#Restore; Being the Change, starting with myself!

So what’s happening?

#Restore; that is the theme of our UN Decade.

Last year 2021 we were all so pleased with all the work that was carried out tree planting with the Easy Treesie Project; a really huge effort on behalf of all of our communities and collaborators in to put it mildly tricky times and for some of course, very hard times indeed. We have come to the end of that phase and Christmas in my case was time for some wonderful family time; my second daughter got married, her older sister having had her wedding some months before after an enforced 12-month Covid-19 delay. What about a few days off? , suggested my third daughter, not impressed to see I did not have an auto-response on my email for being out of the office. It’s true. I have been very seldom out of the “office” – real or virtual, in the last twelve months, even including often on Saturdays and Sundays between planting days, zoom conferences and phone catch ups. My husband and I did have a wonderful week cycling last summer, that does now seem long long ago. Well; our really. Really. Really good friends have asked us back to Cape Town. What joy! Now of course there is a lot of work to be done right now, it’s true, organising all of our tree roll-out in Ireland. When I put this to Dear Husband he said, “well…that’s fine…but I’m going anyway.” He loves being with his friends here…look they all say taking a break is good for productivity. So of course you CAN nowadays do a lot of work once you have wifi anywhere…so here I am. Our kind friends indulge my using their wifi most days and they organise a parade of distracting events for after hours. I feel so fortunate, especially since Omicron is past its wave here it seems, with people strictly observing wearing masks outdoors, excellent hand-spraying and collection of tracking details wherever we go and everything being outdoors lots of distancing. Balance is the thing they say, I have really missed my weekly swim and days have gone by where I have been sitting at the desk; many on our team have found it a challenge to take time to exercise, to talk to friends and to chat with family. So I have broken out; like some other lucky people I know, I am “working from home” for these couple of weeks only it is a home literally in “Heaven On Earth” – the name of one of the places I am staying!

Another factor worth mentioning is that I delight in reconnecting with tree planters around the world and South African ones in particular. Our project is a global project and was inspired by others planting around the world. Cape Town lead the world in showing resilience in the face of their countdown to zero some recent years ago and we have so much to learn from their great solutions. Our Great Friends have invited us here on so many occasions – they first came here to observe the first and famous great elections back in the 90s on behalf of the UN/EU and loved it so much they kept coming back and we tag along…we have enjoyed so much hooking up with many local schools; Rondabosch Boys’ School, Rustenburg, Fish Hoek and Mellon Educate and this week with Wynberg Rotary Club and talking again to that fab organisation, Greenpop seeing how we can best amplify each other’s work.

The work however; hmm; lots of competing attractions this is the trouble. Art-on-the-Rocks, what fun to paint and spot sharks! Really! There is nothing like painting to spark creativity and we work with many artists of all kinds, I took the time for some lessons. I did indulge in 9 holes of golf on Sunday morning (it was extraordinary; the course was on fire…at least smouldering…in three different places during the morning, there has been huge damage in this area near Arabella. I saw burned vines this morning in brown rows and long stretches of scorched and blackened earth. Even with brisk winds the smell of smoke is all around.)

Yesterday was Hike Day. Now this was a treat, organised by our hosts who could set up shop in the morning as operators of the tours of tours. We started in the National Park in Hermanus on the Whale Coast. Though the Whales have gone South for now, their favourite time here being Spring, there was a shark in Muizenberg on Sunday and people were told to get out of the sea if swimming. My husband spotted it; aggressively diving near some birds, haven’t done sea swimming this trip!

It’s extraordinary but this Fernkloof National Park Feinbos area where we were hiking has more species per square kilometer than the Amazon. 1640 species can be found within its 16 square kilometers – we have 1500 in the entire British Isles apparently. Hard to compute. The starting point had a large array of multicoloured posies ; these are the flowers to be found on the trail during this two-week window alone. In two week’s time there will be a completely different display to be found. Astonishing.

Our expert guide was Tim Lundy of Cape Town Hiking who has been walking these trails for more than 40 years as did his father before him. The unique selling point of our particular hike is that though we climbed to a high enough point to take in panoramic views of the Whale Coast, the beautiful town of Hermanus beloved by the retired for its great climate and sea air and the stunning variety of the National Park, at no stage did we feel the climb was hard work. The architect of these trails has actually walked them with Tim; he planned and built 65 km of trails which meander around these hills in this delightful way; easy. Of course they would suit us!

We were on a tree trail, that is truly “Heaven on Earth” for me. Which coincidentally is the name of the Valley we stayed in for the weekend, on High Seasons Farm. We were minded royally by Farmer Richard Slattery from Co. Clare who had a great stories of the wildlife on the farm. Were they frogs singing all night? Indeed they were, frogs and the leopard toad and we should hear them in the rain! Their singing was mesmerising, I stuck my head out the window in the middle of the night to soak it up. Our host explained the pollination of some of these plants is so unusual; one is pollinated by a striped mouse, another by ants. Had we heard the 3 owls last night hooting in the Cedar Pines. I noticed many trees had been recently removed; yes, a borer beetle had affected those huge pines which were only in fact 25 years old despite their great height. Things grow fast in this heat. Has he experienced any effects of Climate Change. Oh of course. Summer has only come this week in this area after huge quantities of rain in November, this after 5 years of extremely severe drought. He herds his prize cattle with his team of dogs. Cattle have not had wildness bred out of them here as in Europe. Every night the youngest cattle sleep in the middle of a circle of the older ones and all night long, one of the older ones will walk in a ring around and around the group, always on the lookout. What would attack? There are Cape Leopards in the Hills, though not that many and not enough to keep the troupe of 80 baboons in check. Local farmers do not like the fact that the baboons can strip the vines of grapes in a flash and if they discover a refuse bin will never go away. Richard has a special gun which makes a sound like the cry of an eagle which disperses the baboons if they are going near the farmhouses, he feels to harm them would be unthinkable. Their hands have fingerprints unique to them, just like human beings and their behaviour is such good fun to watch at play. A Honey Badger was spotted last week across the main road. Porcupines abound. This area is a favourite of hikers and wine makers with its rich natural landscape.

Were we likely to encounter poisonous snakes was one of my first questions to Tim, having seen a somewhat alarming poster at our start point of the “Snakes of Hermanus”. “If we did”, replied Tim, “we would be very lucky as they are very rare”. Now there’s a good attitude. Our next tree; the mountain cedar, a popular furniture-making tree. A bit like how our Juniper trees grow only like bonsais in the Burren of Co. Clare with its windswept coast, this cedar does not grow very large in this environment but does further up the continent. Of course we met a magic tree; the Cape Beech, an evergreen used for medicinal, magical and musical purposes. Soon we reached the edge of the tree-line and from now on we could feast our eyes on carniverous sundew plants of red and yellow, thistl-like pink cheerful flowers scattered in the olive-green shrub-like layer – taller than usual because of the recent rains. We could marvel at the Pincushion plant with its velvety leaves, designed to trap mist on the mountain when rain water is scarce with its tiny fronds. We saw several wonderful Proteas (this was the wedding flower of my Australian sister-in-law who loves her native Australian plants) including the National Flower of South Africa, a Protea with a stemmed leaf – the only one with this leaf formation. Tim, our guide has worked hard on the making of many of these mountain trails himself – very difficult work done by hand with spades; well done Tim. We felt supremely safe as he lead us around, he is also a mountain rescue expert. Thankfully no rescue was required unless you would count his recommendation for some rescue remedies in terms of refreshment. We were very near at this stage to some first-rate wind farms, Hamilton and Bouchard Finlayson. Driver Sean was able to take us on to a seaside lunch afterwards then back to the farm.

Back to the trees; the first we encountered was the “Wagon Wheel Tree” – its wood is so hard that the Pioneers whose wagons wheels frequently broke as the Vortrekkers travelled across rough South African terrain used this wood to fix the broken wheels in place of iron. It did very nicely.

In a cool and shady arbour we came across trees possibly 200 years old; this sheltered place beside a stream is unaffected by the frequent fires that visit Fernkloof due to its location out of harm’s way.

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