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.
Today was another winter idyll. It convinced me that late winter is the ideal time to launch this anthology: the days are crisp and clear, flocks bleat on the hills, and the pear tree blooms in the valley.
There are fourteen sketches left to develop. It takes me around four weeks to transform drafts into complete poems. Therefore, I project the compositions will be finished next year, about this time.
Protracted, but Appropriate
That would mean two more years before I publish them, if I were to commit to this late-winter launch date. This suits the project, since some time must be spent on producing the handmade books.
Moreover, I intend to devote a considerable amount of time to the creation of items supplementary to the anthology—a year to attend to these suits me well—wherefore I anticipate a launch only in 2022.
Look who blossoms, yet again in mid-winter! Here in South Africa, July is the second month of the season, but the weather is mostly autumnal, with crisp and clear days: misty in the morning, but later sunny.
Seeing the pear tree covered in flowers this early should come as no surprise, yet the sight never ceases to amaze. Naturally, I recited to it “A Pear Tree”—and I think it approved of my modest effort to praise it.
It is winter in my country, South Africa, and one of my favourite sights is the radiance of this road in the rain. When the clouds part, it shines silver in the sunlight—a simple occurrence that is an integral part of my sense of place1.
In the original 2012 version of the poem “Autumn” (my first Romantic work), this scene appeared; but, in the revised 2020 version, instead of the road, it became the river reflecting the sun (to preserve the concept of the stanza).
By “sense of place”, I mean one’s conception of “home”, as shaped by environmental components, such as topography, architectural style, rhythms, rituals, sights and sounds.
When the Southern Double-collared Sunbird male displays to attract a mate—its chief concern, this time of year (mid-winter in South Africa)—it reveals yellow tufts on its shoulders that are usually concealed. So far, I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to photograph it in this state—somehow, it is either too windy, or the bird refuses to keep still, or (as was the case yesterday) the light conspires against me. This was the best of yesterday’s set, with heavy adjustment to the shadows to make the feathers in question visible.
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?
A sight I have not observed before: a Malachite Sunbird male (left) and female (right) in the birdbath. Once before have I seen a male bathing in dewy foliage, assuming at the time that it did so for its long tail feathers—a birdbath being too shallow to accommodate them—but it seems to have been purely a matter of convenience.
Two years ago, I revisited the Babilonstoringberge1 valley, where I spent two idyllic years of my childhood with my family. During that visit2, the sight of the much-altered labourer’s cottage, in which we lived at the time, was too much to bear and I did not photograph it. Yesterday, I returned there again and did.
To my surprise, I discovered that the original structure was left mostly intact, its face concealed by an addition of equal size to the front. At both sides of the building, a seam where the two sections join is visible. Doubtlessly, the new section was added to the front for lack of space at the back where a ditch runs3.
This development was comforting: not all of the past was lost—unlike the two-classroom building where I was under my schoolteacher mother’s tuition for two standards, destroyed by a fire, years later. Indeed, from the field behind the cottage, the scene was almost unchanged. I was pleased I returned to the valley.
Pronounced [bubbylons-tweRings-beRguh] with the [o] in “or”, the first [e] that in “were”, [i] the “a” in “about”, the second [e] that in “wet”, trilled [R]s and the [g] in “go”). Afrikaans for “Babel’s-tower-mountains”.
Which I briefly describe in the “I visited the past” section of “This November”.
I have fond memories of that quiet little stream, recalling the dragonflies I used to watch there in the poem “Of a Summertime” (unpublished).