In retrospect, I should have taken notes there and then—supplementing my DSLR photography with iPhone shots, which I could have annotated in the moment—saving me the subsequent search for botanical names (my occupation these past few days, hence the delay of this update), some of which I will doubtlessly have gotten wrong. Incidentally, Dr Whitehouse identified the mysterious flower I discovered two weeks ago (mentioned in “A Buck, a Bush and a Lily”, the fourth image in that update): a member of the genus Roepera, most likely Roepera fulva.
  2. Photographed with the encumbrance of a visor (due to the pandemic), the images are not as good as I would have liked, but I trust they convey some of the beauty of the mountain and its flora.
  3. She would pick “armfuls” of them when she was young, on her way home after a day of watching the sheep on the Little River Mountains. Incidentally, I used an iPhone 11 Pro to take the photograph above (I wanted to share the encounter with my mother in the moment, but there was no service) and must recommend it for detail and ease of use; it captured the delicacy of the tepals, lost in the Nikon images (of which I include one below, for comparison).Gladiolus debilis on the Kleinriviersberge, 21 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
  4. The closest match in my reference book is Nemesia macrocarpa which this flower does not resemble. Other sources lead me to believe it is N. lucida.

A Buck, a Bush and a Lily

Grey Rhebok (Pelea capreolus), 14 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

A Rhebok (Pelea capreolus), yesterday, in an ocean of wheat. It stood in the very field wherein I first saw one of its kind in 2017—who knows, it could be the same antelope! It stood stock-still as irreverently—at least, so it always feels in these moments—I photographed it. Not once did it stir; a most extraordinary thing for these famously shy creatures!

I also managed to photograph up close the flowers of the shrub I saw last week. I am convinced it is Eriocephalus africanus, the Cape Snow Bush1. The common name is fitting, the flowers do resemble snow from afar. My original guess that it was part of the Sutera family then was quite wrong; it is in fact a member of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family.

Cape Snow Bush (Eriocephalus africanus), 14 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

I did not mention this at the time, but last Friday, in a field that usually attracts no attention to itself, I glimpsed several lilies amongst the vegetation. Their shape and colour struck me, but the moment prevented me from taking a closer look2. Yesterday, I inspected them properly and beheld for the first time Gladiolus hirsutus, the Small Pink Afrikaner3.

Small Pink Afrikaner (Gladiolus hirsutus), 14 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

Another first sighting in the same field was of a white flower (below) that grew low upon the ground, that I am yet to identify4. There were some familiar faces too, however, most notably Lobelia tomentosa, its delicate violet flowers, no bigger than a fingertip, fluttering in the breeze. Look closely: a tiny, almost translucent spider is hiding behind its lower lip!

Unknown Flower, 14 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.Lobelia tomentosa, 14 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

  1. “Cape” is taken from “The Cape”, the colloquial name for the Western Cape province of South Africa.
  2. I managed only to take the unfortunate photograph below from several metres away before hastily having to move on: Lilies in a Field, 07 August 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
  3. “Afrikaner” is Afrikaans for “of or from Africa” (pronounced [uffRikaahneR] with the [u] in “bluff”, a trilled [R] and the [i] in “in”), a word you would arrive at were you to add the “-er” in “southerner” to “(South) African”: “Africaner”.
  4. At first, I thought it was a relation of Hibiscus aethiopicus, which I encountered for the first time in 2018, but that species is alone in its genus. Scour as I might my reference book, I see nothing that resembles the flower.

Pretty Pink Pipes

Tritoniopsis lata, 7 May 2020. Copyright 2020 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.

On Thursday, I was struck by flashes of bright pink in a field thick with fynbos. Upon inspection, I discovered a flower I had not encountered before, Tritoniopsis lata. Some of the specimens were deep pink (visible in the out-of-focus background) whilst others, like this one, were considerably lighter. Tritoniopsis lata blooms from March to May (autumn in South Africa) and is related to Tritoniopsis triticea, which blooms from January to April (midsummer to mid-autumn in South Africa).

This December

Kalossie in the Mountain, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I took this photograph of a Kalossie (Ixia scillaris) swaying in the breeze whilst exploring a mountain slope.

I wandered upon a mountain slope

Although December is the beginning of the South African summer, it is yet spring on the mountain slopes with scores of wild flowers in bloom. I had the pleasure—nay the joy—of wandering upon just such a mountain slope late one afternoon, discovering to my amazement even more species I had not encountered before! Most notable among these were the pink Kalossie (Ixia scillaris)1 and Wild Hibiscus (Hibiscus aethiopicus). I saw a number of the former scattered about the slope and one of the latter in the middle of the track!

I took precisely one hundred and thirty photographs, some of which I have included in this piece. Of the utterly delightful Kalossie, I could not get enough. New to me, I dubbed it the “Field Ballerina” for its little pink tutu-like flower and its light sway in the breeze. So enchanted was I by everything I saw that I resorted to poetry, composing three new sketches praising the red Bergpypie2 (Tritoniopsis antholyza), the violet Fine-stalked Lobelia (Lobelia chamaepitys)3 and the pink Kalossie. I grouped these under the title “Wild Flower Trio”.

I had also the pleasure of encountering a Toktokkie4, a Darkling beetle that knocks its rear end on the ground in order to attract a mate. To demonstrate this, I made a video recording5 of it doing just so in response to my knocking on the ground with a knuckle. I could have sat there on the ground watching it forever, so engrossed was I by the creature and my silly little knocking trick! As I wrote this paragraph, I conceived of a little poetic sketch—“Tock-tocky”—which I have since added to my list6 of poems for the collection.

Wild Hibiscus, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The Wild Hibiscus (Hibiscus aethiopicus) standing its ground in the middle of the track.
Toktokkie, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The Toktokkie!

I completed “Boy in the Field”

In the “Boy in the Field” poem, I recount a sighting of a Paradise Crane7 last November. The graceful pale-blue animal is the national bird of South Africa, indigenous to this region. I have photographed it on a number of occasions before, usually in a group of two or three, or as a herd on a hillside; but here was a solitary bird, quietly watching me from a short distance. The moment was dreamlike: the world about me vanished, and the crane was to me the very embodiment of Nature’s every virtue—in its presence, I beheld the divine.

How I would express the experience in poetry—or any other art form, for that matter—I had no idea. The initial draft I sketched at the time seemed unworthy; I was beset with the fear that I may have to abandon the poem! Then, a breakthrough came—as it often does, whilst out in the fields—in the form of a single line: “The hills were brushed with gold, early in November, / No more the vivid green it was in September.” It was clumsy, but nonetheless the catalyst for the first verse around which I could then construct the rest of the poem.

Four verses were the result, together describing the scene and what it evoked within me—and surely any other moved by the loveliness of nature—in a musing lyrical ballad. Where I thought grandiloquence would be necessary to convey the sublime, modest language sufficed—with a flourish here and there—and the poem is now complete. As it evolved, so did its title, changing from “Boy in the Field” to “The Boy and the Crane” (inspired by the couplet composed for The Zephyr and the Swallow8), to the final “A Crane at Eventide”.

Bergpypie Diptych, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The lovely Bergpypie (Tritoniopsis antholyza) before and after its flowers open. What a display!

I realised the value of veracity

One of my favourite Afrikaans poems is “In die Hoëveld”9 by Toon van den Heever10. Confined in the mines and suffering from consumption, the poet longs for the expanse of the highveld. So convincingly does he lament his lot that I assumed the poem must be autobiographical. It was not. The poet was no miner, he was a magistrate! His poetic brilliance notwithstanding, I was outraged to deduce—with no evidence to the contrary—that the scenario that so captivated me was nothing more than the most eloquent of inventions.

I felt, however irrational it may be, that I was somehow deceived by the poet—I say “irrationally” because there is, of course, in poetry every liberty and encouragement to indulge the imagination—but it is precisely because the poem had struck such a chord within me that I felt so, dare I say, betrayed. In poetry, it has always been my intention to be true to life, to capture scenarios as they were, emotions as I experienced them. “In die Hoëveld” strengthened my resolve in this regard: factuality is more precious to me now than ever!

At first, this approach was a subconscious one. It became deliberate a few months ago whilst composing a sketch titled “A Pear Tree”. In it, I was tempted to place the tree in question on a hill for dramatic effect. I checked myself immediately: the tree is not in fact on a hill but in a valley, the last that remains of what once was an orchard. However much the image of a solitary tree on a hill appealed to the Romanticist within me, I realised that it was infinitely better—for me—to look for the wonderful in fact rather than fabrication.

Kalossie Up Close, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The exquisite Kalossie (Ixia scillaris), its blossoms about a centimetre (0,39 inches) wide.
Wild Lobelia on the Mountain Slope, 3 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The dainty Thin-stalked Lobelia (Lobelia chamaepitys).

I did a little reflection

This year, I isolated myself on social media by unfollowing everyone. There were a number of reasons for doing so, but a deciding factor was the need to escape the incredible reaction of artists to the political events of 2016. Two years later, it still echoes through timelines like an untuned string11. It was particularly tiresome to me—if The Political Compass12 is to be believed—a “Centrist” with a slight leaning towards the “Libertarian Right”13 (somewhat of an oddity in the artistic community, if there can be such a thing).

Regardless of this isolation, I enjoyed posting to social media14 and also to this blog. They are invaluable tools of clarification and crystallisation. When I share a thought or any part of my work, it may be scrutinised by all. This helps me view what I have shared from the perspective of those I imagine are scrutinising it, and gives me a deeper understanding of the thing than I would otherwise attain. It is especially enlightening when I share something in which I am invested, and so it performs an important function in my creative process.

Copyright politicalcompass.org 2004-2018 All rights reserved.
The result of my “political compass” test, showing my position with the red dot amongst exemplars in the various quadrants.

Therefore, in the year to come, I shall continue to post to social media and write monthly digests on this blog. It is of great benefit to me to reflect periodically upon my work and the essays allow me to do just that: to consolidate my ideas, discuss my process, evaluate what I create and document my progress—in fine, to diarise my artistic endeavours. Whether this has any value to a reader, I do not know—the kind of person who takes an interest in my work is unlikely to be forthcoming on the subject—but I must proceed regardless.

I take great care to produce what is meaningful to others: whether inspirations, ideas or the results of these. Were I to fail in this quest, nothing would displease me more. That notwithstanding, the goal of this project remains unchanged. It is still an expression of everything I have come to value and a task I find deeply fulfilling. Its purpose is not to generate wealth, accolades or fame, but something nobler: to celebrate Beauty. And what better way to celebrate than with others? Grant me then the honour of celebrating with you.

Footnotes

  1. Afrikaans vernacular for a “klossie” (“little skullcap”), which the flowers resemble. In some dialects, there is a brief gap between the “k” and the “l” in “klossie” (pronounced “kh-lossy” with a short version of the “o” in “or”) and “kalossie” (pronounced “kah-lossy”) is the result.
  2. Afrikaans for “little mountain pipe” (pronounced “b-eh-R-CH pay-pi” with a trilled “R” and “CH” the guttural “kccch” sound in “loch”, that is, not the “ck” in “lock”, and the “i” in “did”).
  3. It is possible I am confusing this with Lobelia tomentosa, they are incredibly similar.
  4. Afrikaans for “knockety-knock” or literally, “little knock-knock” (pronounced “tock-tocky” with a short version of the “o” in “or”).
  5. The knocking Toktokkie video is here (Twitter).
  6. I periodically post a “Poetry Publication Progress” list to social media, this being the most recent (Twitter).
  7. Grus paradisea, also known as a Blue Crane or a Stanley Crane and colloquially as the Vyf-sent Voël (pronounced “feyf-sent foo-wil”, Afrikaans for “five-cent bird”) since it appeared on the now obsolete five-cent coin (ZAR).
  8. “The Zephyr and the Swallow” couplet is the poetic concept around which the titular EP (Bandcamp) is built.
  9. Afrikaans for “in the highveld” (pronounced “ihn di hoo-uh-felt” with the “ih” in “sit”, the second “i” that in “did” and the “e” in “felt”).
  10. In “This November” and on social media, I referred to this poet incorrectly as Toon van der (not “den”) Heever. Toon van den Heever (pronounced “toowin fun dihn yih-fihR” with the “ih” in “sit”, the “y” in “year” and a trilled “R”) is not his real name. Toon is a nickname attached to him when an annoyed rugby teammate, whom he had nicknamed Duimpie (Afrikaans for “little thumb”, pronounced “duhimpi”), snapped at him with “Ag jou groottoon, man” (which literally translates to “Oh your big toe, man”, pronounced “ah-CH yo CH-R-oowuht-toowin, munn” with “CH” the guttural “kccch” sound in “loch”, not the “ck” in “lock”, and a trilled “R”, an Afrikaans retort taking the form of “oh your [insert relevant epithet, typically a bodily reference], man”, used either affectionately, teasingly or derisively). Toon’s real name is François Petrus van den Heever (Petrus is pronounced “peeyuh-tR-uhs” with a trilled “R”). Whilst I knew that Toon must be a nickname, I thought it was short for either Anton or Antoon (respectively pronounced “ahn-tonn” with a short version of the “o” in “or” and “ahn-toowin”), both Afrikaans for Anthony.
  11. Manifesting itself in every smug, patronising, self-righteous (and outright petulant) affectation bourgeois pietism can muster.
  12. A test designed to determine one’s political leaning. It can be taken at The Political Compass.
  13. According to this analysis on the aforementioned site, in the excellent company of Frédéric Chopin, Antonín Dvořák and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
  14. Both Google+ and Apple Music Connect have announced the discontinuation of their services and so I no longer post there.

This November

Cape Strawflower, 2 November 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I photographed this Cape Strawflower blossom. Even when picked and without water, it will last for years. It is part of the “Everlasting” family, flowering plants whose “petals” are really the bracts (the usually insignificant part of the blossom holding the petals).

I watched the world in bloom

The indigenous heather of South Africa is known as fynbos1 (Afrikaans for “fine bush”), a plant kingdom unique to the Western Cape region with a multitude of species. From the tiny Lobelia chamaepitys (Fine-stalked Lobelia) scattered in drops of violet about the heath to the deep pink Phaenocoma prolifera (Cape Strawflower) igniting the heather. From the pale Edmondia sesamoides (Everlasting) and orange Leucospermum patersonii (Silver-edge Pincushion) adorning the hillsides to the salmon-pink Tritoniopsis antholyza (Bergpypie2) and blue Micranthus filifolius (Comb Flower) brightening up the waysides.

In late November, the eve of the South African summer, it seemed the very rocks would bloom if they could. After a long dry season, we had an excellent winter and the earth has responded with a profusion of flowers the likes of which we have never seen. Plants have appeared that have been dormant for years. Wherever I went, there was occasion to stop and photograph some wonderful instance of form and colour, some new species amongst the familiar tapestry to discover. To walk upon the mountain slopes was especially rewarding. If like me you enjoy flora, there is nothing like fynbos to enchant you!

Mountainside Fynbos, 2 November 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
Cape Strawflowers and Everlastings cover the mountain slopes in November when it is spring in my country, South Africa.

I visited the past

Having recently written about the two years I spent as a boy in the Babilonstoringberge valley3, I decided to revisit the area. I had done so a few years ago. I saw then how the valley had changed, much of my childhood paradise lost to modernisation and neglect. Today, of the little farm school, there is only the crumbling foundation, but the old fig and apple tree still huddle together beside it, though now without the windowed wall. The pit toilets remain, roofless on the edge of the grove. As I balanced upon the rubble that was once my classroom, a cuckoo4 called from the poplars, and a kite5 passed overhead!

All the happiness of my eight and nine-year-old self returned. I stood in all the places on the grounds to which there is attached a memory: by the old foundations where there used to be a ledge upon which I would attempt to sidle on the tips of my toes as far as I could, until it became impossibly narrow; upon the verge of the gravel road passing the site where I would pretend to be a superhero, soaring above the road; in the spot beneath the oak trees where on clear winter days we would sit about a fire and have our lessons in the open air! For a moment, it was all as it was then.

A Kite, 13 November 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A kite soared above while a cuckoo called from the woods.

I then went to the little cottage where we lived during the week at the time, not far from the school, following the road winding along the hillside. There it stood, stripped of the past, unrecognisable after its renovation. I knew this would be what I would find from my last visit, but in light of my recent recollections, it felt especially disappointing. It was now someone else’s home. Gone were the two small front-facing windows that neatly framed the downs, the old chimney of the fuming wood-burning stove, the haunted draughty shed once attached to its side. I took no photographs, as I did of the school.

I wondered whether the ditch I loved so dearly still ran behind the cottage (where I would marvel at dragonflies) but had not the heart to see if it did. I left feeling disillusioned, regretting in that moment that I went there at all. So much had changed in the intervening time, I thought it best not to trace the old route6 we pupils used to walk, once a week, to the second school building elsewhere on the farm—a path that led through a poplar forest where brambles used to grow (red on one side, black on the other, my sister reminded me later). Nonetheless, I was pleased I returned to the valley—one last time.

Cottage, 01 December 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A drawing of the farmworker’s cottage, our home during the week, as I remember it. It had two rooms, a fraction of the size of our home proper, but to us three children, a dream.

The past visited me

“Of a Summertime”, a poem I recently completed, eulogises fleeting moments from that very valley: dragonflies in the ditch behind the cottage are among them. How astonishing then that for the very first time (at least that I recall), a dragonfly should appear in the garden: a blue Cape Skimmer (Orthetrum julia capensis). Most of its one wing was lost, yet it darted effortlessly about the shrubbery. I could hardly contain my excitement! I suspect it must have come from the stream in the nearby forest where the slopes of this valley meet; an area so overgrown, no wonder the dragonfly visited the garden to sunbathe.

Then, a few days ago, no less serendipitously, my father called me outside to ask what I made of a little green light in the grass; and what should I find but a firefly7! Only days before had I thought of a poetic sketch I had abandoned, “The Last Time I Saw Fireflies”. So faint is my memory of the moment in question that I failed to compose anything worthy, but faced with this luminous wonder—another first for our garden which in my ignorance I shall ascribe, dragonfly included, to a good winter—my interest in the sketch was revived. As I mulled over the memory8, the muse was kind and granted me three verses.

A Cape Skimmer, 18 October 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A dragonfly in the garden, a visitor from the past.

I was lost in poetry

After my recent discovery of South African poet Toon van der Heever9, I found amongst his contemporaries Jan F. E. Celliers10. In “Dis Al” (Afrikaans for “that’s all”, pronounced “diss ull”), he describes in pithy fashion a scene of nostalgia and grief. A handful of words and skipping metre is all he requires to cut right to the bone. It moved me to compose a sketch of my own, not on grief but on joy. Its (unoriginal) working title is “That Is All”. Whether it becomes a final work—and to what extent it will resemble Celliers’ poem in the end—remains to be seen. I do not usually compose homages, but this may be the first.

Then, unsurprisingly, following my October encounter with the Aandpypie11, I composed a sketch titled “Little Evening Lily”. If ever a poem was inevitable, it was this one. What was surprising (or rather, unexpected) was another new sketch, “The Wind!”. It was born of a note written to clarify my meaning in a line praising the wind in “Most Sublime” (previously “Give Me the Fields!”). I saw immediately within it the potential to become a poem. In my ongoing quest to revere the wind, I leapt at the chance to add it to my litany of verses on the subject as a fourth invocation (not counting instances in other poems).

I have now begun work on “Boy in the Field”, a sketch I am somewhat fearful of editing. It was inspired by an event in November last year when at nightfall I walked in the fields and saw but metres away, a lonely Paradise Crane. This pale blue creature is so graceful that I liken it to a god, and so overcome was I at the sight, silence and tears were my only response. When at last I regained my composure, words came. Alone on that hillside with only the Zephyr about us, the moment was sacred. As I tentatively begin work on the lines, I find myself almost unwilling to return to that holy hour, but such is the poet’s work.

A Paradise Crane, 8 November 2017. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
The very crane I dared to photograph, compelled to capture the moment, something in retrospect I scarce believe I had the insolence to do.

I looked inward

My mother is a primary school teacher. Raised in abject poverty, it was her ambition to escape it—a course interrupted by my birth. From my earliest years and for most of my childhood, I was not in her direct care. My father wholly absent, it was left to my late grandmother (my mother’s adoptive mother) and later my nursemaid (who to this day refers to me as “my kind”12) to raise me whilst my mother pursued teaching. I romanticise my time in the Babilonstoringberge valley because they alone are untainted by the latent sense of abandonment that marked the years that preceded (and followed) them.

My mother’s absence created within me a vacuum, which I attempted to fill with “Beauty” (to me, Art, Nature and Solitude) and every modification to my behaviour I imagined would please her. The goal of my existence was to earn her affection: a hopeless task, sabotaged by the beginning of my school education when I was sent to board with a family in order to attend Grades One and Two at a school of my mother’s choosing. At this time, my mother began teaching Grades Three and Four in the Babilonstoringberge valley where my stepfather and infant half-sisters stayed with her during the week13.

A primary school teacher herself, my mother knew which teachers to trust with my schooling. Though I appreciate her strategy now, it filled me with dread at the time, for it meant that I would have to board with other families for most of my primary school life. I would see my family on weekends and during holidays, but eventually started distancing myself from them, because I knew that come Monday or a new school term, we would be separated again, and I would have to return and adjust anew to a family not my own. Over time, I developed a longing for home14 so intense, I felt it even when I was in fact home.

Babilonstoringberge Valley School Site, 13 November 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
A panoramic view of the Babilonstoringberge valley school site where my mother taught, as it is today. Part of its foundation is visible just right of the centre. In the distance looms the Babilonstoringberge peak—a boy, I imagined it would erupt like a volcano! Below it is the wood from which the cuckoo called and to the left, the only semi-surviving structure, the pit toilets. The road on the left winds around one hill and up another where stands the labourer’s cottage we lived in during the week.

Respite came at age eight when I was set to enter Grades Three and Four, the grades my mother taught at the Babilonstoringberge valley farm school, and I joined my own family there. It was as if my life had at last begun! In the two years that followed, I thrived like the valley itself; but at the end of Grade Four, boarding resumed for the rest of primary school, and in high school, I lived completely alone. By then, I had internalised the alienation I felt and became disconnected from those I longed to love. Beauty, always of the kind that reflected my sadness, was my salvation, a barque on a capricious ocean.

That melancholy shaped my conception of the world, it is irrevocably cast within my psyche—I cannot escape it. You hear it in the plaintive melodies and read it in the wistful verses. I see it in the “lonely swallow rushing through the sky”15, the crane on the hillside, the wind in the grass. It is there in “forgotten fields”—the distant places always out of reach, the impossible hopes we abandon and banish from our thoughts. I cherish those two years in the Babilonstoringberge valley because there, for a while, my childhood hopes were fulfilled, surrounded by all that mattered to me: the hills, the fields and my family.

Footnotes

  1. Pronounced “feign-boss” with the “o” in “or” cut short.
  2. Afrikaans for “little mountain pipe”, pronounced “behr-kg-pay-pee” with the “eh” in “bet” and the “kg” sound in “loch” (that is, the guttural “kccch” sound, not the “ck” in “lock”).
  3. In “This September” and “This October”. Babilonstoringberge is pronounced “bah-bee-lons-twh-Rhng-beR-gh” (the “o” in “or”, the “e” in “wet”, trilled “R”s and the “gh” in “go”), Afrikaans for “Tower of Babel Mountains”. The range is named after its most notable feature, a great peak resembling, from some viewpoints, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Lucas van Valckenborch’s conception of the tower from Biblical mythology.
  4. A Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius), known here as the Piet-my-vrou (Afrikaans for “Pete-my-wife”, pronounced “piht-mey-fRo” with the “ih” in “it” and a trilled “R”) after its “wiet-weet-weeoo” call.
  5. A Yellow-billed Kite (Milvus parasitus).
  6. I shared a little more about this route in a social media post here (Twitter).
  7. I filmed a short video of what is either a firefly larvae (a glow-worm) or a female of the species and shared it here (Twitter).
  8. Incidentally, the last time I saw fireflies, I was either five or six years old. We were at the seaside camping and I saw them in a bush. By the invitation of a friend of my mother’s, we attended a religious event. It was itself a tented affair, the kind with enthusiastic singing, clapping, preaching and donations to match.
  9. Whom I mention in “This October”.
  10. Pronounced “yunn eff eeyh sil-yeaRs” with a trilled “R”.
  11. In “This October” I wrote about this wonderful flower that opens at nightfall.
  12. Afrikaans for “my child”, pronounced “mey khnd” with the short “kh” sound at the beginning of “kid”.
  13. I would stay during the week with a teacher friend of my mother’s who taught at the school in question. It was a characteristically pragmatic decision on her part, oblivious to the negative emotional impact the arrangement would have upon my well-being.
  14. The Afrikaans word for this yearning, “heimwee” (pronounced “haym-veeyh”), is not unlike the Welsh “hiraeth” (pronounced “hee-Rye-th” with a trilled “R”) in that it conveys, in its simplest sense, a nostalgia for what one holds dear: home, a loved one, a memory.
  15. A line from the poem I composed for the Forgotten Fields (2017) album.