Sunday, 17 February 2013

A trip to Hluhluwe

It's early and raining slightly.  I'm not fond of getting up so early, but as they say, "the early bird catches the worm", or in this case, gets to see the birds and animals.  The car is packed with picnic provisions,  camera battery charged and binoculars near at hand.  We're on our way to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi.  The journey takes about 40 minutes, just right for me to wake up properly and get my birding eyes in!

Entrance to Hluhluwe.
Driving into Hluhluwe is always an exciting moment and the guard at the gate is enthusiastic,  wishing us good viewing.  Taking the pot-holed tar road, we leave all the stresses and strains of a working week behind and breath deeply.  The smell of the bushveld is damp and musty, we hear the gurgle of the river flowing under the bridge.  Last week it was just a trickle, but now brown water swirls and gushes underneath the bridge after the week's pouring rain.   The sun is starting to make it's appearance, casting a golden glow over the veld.  The tress glisten, with the raindrops hanging like Christmas ornaments from the tips of the branches.  Stop!  There in the top of the tree, is the white-backed vulture perched on a nest of twigs.

View from Centenary road
The haunting cry of the 'rain bird', or Burchell's Coucal, breaks the silence but he's hidden in the thick grass next to the road.  We stop at the view site to take in the rolling mountains.  I imaging King Shaka and his warriors running over these hills.  This was the King's hunting ground.  There are not many animals around this morning and storm clouds on the horizon still threaten rain in the distance.  Down in the valley, the White Umfolozi River, twists and turns as it flows onward to the sea.
Coffee and a view

 A breakfast stop at the riverside is a wonderful spot to view the river and a site where we've watched buffalo, elephant and lion.  A nice strong cup of freshly brewed coffee accompanies me birding, while Alan gets cooking.  There are a few visitors who stop to chat and view the crocodile lying at the water's edge, but we soon have the picnic spot to ourselves as we tuck into breakfast.  Food always seems to taste better out in the fresh air.  We watch the antics of the white-fronted bee eaters as they swoop and turn catching their morning insects.  In the top of the dead tree, a vulture sits preening his feathers.

Time to leave this spot, the sun is up and the day is warming to HOT!  Zululand is beautiful, but can be really warm a this time of the year.   We stop at the waterhole, coasting in quietly with the engine off so that we don't disturb the white-faced ducks.  They respond by posing for photos.  Over the top of the grass we can see waterlily flowers, still tightly in bud.  The shrill hoot of an African Jacana alerts us to it's presence and we stretch our necks to see his bright blue coloured head in the grass.

Next to the car is a spider's web, still heavy with water drops, a chance to try out some photography skills.

Golden orb web spider

We stop at the low level bridge across the Black Umfolozi and watch the swallow's aerobatics as they fly across the muddy river water rushing past. They perch daintily on the low wall of the bridge, their tiny breasts streaked in black and white and russet heads shining in the sun.  The bridge is covered in thick damp mud, evidence of the water that covered it during the night, deep tyre tracks make thick ridges and there walking along the edges is a Common Sandpiper, bobbing his tail as he walks, looking this way and that, for something to eat.  Dragon flies zoom past, iridescent on the surface of the water.

We cross the river and after admiring the breath-taking view, turn around to head for the Hluhluwe side of the park.  There is always something around the next bend in the road and the open car windows let the warm air blow into the car,  cooling us in the mid-day heat.  We have a successful day finding new birds, and seeing familiar animals.  Impala ignore us as we stop to watch their family groups   Ears twitch and they calmly chew the short grass.  Magnificent impala rams stand proudly, their horns  a testimony to their strength.  A family of warthogs run across the road, tails lifted high, stopping to dig for roots at the verge on the other side.  A lone male elephant slowly strips the leaves off a tree, long eyelashes protect his eyes and the slow flap of his ears cools his great body.  His long flexible trunk, lifts high in the air to smell us, then turns back to the important business of eating.  We enjoy the clam majesty of the elephant and the stupendous view and drive off to have a late lunch.

Each picnic site has surprises and we watch a Pied Kingfisher hover and dive into the water catching a small shiny fish.  He hits it on the tree branch before swallowing it whole, head first. Two Brown Hooded Kingfisher flash past us and sit whistling in the fever trees.  On the ground, the Black-collared barbet successfully catches a dragon fly and sits contentedly on a branch chomping it down.  We watch the golden orb webbed spider in the middle of her web and see the tiny male hovering carefully on the edges.  The thick golden strands of her web glisten in the afternoon sunlight, ready to catch unwary insects.

All to soon, it's time to head for the gate, but not before we see a white rhino, peacefully grazing on the hillside.  Occasionally he glaces myopically in our direction, but decides that we are not a threat.  He ignores us and moves slowly through the long grass, selecting choice shoots, breaking them off with his wide mouth and slowly chewing.  We could learn some lessons from watching these big creatures.  They remain focused on the task at hand, aware of their surroundings, but not distracted by it.

 The wide open spaces of Hluhluwe, the endless rolling vista of green, the unexpected beauty and the glory of its wildlife is there to see if one just takes time.  Every time we come to the park, it helps put life back in perspective and restores my spirit.  One is truly nearer God's heart in a garden.

Hluhluwe, afternoon viewing!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Living in Paradise

It's just a year ago that we packed up and moved to Zululand.  The move happened so quickly, that I didn't have time for regrets, only a sense of adventure and excitement.  In between settling down in my new position and getting to know the people, was the strangeness of feeling like it's always holiday time.  The beach is just 5 minutes away and our new home has a view over Lake Mzingazi.

The sky has a special hue at the coast and whether it's sunny or overcast seems to glow with a deep colour in shades of blue or grey.  Last week, there was a double rainbow across the road and I was reminded that God promised Noah that He would never destroy the world by flood again.  I remembered those words when the hospital was put on disaster alert with the cyclone!

 There is something special about being able to go to the beach for a picnic after work.  Each Wednesday we are greeted with the "Dawn Patrol" of mongoose and monkeys who know that we will all be putting out our dustbins.  Easy food supplies for them. They crash on the the roof and leap into the trees if we wave at them.  They cheekily lift the dustbin lids up and check the contents, not even blinking of you shout at them!  The mongoose are more skittish and dash off into the bushes at the slightest movement.   We have had an uninvited monkey thief who, taking advantage of the open window, crept inside and ate all the food in the kitchen leaving the dregs and handfuls of  flour spread all over the place!  You only leave windows open once!

Weekends are full of activity with new and exciting places to discover around every corner.  iMfolozi-Hluhluwe has become a favourite and we always see a lot of elephant and rhino, and until now have had to be content with our friend's stories of lions and leopards! An early start on a Saturday morning and we soon have coffee and rusks at the riverside.  Here we have seen elephant, lion and buffalo all at the same time!  A choice of routes, either the grasslands or the rolling hills where King Shaka used to hunt, and a slow drive takes us to the lunchtime picnic site.  The wide open spaces of the game reserve always calm body and soul.

St Lucia is an equally special place to visit and each time we go, we find another treasure.  Getting up really early to catch the sunrise on the beach was worth it.  I got lovely photos for my photography course homework, with the cry of the Fish Eagle and the hippo grunting in the background.  The drive through iSimangaliso Wetlands Park always brings a surprise. This time it was big purple waterlilies along the main road, after the recent rain, with the brightly coloured African Jacana tiptoeing carefully among the leaves.  The warthogs were huge, running through the grass with their tails high in the air.  We even saw buffalo and rhino along with waterbuck, commom duiker, red duiker, zebra, kudu and impala. 

 The early mornings are best for exercise, it's cool (important when cool means 25 degrees C!) and the sun comes up fast, sending pink and orange fingers of colour into the sky.  The birds are at their best, serenading the day with whistles and chirps.  We've get to see the yellow billed kite fly across the sky and hear the cry of the fish eagles who nest across the water.  I just know the day will be great when I see the Long Crested Eagle sitting on the lamp post as I drive to work.  He keeps silent watch on the commuters as we dodge and weave past the pots holes and road works.  In the evening he's still there - although in a different spot!

"The Lord will work out His plans for my life - for Your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever." Psalm 138:8

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Story time after school.

I squirmed on the seat of my school desk.  It was nearly time to go home and waiting was agony.  Thursday was always a day to look forward to because when school finished, we would walk home and then it would be story time!

Finally the bell rang and I ran out of the classroom clutching my small suitcase.  Eagerly I searched the row of mothers waiting at the school gate.  There she was and there was Colin coming to the gate running from his classroom.  We set of on the walk home in the warm sunshine.  Kim sat in the pram with George standing at the back.  Lynn went to a different school and would meet us at home.  I skipped along chatting to mommy about the school day and all the new words we had learnt.  Colin scuffed his school shoes in the dust as we walked.  Boys!

The walk home was downhill past the fire station, where we had Sunday School and the veggie shop.  My mother is tall and very beautiful.  Her hair is a funny red colour and short.  Mommy says the hairdresser deserves to be shot for making her hair such a terrible colour.  She hates how her ears stick out, but I like it.  Short hair is so cool and modern, but mom won't let me cut my long thick hair.  I ask every day when she combs the knots out.  Those big ball-like knots that make your eyes water when pulled by the comb.  Mom says I must play soccer in my sleep.

I play hop-scotch on the pavement squares, careful not to touch the lines.  We stop to peep in the window at the sweets in the corner cafe.  Chappies, suckers and round coloured balls on small glass shelves.  No stopping today.  We've passed the shops now.  We just need to walk past the garden with the fairies, go around the corner and then we're home.  I wonder what we'll have for lunch?  "Quietly now", says mommy, "We have to tiptoe or we'll scare the fairies and then they'll fly away." " If we're very quiet", says mom in a whisper, "we might see them playing."  We walk slowly and quietly along the grass pavement. I balance carefully, like they taught us at ballet and softly tiptoe to the edge of the garden.  Slowly I peep through the trees and look as hard as I can.   There under the flowers I can see something bright and shining like a jewel.  It must be a fairy wingtip.  Mom saw it too, but just then Colin clapped his hands to chase them away!  

The fairies are gone.  I am so furious, all the boys think about is space and astronauts since they got those spacesuits for Christmas.  I giggled remembering how they fell out the tree trying to fly like the men on the moon.  Kim is trying to climb out her pram and I tickle her and forget about being cross.  Colin is showing George some treasure that he in his hid in pocket.  It's a hairy caterpillar that he found at break, but now it's all squashed.  Ugh!  

Here we are, around the corner and there is our house.  Number 26 Prince Albert Street, phone number 26 2083. We have to remember the address in case we get lost.  Then we can tell a nice policeman where we live so he can bring us home.  Grandpa is a policeman, a detective.  But you mustn't talk about it because then the crooks will try and find him.  

I like coming home, the hydrangea bushes in the front are full of blue flowers. Mommy likes flowers and we water them every day.  She says being in the garden is her relaxing time.  Now we are going to have lunch and then after our sleep, it's story time!  I hate sleeping in the afternoon.  That's for babies like Kim and I'm a big girl now.  Mommy says we have to sleep so that we are awake to plays games when daddy gets home.  I don't want to sleep....

Mommy wakes us all and we quickly find a spot to sit in the lounge.  Mommy sits in the big armchair with Kim on her lap.  We all find a space on the carpet, not too far away so we can see the pictures in  the book.  The carpet is red and scratchy, but nobody notices because the story has started. We are reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, just like  "Little People's Playtime" on the radio.  I like listening to mommy read, she uses funny voices, a deep lion voice for Aslan and a high squeaky voice for Mr Thumnus.  It's cold in Narnia.  But be quiet now and settle down  because mommy is reading.  I drift off through the wardrobe to Narnia.  

It is quiet now, too quiet.  The story has stopped. Oh no,please read another chapter!  But that will have to wait until next week.  

Saturday, 19 May 2012

A new journey begins.

A secret smile, a hidden joy.  The longed for pregnancy was real.  She wanted to savour the excitement a bit more before sharing it.  First with her husband and then the soon-to-be grandparents and friends.  She just knew that everyone could already see the change.  Didn't she already have a small bump?

Change began it's relentless journey as the child within her brought amazing physical and spiritual changes to her body.  Isn't it incredible to think that God has planned each child's life before their birth.  He makes each person unique, knitting them together in the secret warmth of the mother's womb.  (Ps 139:13, 15-16 and Jer 1:5) But some of these changes weren't that pleasant as morning sickness become the focus of the early morning.  Nothing seemed to take it away.  But the gentle caring of her husband made the days pass swiftly.  

Then one day, that tiny little flutter.... tiny feed kicking out, soft as a tickle.  A gentle caress, a precious moment to savour and remember. The eagerness to share the excitement with her mother.  Joy burst forth as she sang to herself.  Sang to the unborn child growing and changing within her.  

It was fun buying new furniture and preparing the baby room.  There was much laughter as the accent yellow colour, specially chosen  for the feature wall  was a perfect match for the pale yellow colour on the opposite wall! The window was framed by cheerful curtains with clouds and rainbows. A safe place for a tiny baby to sleep and dream.  A large cot stood waiting, empty, except for the fluffy toys that seemed to multiply with each shopping trip made by grannies-to-be and friends.  "I couldn't resist, it was soooooo cute!", they all said. Tiny baby clothes were washed with care and folded neatly in the cupboard.  Knitting needles clicked as the grannies and aunties made small jerseys in soft white wool.  

Late night discussions, sharing hopes and dreams, took place while the small growing baby kicked and wriggled.  What name to choose, one for a girl and one for a boy.  This was the time before everyone had a scan and knew the babies sex before the birth.  Her clothes are too tight now.  Her faces glows with health and shadows of a butterfly mark her face.  Silvery lines run across her swollen belly.  A smile lingers on her face as she wonders who this baby will become.   

As the pregnancy advances, the urge to rest and sleep more grows.  It's hard work supporting two people in one body.  Time seems to stand still.  Waiting.  Everything is ready. Patience as the due date comes near and passes.  Curious phone calls, "No news yet?"

Then in the early hours of the morning, a sudden jolt of pain.  Is this it? Excitement and fear mingle together.  Remember to breathe!  A speedy drive.  More breathing, relax.  She can do this. Pain, breathe.  The world seems to vanish as the focus becomes internal, in tune with the mighty changes taking place as new life is being born.  Draw deeply on a hidden well of strength.  Focus and push!  Incredible agony followed swiftly by overwhelming joy.  A baby boy, pink and wrinkled with thick black hair is delivered in a rush of liquor and blood.  Curious little eyes blink in the bright, harsh light of the delivery room.  A lungful of cold air and a loud cry. Perfection!  Tiny hands grasp the huge hands of his daddy as the wet warm body lies on his mother's chest.  Love overwhelms the little family as the medical staff quietly leave the room, dimming the lights.

Nine months a time of amazing change has flown by. A new life-journey begins.