Tag Archives: Africa

Could try harder

The blog has suffered because I’ve gone back to school.  I’m doing a Masters in Philosophy in Coaching (MPhil means you do a significant research piece, that’s for next year).  Weeks like this one, spent at the business school, are intensive and in between there’s lots of study and lots of writing.  Along with launching my new business there’s just about time to run but not much time to write about it.

One of the subjects I was thinking about tonight on the run was the challenge of confidence and humility in business leaders, and specifically in myself as a leader and a coach.  I’d say I don’t have enough of either.  Confidence isn’t too hard to think about.  I don’t want to waffle on so in a nutshell, in many ways confidence is everything, it allows you to be grounded and forget yourself so that you can immerse yourself in the flow of whatever it is you are doing.  Lacking an edge of confidence might not be a bad thing though.  In my case it’s the endless “could try harder” I got as a child instead of positive reinforcement in the form of praise.  Yet it gives me an edge, makes me work a bit harder.  I’m a bit of an Avis type: I may not be No 1 but I try do harder.

Humility as a notion is altogether more difficult.  I’m trying to uncouple the notion from the famous role models like Mandela, Ghandi and Mother Teresa.  They may be shining examples of humility but it’s a public and political humility.  The kind I’m trying to understand is a humility that a great business leader or star sportsman or woman can epitomise.  Utterly genuine, held in a context of great work or great sporting success.  How can you develop and encompass that humility?  Indeed what is it?

These are the questions the study leads me to consider…

The evening was mild with heat from the warm day beating up into the cooling air and as we ran along the path at the very top of the farm we came across one of my favourite flowering bulbs, the gold and brown Gladiolus maculata.  Elegant and queenly, the flower heads arched into the path in front of us.

The Eriocephalus africanus is early this year compared to last – as are many flowers – the warm wet autumn must have a lot to do with it.

As we ran down the mountain Maebh paused and the last rays from the west caught the ghostly tips of her coat, illuminating her in the evening light.

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I have so many other flowers to post, but this magical evening run deserved a blog to itself.

 

Writer’s block

For several weeks now I’ve been wondering why I haven’t written a blog.  After all I’ve been running on the mountain, in fact my fitness is pretty good. The dogs and I have had several splendid morning and evening runs.  The weather is fabulous for us – this has been the coolest summer we’ve spent on the farm and dogs and humans have relished it.  We love the sun, but extremes, often as high as 40 degrees, can be harsh.  I did go to Europe for work a couple of weeks ago – to a freezing cold and rather depressing Paris, a city I dearly love but which was in mourning not only for Charlie Hebdo but for the loss of freedom that accompanies terrorism.  The weather was as bleak as the mood although a cancelled meeting meant some rewarding shopping and one or two excellent dinners helped cheer me up.

So why no blog?  The question resolved itself yesterday when I was running on the top road.  At this time of year the flowers die back – the middle of summer here is like the winter elsewhere, with little new growth.  The point of this blog is to share the amazing beauty and variety of flowers that grow here on the farm.  And the flowers hide from the heat and the harsh sunlight.

Then yesterday I saw a splendid flash of pink at my feet.  An Erica had burst into flower.  Of course there are 660 fynbos subspecies of Erica, so they are not always easy to identify, and lots of them have pretty pink bells like this one.  Given the season and the dark pink flowers this could be Erica pulchella.  Tiny and absolutely lovely.

The other flower that is in full bloom is this yellow pea called Aspalathus divaricata Subs divaricata (Franschhoek form).  A long name to describe a pretty rambling Cape Gorse that flowers in the driest period of the year.

Although there are few flowers, there is plenty of life stirring and getting going.  The Leucadendron salignum which lights up the mountain on dark winter days with it’s lime green colour is putting out new reddish pink growth at the moment.  And the Protea repens, the most common Protea on the farm, are covered in sticky buds, just about to flower – indeed the very first flowers have just emerged.  Could it be a sign of early rains to come?  They always flower before the first rains.  We had a cloudy morning the other day – it’s rare and pleasant at this time of year, and the new growth coloured the mountain.

Then there are the shining grasses.  As we drive down the road in the evening the light floods the new vines planted just below our neighbours house and the grasses literally dazzle the eye in pink and white.  I sent this photo to our neighbour and she commented that “they shouldn’t be there” so I daresay that next year the grass will be cleared and this extraordinary display of light will disapear.  For the next few months these shining grasses line the roads and catch the light in a display of pink and white luminosity;  I absolutely love them.

Other excitement included the dogs putting up a tiny duiker who shot up the mountain and then ducked behind a buchu plant.  The girls were giving chase and didn’t even glance at its hiding place and I pretended to see nothing and continued up the mountain.  Not long afterwards the girls were still gamboling in the lands and a glossy chestnut coloured rhebok jumped out in front of us.  Seamus was just ahead of me, but supervising the girls and although she was only a couple of feet from him, she looked at us in astonishment and leapt for cover so quickly that he didn’t even see her.  Or pretended not to.  So much for being a sighthound.

Maebh on the hunt

Maebh on the hunt

The sunsets are often incredible.  On that cloudy day the dying rays caught the cloud above the dam and turned it perfectly pink, which was then reflected in the water, a perfect end to another wonderful day at home in Africa.

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Back on the run

Just when all is going swimmingly, and I’m bouncing up the mountain with two in-laws who are both 20 years younger than me but not running any faster… then…. splat!  We went to a fabulous New Year’s Eve party and of course I can never resist wearing high heels at a party.  I’m not very tall, you see, which is a nuisance at parties.  And it was a farm party so I wore wedges which are comfortable on the gravel and in the grass.  Only you are not supposed to dance on unlevel fields in wedges.  The music started, a gorgeous if rather drunken German friend invited me to dance and off we went.  Then off I went, off the high wedge, over on my ankle and into the “ouch” zone.  Sprained ankles are the most common of atheletes injuries apparently, so I will just tell you that horrific though it was – incredibly painful, swollen and black and blue – I followed the rules: rest, ice, compression (ie bandaging) and ice.  And took the anti-inflamatories for the first couple of days when it was really sore.  And used a wonderful patch anti-inflamatory called “Transact”.  Finally I bought a tailor made magnetic bandage to wear at night to stimulate the healing further.

The splendid result of all that is that I’m back on the run only two weeks later, with an ankle that is almost completely back to normal.   AND, importantly, I danced with gusto at the wedding.  Ola, the new daughter-in-law was cross enough to lose her running companion; she’d never have forgiven me if I’d failed to dance at her wedding.

Meanwhile despite one lovely night of respite from the heat when it poured with rain for four or five hours the mountain is dry and not much thrives in the dry summer weather.  I can see the proteas preparing for the winter – new growth at the tips and the green buds of pinky white Protea Repens flowers already showing – they are the first to come through, before the rains.

Quite a few shrubs flower all year round and Erica abetiana is one that really seems to thrive when it gets properly hot.  This one lives on the driveway and gives us a glorious flash of coral red as we drive up.

Erica abietana

Erica abietana

Another perennial flower is the Salvia africana – the blue flowers are a delight all over the mountain and the flowering is prolific now. I keep posting it – I love Salvia’s and particularly this one that thrives in the heat and dust of the Cape summer.

Salvia africana

Salvia africana

We have migratory birds who visit the farm year after year and in particular one buzzard who likes to keep watch from the tall pine trees in front of the house.  He seems to tease the dogs when we run down the drive – as we pass his tree he drops of and flies down the valley along side us – calling in either outrage or amusement.  He is a magnificent bird and we always believed him to be a Steppe Buzzard.  We were having lunch after the wedding with Peter’s cousin, Yvonne, who is a devoted twitcher and when we pointed out a similar bird she said, “you know it could be a Honey buzzard, they are very special and I know they live around here.”  We go home and look it up – the Steppe buzzard hardly calls when he’s here, whereas our bird yells out all the time.  I play the call of the Honey buzzard and sure enough, that’s it.  I know Yvonne is good but how does she perfectly identify a bird she hasn’t even seen?  Birds are tricky when compared to Fynbos flowers. There are only about 800 to be seen in “Southern” Africa (and Yvonne has seen almost all of them) while there are 660 Fynbos subspecies of Erica alone.  Flowers however have one massive advantage; they don’t fly away just as you think you’ve got the salient features and might be able to identify them.

The dogs of course are thrilled to be back to running (and will equally be devastated when I get on a plane to Paris in a couple of days time).  Though the light was quite poor I cannot resist sharing this little gallery of Maebh on an evening hunt.  She is all power and muscle, a wonderfully fit and agile wolfhound.

Finally, appropriately, a sunset.  They are stunning at this time of year when fires rage in the Cape and the smoke diffuses the light in a wind-ravaged sky.

Fiery sunset

Fiery sunset

The result

Christmas, a wedding, and a little contemplation

Christmas and a house full of family and friends.  Running on the mountain continues with a bride (Peter’s son gets married on 8 Jan and they are staying with us) who is keen to keep her figure elegant through the Christmas indulgence so the running is serious and the opportunities to stop and take pictures infrequent at best.  We’ve been running through the pine forest that adjoins the farm; in the warm summer weather the stately silence of the trees and the dappled cool of the forest is a welcome break from the heat and the wind.  Because the dogs get protective I tend not to run in the forest except on Sunday mornings and at Christmas when the foresters take a break.

We did a farm run for a change this morning and saw this Tritoniopsis burchellii; the guests were good enough to wait while I snapped it.  I’ve been waiting for it to flower – I first saw it last year about this time.  They are an incredible shade of scarlet that seems almost surreal on this photo.

Tritoniopsis burchellii

Tritoniopsis burchellii

The Salvia africana is also in full bloom on the mountain – it flowers beautifully all year round and I can never resist taking a shot of it when the light is good.

After I posted the Gladiolus liliaceus before Christmas quite a few more came out above the waterfall and we went back up to take some photos of better flowers.  Peter came with me once again, the dogs followed.  We spent a happy half an hour finding the best flowers.  I took a shot of the same flower in the morning to show how remarkably they open up in the evening light.  The dogs of course take great delight in watching our antics.

Seamus and Maebh watching Peter as he inspects the fynbos flowers

Seamus and Maebh watching Peter as he inspects the fynbos flowers

It’s a funny time of year this.  We love it, there are great friends who come to stay and family as well.  The house is full of noise and this year, Peter’s first grandchild.  There is a tinge of sadness as well.  Most of the precious people I’ve lost have gone between the middle of December and the end of January.  It’s a well known phenomenon that people pass away at Christmas, for many reasons and all of them different.  So in the celebration and coming together there is also sadness, regret and reflective moments.  Loss.  These days are busy and full of treats and fun.  As we run on the mountain with the dogs bounding after Ola who bounces along ahead like the resident klipspringers, tiny antelopes with spongy feet that allow them to spring across the rocks, I follow and in the beauty of these mountains I think of those who have departed, and quietly remember them.  Not always sadly; there is pleasure in the memories, they are gone but they were wonderful and we were lucky to have known them.

An auspicious day

A lovely run last night at the end of an auspicious day.  My nephew Beckett James Grey Mulhern was born in New York.  Birthday the 21st of October; an autumn child, harvest festivals and pumkins, the trees in Ireland wonderful shades of red and gold as you drive down Wexford roads to the Opera Festival.  The huge full moon.  October has always been a happy month in our family.

I remembered to take a couple of whiffs of the inhaler before we left the house which meant the lungs were clear to convert oxygen as needed and we fairly bounded up the mountain in the fading evening light.  As we climbed higher I could hear the baboons calling in the forest.  Maebh and Jemima Chew heard them too and shot off to explore.  Luckily they decided not to go too far and quickly came back to Seamus and to me as we climbed higher.  I have a new weapon against wandering wolfhounds – you can see it in this photo of Leucadendron tinctum in which Meabh elegantly arranged herself in the background.

The cones of Leucodendron tinctum with Maebh in the background

The cones of Leucodendron tinctum with Maebh in the background

The white you can see on her collar is a tracker.  I found it online, it’s German, works brilliantly in South Africa and tracks your dogs live when they go missing.  When the wolfhounds wander we get incredibly worried; we know they can travel a long way and dogs have been lost on this mountain more than once. Shouldn’t happen with this cute little piece of technology which links to the iPhone.

The baboons used to come down into the olive groves and even as far as the gum trees behind the house.  I haven’t seen them for quite a while, they really hate the wolfhounds.

One of my favourite flowers, Aristea capitata is in full flower at the moment.  There is a colony on the driveway and the blue spikes are a joy to behold.

This was one of the special evenings.  No wind, the end of a hot day with a dampness in the air that cooled us as we ran higher.  Lovely light.  When we stopped for a drink at the weir Maebh, who was in a modeling mood today, stood in front of the Ilex Mitis as I took a photo of the white trunks gleaming in the evening light.  With her dappled coat she almost disappears.

Maebh and the Ilex Mitis

Maebh and the Ilex Mitis

Paarl holds an iconic place in the South Africa psyche and the two huge granite rocks that stand above the town to the west are unmistakable to anyone who knows the Cape.  Maebh, once again, stood for a moment to watch as the sun slipped away behind the rocks, which happens just at this time of year.  Soon it will be setting well to the west, over Table Mountain.

Maebh watches the sun setting over Paarl Rock

Maebh watches the sun setting over Paarl Rock

There are so many flowers in bloom that it’s hard to know where to begin.  One is this tiny Pelargonium, I don’t know what it’s called but I do like the pink tinge to the end of the petals.

Another is a favourite, the spikes of Microdon dubium.

Microdon dubium

Microdon dubium

Talking of dubiums, some new bulbs have emerged.  This is Ornitholagum dubium.  It flowers in just one place on the farm and there it flowers copiously.

Ornitholagum dubium

Ornitholagum dubium

This one I’m less sure of – Bobartia I think, possibly Bobartia indica.

Bobatia indica

Bobatia indica

The farm is covered in this one, charmingly known as Lady’s Hand, because the petals, bent back in greeting, resemble the hand of a delicate girl waving a hello.  Cyanella hyacinthoides.

There’s a plethora of peas on the go at the moment and this is Aspalanthus cordite, unmistakable with its grumpy spiky leaves.

Aspalanthus cordite

Aspalanthus cordite

I love this shrub – Passerina cormybosa.  They are supposed to be pink and yellow, while we have some that some that seem to be white as well.

There is masses of Lobelia along the roads, this one I think is Lobelia coronopifolia.

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Lobelia coronopifolia

Another flower that is to be found absolutely everywhere and is flourishing in the garden as well is Scabious africana.  This one is particularly pretty.

Scabious africana

Scabious africana

All about Ericas

An interesting question came from a follower of this blog:  where does the inspiration come from?  How do I sit down and write 500 – 100 words every week or so?  I’ve never thought about it – the inspiration comes from the run, the beauty of the place, sometimes, wild, sometimes spiritual, always theatrical.  Every time it’s the same story, I took my dogs, we went for a run on our farm, we saw flowers.  Like Heraclites’s river it’s always the same and always different and there is another tale to tell.  I do my best thinking on the run.  I don’t listen to music and my mind is free to wander and ponder.  Mostly I think about work or about what I’m going to put in the blog.  The thought about Heraclites and his river, fished out from the bubbling spring of knowledge that was my first philosophy lecture at Trinity, came to mind on a run.  By the time I actually sit down and write, the words are clamouring to be put on the page and it’s only a matter of deciding how to present it.  The titles are another matter – I read somewhere that titles matter a lot when you blog, so I have to consider my theme and find an elegant arrangement of words that will capture the reader’s interest and make them want to read further.

At this time of year the sheer volume of flowers on the mountain is overwhelming.  We went for a run on Saturday evening; the air was calm and still and the run was about 60% photos and 40% run.  Luckily by Sunday morning a wind had picked up and I’ve learned there’s no point in trying to photograph flowers when their long stems are being blown by the wind; much better for my fitness!  I took just one photo, of Seamus  loving the feeling of the wind in his coat.

Seamus enjoying the wind as he trots up the mountain with Paarl visible in the valley below

Seamus lets the wind stream through his coat with Paarl visible in the valley below

Last year some readers complained that bacame a bit obssessive about the flowers and they missed the bit of chat that goes with the blog.  So this year I shall do some frequent posts and place the flowers in groups, starting with the Ericas.  I’ve mentioned before that one of the interesting things about the Cape Floral Kingdom is that it is the most diverse in the world, accounting for the hundred of species growing on our small farm.  And Ericas are the most diverse of all, with around 860 subspecies and 660 of those are fynbos.  So it’s not a surprise that they are not always easy to identify. I’ve included here some Erica’s that we haven’t posted yet – there are many many more in flower and I will try and add an Erica page when I have time to do some cataloguing.

One particular favourite grows at the top of the waterfall, on the other side of the stream.  If you look closely you can just see it at the top of the fall.  In reality it’s a vibrant splash of pink.  It’s quite far from the road; I risked a soaking and my still recovering ankle to bring you these photos of the perfectly named Erica multumbellifera in full bloom.

Erica abietina comes in many colours: yellow, orange, red or magenta.  Those on our farm are all this fabulous scarlet, quite often hard to photograph because the shiny flowers reflect the light intensely.

Erica Abietina

Erica Abietina

Another charming pink Erica has emerged higher up at the very top of the farm where the damp and little used road encourages lots of fynbos growth.  This one has little pinky-white bells.  There are lots of subspecies with little pink bells which makes them hard to identify – even in the book the descriptions are almost exactly the same.  The flowers are almost too tiny to be seen with the naked eye, the iphone camera does a great job of enlarging them.

Even smaller is this white-flowering rambling Erica.  Seamus helpfully stood beside the plant so that you can get an idea of just how very tiny the flowers are.  Then I used the iphone camera with a microlens to get a decent image of the flowers which are very white with little teeth on the edges.  When this shrub finds a place it likes it spreads and spreads and swarthes of land are covered in it in sections.

The colour of home

 

What a welcome home.  We arrived back from a 10 day trip from Europe and for once it was a holiday and not work, so instead of feeling shattered and grumpy we arrived to a perfectly glorious spring day, full of joy and looking forward to getting home to the farm and the dogs.  This evening, at sunset, I put on the running shoes and went out onto the mountain with the dogs.  Since we left it has poured with rain; it must have been one of the wettest August’s ever which might be a bit miserable but produces perfect conditions for the fynbos to flower.  The mountain has exploded into life since we left and we are in for a bonanza season.  Any reader of The Fynbos Blog who would like to visit the farm and do a ‘flower safari’ is welcome to contact us and we will welcome you.  We are in Paarl, the best time of day is sunset in good weather, though mornings are also good if we have time.   You must like dogs.

Tonight the sky was glorious with colour and for once I’ve posted a sunset shot as the headline picture.  All the photos on this blog are taken with my iPhone 5 and I’m so impressed with what it can do.  This shot is a view of the lights of Paarl, with Table Mountain 60 kilometres away dominating the skyline in the orange light.

Peter had been up to the weir earlier today and he took the new road by the waterfall.  As we set off he told me it was covered with tiny white flowers and we ran up that way to find the road, and indeed much of the farm covered with Hespertha and Geissorhiza ovate, they can look quite similar in a photo but are quite different in real life.  Another common flowering bulb in the lands at the moment is the Grass lily, Chlorophytum – I’m not quite sure which subspecies this one is.  When the plants are strong it looks like a tiny tree growing from the lily-like leaves.  

There are so many flowers at this time of year that it can be a struggle to comment on each of them.  Being on the mountain is amazing; it is covered in flowers; I post only the new things I see, or if I get a particularly lovely shot of an old friend.  I’ll group all the flowering bulbs together, they are always particularly lovely, and shrubs, daisies and so on separately.  

This is today’s collection – not all of which I have identified yet.

 

And some shrubs and daisies

 

 

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