Summer is sparkling green – a world of butterflies and birds bringing the landscape to life with their fluttery business. Grass grows before our eyes forming lush dark jungles that the guinea fowls can hide in. The trees are resplendent in their summer dresses, and creepers grown on creepers, that grow on creepers. Leaf shapes fill every niche in the hunt for chlorophyll. The day is shiny bright so you have to squint, and the suns embrace can squeeze you dry. It's not intentional just over zealous.
It is Christmas Day tomorrow. We have some fairy lights blinking on our candle tree – a metal sculpture of a baobab tree. There are some presents at the base wrapped in fabric and tinsel – recyclable. The idea pinched from Lori’s blog. Thanks Lori. Tomorrow we will be home alone – dinner a deux. I will roast a small turkey and we will have a jolly table in the cool of evening. It feels luxurious not to be racing in traffic to some coastal destination that will be crowded with people and motorized toys. But I will be thinking of absent friends and family – all far away. Some knee deep in snow.
Our Christmas shopping this week consisted of a drum of molasses for the elephants, and a new rain guage for the lions to play with next time they come through our garden. It has been a while since the elephants were in this part of the reserve, so we are really enjoying their return. They love molasses too, and if they catch a whiff of the molasses drum on the back of our vehicle, it gives rise to much trunk waving as their amazing olfactory equipment picks up the slightest hint of fragrance on the warm air.
Christmas promises so much gaiety, festiveness, joy and reunion – though for some it is a difficult time. Maybe too many memories resurface, or they are alone in a world of frantic connecting. We are social animals after all.
Once we adopted a suricat. It was someone else’s problem child. They had loved it as a needy young thing, but when it hit puberty and began to assert itself, the biting got out of control and he was dropped at our door. You see these enigmatic creatures on Nat Geo – they live in communities in the Kalahari and are entirely engaging. They are social animals too and we love to watch them integrate with each other. They are not meant to be alone. They get miserable and it stresses their hearts. But someone is breeding them and selling the babies as pets.
We called our guy Mafuta meaning Fat one. He settled in here, bonded with me which was lovely, didn’t bite K much, or Rayson. He had the entire garden to forage in and all the juicy crickets and scorpions he found there were his! So he began to grow in size, in the manner of many of our politicians.
Initially he slept in my bed. It was endearing the way he clung onto my ankle deep under the duvet and slept there. But as it became his territory, he began to urinate in the bed at night leaving a particularly strong musky smell. Finally we had to draw the line. Hugging during the day was fine, but at night he had to stay in the kitchen. It was a heartbreaker. He would come throughout the night and scratch at our door, then go back to sleep alone in the back of the fridge (there is a cosy space there).
I could talk about Mafuta all day – the fun stories and times we had with him. How much he taught us. But what I mean to say is that a suricat is not meant to live alone, they need community and contact. People are the same. So no matter how much you ‘bah humbug’ about the festive season it can heighten a sense of loneliness – which is part of the human condition.
One thing I love about this season, is hearing from friends and distant relations, that I would surely have lost contact with in the mists of time were it not for this annual
There is an energy about this solstice time, winter or summer, which cannot be ignored – it fascinates me in a way. With this condition in mind, you may as well focus on the inner child and allow the magic of giving and receiving, reconnecting with long lost friends, and strengthening those family ties, to distract you. So in other words – go tinsel crazy and have as much harmless fun as you can think of with your nearest and dearest. That way you will know what your New Year’s resolutions will be.
I was born in snow country, raised in the rain belt, and have spent my adult life in the drought prone regions of southern central Africa. My childhood Christmases were cold. We prayed and hoped and wished for snow, but mostly it eluded us. Instead we sometimes had frost, and crisp cold days where the mud in the tracks was frozen solid into ridges that could twist your ankle. Autumn’s leaves lay on the ground morphing into the mud. Everywhere we looked lines were etched with microscopic crystals of ice. Trees were black lace against a winter sky.
To avoid the depression at the onset of long winter months we had Christmas. As soon as the days grew shorter, bright festive lights and glitter appeared in every shop window; arcing across the streets, bouncing back from the puddles of rainwater in our paths.
There was magic in the air. We were promised joy, happiness, feasts, family unity, gifts
And a chance to sing our hearts out at carol concerts.
fig tree fruits version of christmas baubles?
Here, now, we have summer in all its glorious fruitful emerald green abundance. Christmas creeps up on me with only a polite occasional cough to announce its arrival. You would think I would be used to it by now, but I miss the magic like a miss my childhood seen through rose tinted sunglasses.
Christmas madness here starts with the roads. It is summer holidays for the schools and universities – the long long vacation. On 15th December the country shuts down for a month. Literally. OK retailers continue to stock their shelves to the tune of piped carols but the lights and tinsel are outshone by the sun. The roads are mayhem. Everyone needs to be somewhere else. There are road blocks and accident scenes, delays and breakdowns.
apparently not the place to do your christmas shopping
or any shopping
The weather alternates between cool cloudy rainy days, and blistering sunshine when the humidity levels soar. So we will stay home for once, and enjoy watching the jungle of leaves and creepers, trees and lush grasses which seems to grow before our eyes. The impala herd has doubled in size thanks to all the new fawns that skitter and dance around the periphery on that great adventure of discovery called life.
This morning we stopped for a chameleon crossing the track. You cannot be in a hurry if you wait for him to cross. His stop-start pace is the stuff of legends and lore. There are tortoises on the move too. We haven’t seen them all winter, but now must beware that we don’t drive over them. The air is an orchestra of bird song – at night the frogs bring in the base rhythms and trills; lions call a wave of sound traveling across the night; and elephants use the curtain of green to move their youngsters around the reserve to party at the waterholes.
So we will cook a turkey and some of the trimmings; raise our glasses to absent friends and family, read books at the pool, and generally take the day off. Time to think and appreciate. Rayson will go home to his family for two weeks so we will be home alone. Who knows I may even get some of those jobs done I have been procrastinating about all year.
Have fun everyone – and celebrate the season of joy as you mean to go on!
Spiders and snakes, tortoises, scorpions hunting under the lights, preying mantises
that defy the imagination, big fluttery moths, and small scratchy scurrying beetles. Al the small folks are out now released by the flush of first proper rains. Driving through the mopane forests we pass through zones of screaming cicadas. Golden brown impalas flit across the track followed closely by their newborn fawns – tiny scraps of life - and disappear just as quickly behind the curtain of dayglo green leaves. Summer is here in all her lush green glory.
We have been traveling, between Botswana and Mozambique, in the race to be everywhere at once before the big rains close down the more remote areas for the season. Our last trip was into the LimpopoTransfrontier Park in mozambique where the Shingwedzi River crosses in from Kruger Park, South Africa. It is wild wild country with horizons so wide you can see the curve of the earth for sure!
a fork in the road
summer heat hammers down on a quiet village
sleigh ride mozambique style
a river bed that waits for the rain
elephants look so tiny from up here
patterns on a fever tree
early travellers thought this was where malaria came from
We have been doing a lot of travelling this past month. Apart from the usual road hours - sometimes 11 hours at a stretch - we have been extremely fortunate to take some aerial journeys accross some of the most pristine wild country in southern Africa.
Firstly, leaving camp in Selinda, we flew in the empty supply plane back to Maun. This flight over part of the Okavango Delta must be one of the most beautiful scenic flights in the world. It is mesmerising to watch the meandering arms of the delta waters bringing life to the desert heartland. The patterns it weaves are interlaced with paths made by wildlife trekking from feeding grounds to water. The way the paths converge on a waterhole, or favoured drinking spot, create further natural abstract designs. It is landscape as it meant itself to be.
Here are some sights that birds see on their migration paths.
the name of this river translates to 'Snake'
meandering arms of delta waters form oxbows and islands in kalahari sand
diminishing waterholes in the dry hinterland threaded with game paths; this one has a yin-yang symbol
delta overview - big country for wildlife
if we ever needed reminding that water is life - here is proof!
A hyena lies at the edge of a muddy waterhole. She is grubby looking, her fur filled with ash from the recent grass fire that swept through the savannah woodlands. She raises her head looking left and right, drinking the scents on the wind. Her deep set eyes do not sparkle with life like other creatures, yet they are alive. They look like deep dark holes - an abyss into which you could fall forever. One can only imagine the horror scenes they record at every nocturnal kill. The eyes are portals to store experience in the library of the brain. With each fresh kill more skills are learned, stored, referred back to when needed.
Her fur is matted and short, the spots stubbornly showing through the ash brown mud that clings to her. Around her mouth pieces of last nights meal cling to the fur, all now a uniform unrecognisable brown. I imagine the smell of her breath close to my face as the last thing i might smell in this life.
She is not pretty in our terms. The rules are different here. Hyena pups can be pretty and endearing - they look like fun to hang out with. A mature male or female however, shows no such charm. It is important for them to clan, to find acceptance among each other. Females are generally larger than the males. To add to their strangeness female genitalia closely resembles that of the males. They are not apparently hermaphroditic as has been suggested before, but it does get confusing. Nearby a sister is sleeping, her distended belly resting in the depression made by an elephants foot when the mud was wet. Symbiosis. Elephants are kind to their neighbours.
The alpha females stands and starts to move off into the tree line. She moves with powerful grace; head down shoulders high - her stride surefooted and strong. Hyenas are in their own niche in the world of species. Somewhere between a pit bull terrier and a wolf. They hold the power of the night and every thought that makes you uneasy. Like the executioners in days of old - its just her job.
Legends abound too - in this area, if you see a hyena go past with a man riding on its back, its your time to die. Technically this would probably be quite difficult as their hind legs are somewhat shorter than their forelegs and they are not that tall - he would have to be small. But still - watch out at night and in your dreams.
Its raining - thunder rocks the house; rain pours in silver torrents off the tin roof. The ground is running with streams and rivulets filling the dry clay waterholes. Trees rejoice - reaching up and shivering in the cool air, filling up the reserves that fuel the new green leaves.
It is dark indoors and grey sheets of rain cloud the distant view. It started with a whiff of magical rain smell. A few scattered drops that hit the tin like stones.
"Shall we close the roof on the car?"
"No not yet - it might chase the rain away"
superstition rules the moment
At this stage the car is more like an aquarium because the rain has thanked us and given generously of itself in return.
Lightening flashes bright and thunder cracks overhead - bringing dramatic crecendoes to the thrumming rain. Damp earth and ash smells waft through the wooden house that so recently was more like a sauna.
Earlier, the fledgling flycatcher who has been entertaining us with his awkward moves and sweet clumsy flights, flew into the house and landed on a beam. "Be Calm" we urged and left him to figure out his new surroundings - hopefully to find a way out again in his own time. He fluttered to the floor - a dark corner which allowed me to approach and pick him up in my hand. He was a ball of feathers around a strongly pulsing heart. He weighed less than a postage stamp (remember those?) I took him to the door and set him on a post. After a couple of seconds he flew into the croton bush.
Perhaps after all he was planning to pass the storm in the shelter of the wooden house?
The multi talented and gorgeous Nicky from Absolute Vanilla blogspot has bestowed upon Monkeys on the Roof an illustrious prize - The Honest Scrap Award. Thank you dear Nicky!
but what is honest scrap i wondered? i start to picture a rag and bone man from days of yore trolling the streets crying 'any old iron?' but then i read on.
The Honest Scrap Award is about bloggers who post from their heart, who oftentimes put their heart on display as they write from the depths of their soul.
The Rules of this Award are to pass it on to 7 bloggers you admire and follow and then to share 10 honest things about yourself.
The hardest part of these awards is choosing only 7 bloggers to pass it on to. Nicky has already chosen several of the first that spring to mind, and some of you
I know do not like to receive blogs - even though this one could be made for you and you alone! but anyhow, i shall persist, and here is my list..
Tanvir from Holy Vision who guides us through her world with strength and fabulous in-your-face humour.
Amanda from Travels with Persephone whose consummate short story skills, vision, sensitivity and warmth are entirely captivating;
Susan from The Mermaid Gallery who lives in a beautiful place, and shares her love of life through her vibrant artworks and anecdotes;
Reya - from The Golden Puppy who perpetually nourishes that questioning part of my brain with her wisdom, intuition and inter dimensional experiences;
The Times of Miranda - always a favourite!
Lori times Five - of course of course (if I can get to her before Geli does :)
Friko's musings - a blog full of life and humour as a German expat living in Wales
The Solitary Walker - whose words and poetry allow us to share the journeys
The Alchemists pillow - who shares wonderful things i never knew about Spain
please follow the links on my sidebar - I am on borrowed internet time at the moment. Thanks!
and now for the even harder part - to find ten honest scraps about ME. Who wants to know this stuff? ten things that you dont already know....crikey...ok
1.i have been an aunty since i was 17 - its been the coolest thing to be
2.I am a believer by the Monkees was the first record i ever bought. I still love it though i dont own it any more.
3.I have some scars - most of them are due to my own clumsiness or acting the clown. When i am even older i will have fun remembering - if i can.
4.i love marmite
5.i can do the charleston a bit
6.happy movies make me cry
7.i get stuck on narrow bridges over great heights, or staircases that you can see through like inside the dome of St Pauls Cathedral in London.......shiver
8.i would love to see northern lights one day
9.i dont let go easily - friends be warned!
10.I used to think the Elgin Marbles were big round things.
The day was extreme - the heat building for first rains, topped all records. It pressed down like a heavy wool blanket - the old fashioned kind, before down duvets and thermal hiking gear. The breeze skittered and died, shifting from east to west, as though unsure of its own footing.
Sweat coasted down my brow in rivulets, finding the corners of my eyes, burning them awake. Had I sprung a thousand leaks, that the more water i drank, the more poured out of my very skin, soaking my clothes? I sought the breeze but it wasn't always there.
I wanted to lie down and sleep, but everything i touched was too hot - the sofa, the bed, the floor, the chair - I didnt want to touch any of them as they compounded my own body temperature. This is not funny hey? My thermostat is sticking now. The wooden house smells like a nordic sauna.
We jump in the car and drive onto the floodplain. The air is like a hairdryer, or oven door, blasting at us. Nothing moves in the heat. We head for the big sausage tree on the island near the waters edge. There is an elephant heading there too, but we get there first. it is nearest pool of shade and we are happy to share, but he carries on to the next island.
Relief, here at least a breeze off the water catches our sweaty brows and steadily imperceptibly body temperatures start to fall to manageable levels. A purple roller flies out over the water, swoops to drink and returns to a branch over our heads. Red billed wood hoopoe's have a nest in a hole in the sausage tree. The parents return to feed their fledgling young. A racket ensues as the youngster, already in adult plumage, emerges to be fed, The parents are working hard in the soupy air. The youngster retreats back into the nest to await the next treat. No flying lessons today then.
Slowly our shadow pool grows as the sun dips to the west. Dragonflies fill the air around our heads. Lacy winged bi-planes swarm around coming to rest on leaves and twigs. I turn the camera onto them. Their black wings seen from above show gold and bronze, purple and royal blue - who would have known? We find another - rich royal red, with a ginger abdomen, and fine transparent wings; whoa there is another - much more camouflaged in black and yellow, barely discernible in the leaf litter. Then another in royal blue. They hover and land, flying around our heads, nviting us to cross over into a fantasy world of dragonflies and nymphs that the ridiculously hot day has allowed us to see at last. Were they always there?
A grass fire came in from the west, devouring tinder dry yellow grasses. Giant orange flames raced across open plains and along dry riverbeds. They tiptoed through the open woodland where the elephants had trampled the grasses, then raced out into the sunlight again. The wind was their friend, urging them onwards. But the wind is capricious and finally it turned. The flames stumbled and stuttered trying to find a new way forward, but they were stumped and the fire died right there.It has left a desolate landscape where burnt leaves shiver and shift on the ground, crumbling to soot and rising in dusky columns to dance with the dust devils of their old friend the wind.
fire stick man
We drive along the sand track which in places marks the end of the fire. Black as pitch the soot covers the charred view. Elephants have left big round impressions of footprints, where they have crossed out of the fire zone and into the bright blonde grasses again. Here and there a fallen tree continues to burn. At night the coals still glow red but during the day they hide in snow white ash. Trees that burnt where they fell, have left a ghostly impression in ash on the ground. We are driving past funeral pyres for trees - there is an armageddon feel as if we have stumbled onto the battlefield after a ghastly war. The stump of an ancient leadwood tree shines dazzling white against the black. Cascading pure white ash it is a tower of smouldering coals around the baked ceramic core of the termitaria which once shared its niche. Soon all trace of its existence will be blown away in the wind.
leadwood fire stump caldera of snow white ash
We are waiting for rain again. The October heat is reckless, relentless, and ever increasing - building for rain. Yesterday was a full moon. It was a red moon as it rose through the smoke haze mimicking, for a while, the setting sun. The full moon promises to bring a change in the weather. Across the country people are watching the skies. Bets are on for the first big rain. Inland pans are drying up and the elephants, our most water dependent species, are forced to travel long distances through the dry interior to reach the lagoons and spillways of Selinda.
steenbok on fresh neon green grass shoots
Yet here and there already, neon green shoots of grass begin to appear. Tiny green shoots of leaves are poking out of dessicated branches - signalling that hope springs eternal. It has been more than a decade since the last grass fire came through here, and some think it was time.
This morning the horizon is dark grey in the north - whether from fire or rain we cannot yet tell. There is a touch of moisture on the wind although I cannot smell that magical rain smell. But then I am not an elephant. We pass one heading directly towards the dark sky, the rhythm of his steady pace belying his traveling speed. A flock of open bill storks pass overhead in classic V formation heading the same way. Their wings flicker white against the dark clouds.
This heat has to break soon. We are on the cusp I feel certain. Any day now welcome rain must fall.