It is that wonderful time again, when the intense red orchid Disa uniflora (Red Disa or Pride of Table Mountain) come into bloom. There is no South African flower that shouts ‘summer’ to me more than this. They grow on stream banks, next to waterfalls and on wet shady precipitous cliffs from the Cape Peninsula eastwards to Bredasdorp in the Overberg and northwards to the Cederberg. The genus is named after Queen Disa, a character from Swedish mythology who according to legend presented herself to the King of Sveas wearing only a fishing net.
Since I begun my studies in Botany I have found myself using all sorts of weird and wonderful objects for the purpose for which they were not intended in the name of scientific research. I have processed seed collections using a toilet brush. A car floor mat is also an excellent and most useful tool for this. In this spirit about 18 months ago I was on the hunt for corner markers for vegetation survey plots that could be hammered successfully into concrete hard Renosterveld clay soils.
“I’m chilling in the tent…..in both senses”. Camping on Namaqualand’s Bokkeveld Plateau in August is not for the faint hearted or those lacking in strong constitution as we were soon to discover! At that time of year it is COLD! Snow on the nearby Hantamsberg is not uncommon in winter and spring and known locally as ‘kapok’ meaning cotton in Afrikaans.
Sometimes living life on a student budget drives one to do things a little out of the ordinary in the name of travel and exploration. One of the university societies that has inspired and challenged me the most is the University of Cape Town’s Mountain and Ski Club. It is one of the largest mountain clubs in Africa, second only to the Cape Town branch of the MCSA. One of its core philosophies is to encourage and support its members in exploration of the diverse and exquisitely beautiful mountain ranges of the Southern African subcontinent.
“Ah no….it isn’t….it IS….catch it…quick! Before it disappears!”. Nothing like the sight of a tick trundling across the inside of the windscreen to bring a person sharply to their senses first thing in the morning. Clearly there was a small stowaway that got away after our research group’s bakkie’s latest field trip. With some highly professional multitasking my colleague dispatched our resident blood-sucking beastie and calm was restored once more. It was very early on a chilly Cape Town winter morning and we were heading north to the West Coast suburb of Melkbosstrand to do a 4×4 course.
Last week was a whirlwind. On Monday I was in the green and gently rolling hills of Dorset, England in the beautiful old Victorian house where I grew up. It was early summer, the buttercups were flowering and even the sheep were smiling. I left with great reluctance after a break that was all too short. By Tuesday night I was curled up on the floor sleeping in a small frozen heap in Doha airport in Qatar in the Middle East. Wednesday night brought me back to a cold and wintery Cape Town.