acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

post christmas post

I am sweeping up the tinsel, and washing all the pots and pans; putting christmas back in the cupboard for another year. Although with the race of time passing maybe I should just leave it all on the table?

Christmas day was cool and blustery with the occasional micro dot of a rain drop. K, myself, lovely niece and two chilled out pals had an enormously feasty day on turkey with all the trimmings, followed much later by mince pies and brandy butter (oh yes). Feeling very fortunate and blessed to be groaning from over-eating, and safely housed from the elements, in a wonderful spot with such special people.

The night after Christmas we had our first proper rainstorm of the season. Clouds moved in throughout the day. Some spat at us rudely, others just hung around in gangs. Heat and humidity built up all day, and finally heavy drops fell like pebbles on the roof, gathering strength until the thrumming din drowned out all other sound. Waterfalls cascaded off the wriggly tin, and foamy rivulets raced towards the dams.

Today the fish eagles have been feasting on bull frogs. A pair of eagles, fat as ticks, are perching sleepily by the dam nearest the gate having spent the day swooping down on the huge bullfrogs that emerged after the rain. I am hoping there are still enough there for the raucous frog party that usually follows a good rain. Then, the calls of bull frogs, rain frogs, foam nest frogs, and all the bubbling croaking cacophony reach such a crescendo that the sound fills your whole head. It is the best new years party on earth i am sure.

Looking ahead and wishing all the blogger fraternity an excellent and dream filled 2009. I have really enjoyed blogging with you these past months and thank you again for all your kind comments on mine – love them! Blog On!!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Miranda has tagged me in this record size meme – bumper issue for christmas I suppose! If you havent yet visited her blog - you must - its so fresh and funny and wise and original.

Since this meme has presented itself as a good distraction from what I should really be doing, I will give it a go.

Seven things to do before parents arrive:Well I don’t have parents anymore, and nor does K but my niece and boyfriend arrive next week so I’ll count her in:

Umm - was I supposed to do something?

Well firstly clean the cottage where they will stay – that’s important
Stock up on booze and food
I've already painted everything that doesn’t move – I may be hooked on fumes at this stage..
Tidy up house generally (should be done regularly anyway)
Finish this meme
Put lots of sleep in the bank
Check airport arrival times

Seven things I’ve been doing instead of preparing for christmas
Painting everything in sight that doesn’t move
Playing Scrabs on facebook
Doing bumper memes
Checking on facebook
Checking on google for mails from pals
Pretending Christmas is just a turkey lunch

Seven things I cant do this ChristmasFly to the moon to get cheese
Fly anywhere exotic or otherwise away
Make everyone have fun and be happy
Bake a cake (although that’s normal)
Play the piano (ditto)
Do the splits (ditto)
Wear a winter coat (too hot..aaagh)

Seven Christmas wishes
That everyone everywhere (including us) has a peaceful happy healthy one
That no-one feels lonely and left out
That everyone has enough to eat and drink
That that ‘secret issue’ goes well
That the Zimbabweans get their country back
That everyone is happy and has fun
That the power stays on – in every sense

Seven Things I say as Christmas approachesIs there enough wine?
Can anyone cook?
Theres a monkey in the kitchen
This is going to be fun
Oh my word
What day is it?
Is there enough wine? (did I say that?)

Seven Celebrities to invite for Christmas Dinner
Father Christmas – since he will be passing anyway
Jamie Oliver – to help with the cooking (did I say ‘help’?)
Why is this one so hard…….umm celebrities…let me think
Actually I’d rather invite you lot with all your special talents
Now that could be fun……….we will keep Jamie though

Seven Favourite Festive FoodsBrandy butter – have to agree
Gammon ham
Mango sorbet

Seven Bloggers to tag
you know who you are! c'mon then

Friday, December 12, 2008

mopane worms

The mopane worms have started. First the leaves turned green after the rain, and the heat cranked up a notch again adding humidity to the mix. Then somebody laid little tiny white eggs on the undersides of the leaves. Stacked together in rows they are apparently very sugary, and baboons and monkeys snack on them as sweet treats.
Obviously not enough though because suddenly the trees are dripping with mopane worms as all the little eggs are hatching.

I don’t know why they call them worms because they are more like big fat colourful caterpillars, but they emerge from these tiny eggs and start eating leaves straight away. Climbing on top of each other to reach the ends of the branches. They eat so much and so fast that you can almost see them growing before your eyes – if you stood there for a while. When they reach the end of the branch they drop to the ground and start marching caterpillar style to the next tree. Within days the largest is the size of my index finger. And the trees are stripped of leaves again – naked as they were at the height of the drought. Their first attempt at summer foliage is sacrificed to the needs of this hungry horde.

Mopane worms are the larvae of the Emperor Moth – a giant velvety moth that bats against the windows in the evenings of early summer. It comes in shades of pinks and browns – old rose colours – and has two enormous false eyes on its wings. The moths live for four or five days – long enough to produce a batch of eggs. The eggs become mopane worms who feed voraciously and then burrow underground to pupate through winter.

All along the road side bakkies are now parked in the shade of the trees, and locals – mostly women – head off into the mopane forest with huge buckets to collect mopane worms. Carrying the buckets on their heads, they are draped in colourful cloth skirts and often wear rubber gloves. These worms are not easy to pick up – their holding devices would put a hyena’s jaws in the shade. Well that may be a slight exaggeration but they have little black legs and feet, and if you need to pick them off your shirt you have to really pull – and you cant squeeze at the same time because in the middle they are incredibly soft and squishy.

They are colourful characters, these worms. Aside from the black feet and legs, their bodies are patterned with dayglo reds, greens and blues – in varying amounts, so that each is quite individual. They are also somewhat spikey. You will find some that are predominantly red, others softly blues and greens – but all are entirely focussed on their job which is to eat every green leaf in the mopane forest.

Once a bucket full is picked, the women will gather under a shade tree, and squeeze each worm like a tube of toothpaste to remove the stomach and innards. It’s a messy business. When the bucket is full, the women return to the road and their harvest is collected and taken away to be dried or smoked. Dried mopane worms can be eaten as a snack, or later soaked and fried or put into a stew. I tried a dried one once – just a little bit – and it tasted like leaves to me, but some say they taste like honey roast chicken…… You try and let me know what you think.

Although entirely seasonal they are an important source of food, and income for many who live in the mopane belt – across southern Africa. They are low cost, and low maintenance – yet high protein. But as with so many other species in the food chain they are vulnerable to over-harvesting.

Mopane worms are fair game for the human population – they don’t belong to anyone, so collection times become more manic than christmas shoppers in the Mall. They can be seen inching their wormy way across the sizzling tar road, and where the crossing places are busiest – this is where the trucks and bakkies stop to start their day.

I googled the worms for your sake and was impressed to find they have their own website which has a lot of info on the local trade – and there are even some recipes around…..

Thursday, December 11, 2008

cattle rustlers

It was a sunny day in the lowveld. After lunch I was catching up on mails, when K announced he was going to Hoedspruit to buy molasses for the wildlife. He planned to put two feeding spots near the house so we could see the kudu, and eland etc coming to slurp the syrupy substance – sweet relief from the parched veldt.

On the way to Hoedspruit, his friend H phoned, or his son actually. They had some cattle stolen off their farm near Gravelotte. Another farmer had tracked them through the cut fences and found the cattle, but he wanted us to go and see if any were his, and if so how many. H had left his farm at Gravelotte only the day before, because there were reports of poaching on his game farm near Witbank – four hours drive away.

So we quickly finished our shopping and raced over the Gravelotte. There followed several hours driving around the area, visiting farms, and trying to track down the missing cattle. Stories varied – it was hard to know how many exactly, and even harder to find out at which farm they were now being held.

We bumped into a farm manager, J, who was on the same mission having lost 36 cattle already this month to cattle rustlers. We swapped cell phone numbers with J, only to find our cell phone was running out of power and we had no charger with us. We made a vow to always carry torches, phone chargers, first aid kits and tools, for such emergencies but it didn’t help us then as we had none of the above with us.

We went to visit the farmer who had alerted H to the problem initially. Driving into his farm we passed sleepy cattle, their soft looking hides falling in folds around their necks. Then we crossed a cattle grid that separated the game section. Young giraffe blocked the road, and had to be encouraged to move. Further on huge herds of dainty impala trekked to feeding spots across dusty ground. At the house a massive flock of wild guinea fowl competed with free range chickens for grain. Two brown dogs came bounding out of the garden, tongues flapping in the wind, to throw themselves enthusiastically at the visitors. One received a hearty slap for his troubles, and then was much more manageable. The farmer was out, but his maid came to the gate and the tri-lingual discussion began to try and establish some basis to the missing cattle story.

Collecting H’s cattleman, Wellington, an old fellow in ragged red overalls, we followed vague leads over to the Makutsi region. The sun set, darkness settled faster. We feared the worst, as the rustlers were bound to return to collect ‘their’ cattle that same night. We searched the sand road for signs, until we reached the main tar road to Tzaneen. Returning empty handed and dispirited, we bumped into J, who had spoken to the Police and had confirmation of the whereabouts of the herd. Bakkies raced back and forth in the inky darkness raising clouds of red dust. Another farm manager, name of C, led us to the kraal where the cattle were, but it appeared they had been released again and taken to a far corner of the farm – allegedly by the rustlers who had probably slept the day in the bush nearby.

We sat by a waterhole while C and J searched the farm, spotlight beams slicing the night. A clear Milky Way stretched unhindered over our heads. Fireflies winked over the water, mimicking the stars, and frogs croaked the onset of summer.

Leaving Wellington to herd the cattle to the gate again, having borrowed a torch from C, we drove to Lourene lodge to use their phone to call H and give him an update. There the owners were happy to tell us that they could have stopped the whole thing if their staff had told them sooner. They expanded on the problems of stock theft, and fears that a syndicate is controlling it. Over 400 head of cattle have been stolen in the area recently. That is big business for someone. Many of the farms have absentee owners, or are so large that it is easy to work one section without being seen.

H arrived, having driven from Witbank. We returned to find Wellington already on the road with nine cows slowly walking along. We followed at a snails pace. K and I in two vehicles were using our lights to show them the way. H and Wellington were walking with the cattle. H’s long spare form slipped easily into a pace of walking that told of a lifetime of walking with cattle. The long horns of the two Afrikaner cows illuminated in the headlights, with the younger calves trotting alongside.

It was slow traveling. The cattle already tired from the last 24 hours antics, having walked some 100kms from their home farm to the place where they were held. Eventually we reached Lourene’s horse camp, and ushered them in there for the night, thankfully driving on home. Drove into our gates at 1am. After a cup of tea, I went to bed and left the men to see in the dawn over a few bottles of wine.
This morning they have gone to finish the great cattle trek and bring the poor creatures’ home to Gravelotte.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Angst

Christmas is coming and it should be fun right? One thing I am looking forward to is the visit from my lovely niece who is coming out for two whole weeks. We always have so much fun.

Otherwise, Christmas fills me with a kind of angst. Its all the expectations I think. Cards to write. Shopping for gifts when the shops are full of manic shoppers on buying sprees. Getting everything posted in time. The food, the drinks, events to organise to make sure everyone has fun. – and knowing its impossible to make everyone have fun.

Childhood Christmas’s are now viewed through a rosy lens, soft focus. The excitement; the countdown, carols by candlelight, long winter evenings with log fires; walks on frozen mud lanes beneath stark winter trees. Glowing noses and cheeks.
My father’s birthday was christmas eve and was always a separate celebration – birthday cake, separate presents ; Family dinner at a nice restaurant, then the Watch Night service at the local church. Trying to sleep but waking up oh so early. Never early enough to beat my sister downstairs though. Stockings at the end of the bed packed with goodies, and always a Satsuma (naartjie) at the toe.

Fast forward through the years and many bright and sparkling African Christmases with friends and families. Sunlight bouncing in shards off tinsel and shiny decorations; plenty of booze and feasty food; swimming pools and gigantic tropical downpours. So it should be something to look forward to right? So why this nameless dread?

The last christmas I shared with my father was his 80th birthday in Wales. We stayed in some farm cottages. The owners warned us that the man in the next cottage was hiding from Christmas so we must not greet him, or invite him round. He just wanted to be alone with his books until it was over. How many people feel like this? Is Thanksgiving the same?

Really it is one day, but for some it is the loneliest time of the year. The longest 24 hours in the calendar. So I shall spare a thought for those who have no-one to spend the time with. For whom another Christmas brings back painful memories and get on with writing some cards. Oh yes! Theres always the e-card….hehe