Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Flight of Flamingos

I read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia when I was still a teenager.  The book is about his time with the communists in Barcelona fighting against Franco.  He describes a time when the communists were the most right wing group in the city as the anarchist movement took hold and there are memorable descriptions of what anarchy might actually look like in terms of politics and non-adminstration.  He moves up to fight Franco’s army in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains where he is shot through the throat.  As they evacuate him on a stretcher, dripping with blood and certain he is going die, the leaves of a silver poplar tree brush against his face.  “How lucky”, he thinks, “I am to be alive in a world where silver poplars grow.”  There were silver poplars along the lane I rode down most days as an Irish teenager and those words often came to mind.  One morning last week I was up early and driving to the stables to ride here in South Africa.  The valley was dark but the sun was just climbing over the mountain behind me and as it climbed it caught in its fiery dawn light a flock of flamingos flying in stately formation overhead, brilliantly pink, astonishing and uncommon, even here.  How lucky I am, I thought, to live in a world where I can see a flight of flamigos in the dawn.

And this morning, running with the dogs, I saw this.  Despite the dry winter and then the  torrents of rain last Friday, this brilliant coral-red Gladiolus watsonius has chosen to emerge in the winter cold.  The wind was howling today and I could not get a great shot, but it is too good not to share.  Last year we saw it in June, the same plant, and got a wonderful shot of it which I’ve included here.  The slightly shabbier ones are from today.

After a wild and windy day the sunset last night was magnificent.  Occasionally, just for a moment, the entire mountain behind us is light by the flooding last light of the sunset.  I usually miss the moment.  Last night it happened just as I pulled into the car park and I sprinted down to the dam wall just in time to capture it.

Dawn Run

Dawn Run.  Until today those words evoked a racehorse, an Irish mare so famous that she is commemorated in bronze at Cheltenham Racecourse.  In a totally different context the words came to me this morning as I trotted down the drive and saw the pink tinge to the cloud across the valley against the Paarl Mountain.

The start of the Dawn Run

The start of the Dawn Run

The number one rule of a blog is frequent updates to keep your audience interested.  If I still have an audience I apologise to you.  The point of this blog is to share the morning run and the flowers on the mountain.  The long end of summer and autumn drought means far fewer flowers than in previous years.  A newcomer would still be astonished by the nature and variety our winter flowering season, old hands like us are a little disapointed by the lack of profusion.  The other restraint might be that I’m doing a lot of writing:  first, a book.  I think it might be a good one too, though I am a little daunted at the challenge of finding a publisher.  Secondly a new business and the need to develop a more business related “online presence”.  All that means a lot of writing and perhaps the blog has suffered because of that.

Even with fewer flowers this mountain rewards every run.  The winter has been odd, a bit too dry, a bit too mild.  Out running that’s not bad at all.  Seamus in particular relishes winter, even a mild one, and gets a new lease of life when summer’s heat gives way to the autumn cool.  He’s an old boy now but he lights up when the running shoes come out.  The girls are always enthusiastic; they put up an antelope again the other day.  Luckily their passion for hunting far outweighs any skills they may have.  Other signs of life include porcupine quills on the road, and little holes where he digs up the wild bulbs during the night.  We can spare them and I love that while we sit in the study in front of a winter fire, high up on the mountain the porcupine snuffles along the road where we will run in the morning.

Flowers there are and we’ve taken the time to capture them.  Witness the first Leucospermum lineare of the year.  This lovely pincushion, known as “The Vulnerable” and a member of the protea family, is endangered so it’s wonderful that it grows here.  Even better that this one comes from a new plant, so it’s thriving on the farm.  There will be more photos of this as the flowers appear over the coming months.

Leucospermum lineare "The Vulnerable"

Leucospermum lineare “The Vulnerable”

More of the Eriocephalus africanus, the wild rosemary, is appearing at last.  Not as prolific as in other years, but some are covered with these gorgeous tiny white flowers.

Our winter jewels especially include the many varieties of Oxalis whose brilliant flowers stud the banks, the lands and the olive groves.

The waterfall is low, but still falling and beautiful on a weekend morning.  Near it grows the magnificent Protea Nitida.  Not so many flowers this year and not so easy to get close enough to take good pictures as they seem to like steep slopes.

Another winter delight is Leucospermum salignum.  The flowers are a wonderful yellow lime green and the plants glow on the mountain in the dull light of a winter dawn.  The male and female flowers are completely different but the shrubs like to grow side by side.