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.
Though the Overberg—a region in the Western Cape province of South Africa—is in the midst of winter (June to August), the weather was autumnal and the countryside serene: the sun was shining, the air was crisp; all about me was still, except for the gentle bleating of ewes with their lambs and the occasional whistling of stonechats on the wire fences. Is it any wonder, I thought, the pear tree blooms a month before the spring?
Beside the dirt road that leads to the hamlet where I live, a pear tree stands alone at the edge of a field. Every year, it blooms at the beginning of August, a month before the arrival of the South African spring, delighting the passer-by modestly yet spectacularly. In August 2018, I wrote a few rough stanzas in response to that very tree under the working title “A Pear Tree”. Now, nearly two years later, I am ready to develop them into a finished poem.
Of course, the pear tree has inspired a poem. Another new draft—I shall never finish this project! Incidentally, the field where it grows was once an orchard, one of many. In days gone by, my village was known for its pear orchards, earning it the nickname "'Little Pears' Town". pic.twitter.com/YSDy67a7gu
I captured this impromptu photograph whilst out among the hills, late yesterday afternoon, and shared it with a friend. “It complements your art,” he said. The inverse, however, is true: my art seeks to complement it—indeed, the Overberg1 inspires the Theme (Wonder), Subject (Natural Beauty) and Style (Simple Lyric Poetry) of my work. Here, every resource must be husbanded, and the minimalism of the landscape is the result of drudgery. Both shape my attitude to words when I extol this region in verse.
A rural region of the Western Cape province of South Africa.
It is spring in South Africa (September to November), and the Greater Striped Swallows (Cecropis cucullata) are returned from north Africa for the breeding season. A week ago, I photographed one of their many mud-pellet nests in the entrails of a bridge where I often stop to admire them as they frolic in the air.
When I survey pastoral scenes such as these, I wish that I could outstretch my arms and embrace them! In my desperation, I do so with words—fumbling lines that do none of it justice. If I could write poetry so sweet, verses so simple—silences so sustaining!
It was overcast yesterday with heavy fog on the mountains and so the aptest weather for working on “Mist from the Mountains”. Today, the fog persists, accompanied by heavy rain early this morning. Venturing out regardless, just before first light, I surveyed the fog-laden mountains and was rewarded with the perfect word for a line in the poem that has troubled me over the past few days (not the “Solemn, sombre and slow” line I singled out yesterday but the one that follows it). It seems the early bard catches the word.
The South African spring brings blossoms and sunbirds to the garden. Surprisingly forgiving of my intrusion, they permit me to come within less than a metre (four feet) of their presence, allowing me to capture photographs like this one.
This is a Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) male, named for the bright red and blue (not obvious here) bands upon its chest. Its Afrikaans name, Klein-rooibandsuikerbekkie1, translates to “little-redbandsugarbeak”.
Pronounced [cleyn–Roowaybunt–soykeRbecky] with a trilled [RRR].
I encountered one of the first Large Brown Afrikaner lilies (Gladiolus liliaceus) of spring this morning. It stood on the same wayside where I saw another (of the cream-coloured variety), last October. Once home, I invited my mother to return to the flower to admire it. Upon her suggestion, we strolled further up the dirt road and what should we see but another of the same flower, precariously blooming on the verge!
(If you listen carefully at the 15 seconds mark, you can hear one of the Clapper Lark species, Mirafra apiata marjoriae, flap its wings and whistle in the distance.)
We then crossed the road, and there in the field, were more lilies scattered amongst the bushes! These I did not photograph; they were at some distance, and I did not have the right lens (it never occurred to me to use the iPhone). My mother told me how, when she was a child, on the first school day of spring, they had to bring a wildflower to class. She would come to that very field to pick a lily, three kilometres from her home!