16 July 2019

It is very humid here, and there is heavy dew when it does not rain. I do some reading in the evenings, in order to get through the long, dark mid-winter’s nights, but then I have difficulty with my reading glasses fogging up.

It will be some time before construction of my cottage can commence. The transfer of the title deed is still in progress, and then plans have to be drawn up and approved. In the meantime, I continue to live in my roof-tent.

I have been allocated a place to camp, next to a thatched cottage that is part of the volunteer centre. The cottage is temporarily occupied by two stone masons of Angolan origin. They fled their country of birth twenty years ago, during the civil war, and settled in Cape Town, where they now have families, and a trade. They were summoned to Honeyville to work with John, the estate developer, on a stone-construction job in St Francis Bay. They are congenial neighbours, except that they call me ‘Pop’.

My campsite overlooks a deep, narrow river valley, and looks on to mountains in the west, and it is pleasant to sit still and look out in the morning and in the evening, listening to birdsong. The tips of the giant rotors of a wind farm are just visible in the east. While they are generating renewable energy, they are also killing a lot of birds, especially birds-of-prey, which when flying over are sucked down by the powerful downdraft, to collide with the rotors.

Getting my vehicle out to drive to town for supplies is a difficult operation. I have to reverse uphill, avoiding low obstacles to right and left, and then take a sharp bend, still in reverse, but not turning too sharp lest I collide with a big rock, before I can turn about. I do not think I will manage it at all after heavy rain, when the ground is slippery.

I did not go cycling at first, because I was intimidated by the very steep gradients as the road drops down to the river and climbs up the other side, but then I saw a group of rather elderly gentlemen go whizzing past on mountain bikes, and I was compelled to get on mine and do a couple of excursions.

I cycled westward, to explore the adjoining grid-cell for the bird atlas, and that was a little disappointing, for it consisted mainly of plantations of alien trees and pastures, and ugly expanses strewn with tree-stumps where plantations had been felled, and very little of the dense bush that surrounds my new home. There were some interesting birds though, Yellow-throated Sparrows (Petronias) and a Slender-billed Honeyguide (Brown-backed Honeybird, I hate these new names), which I have not yet found on the Honeyville property.

A surveyor came to do the survey of the erf where my cottage will stand. The erf is densely covered with bushes of around shoulder- and head-height, with taller vegetation along a drainage line at its western edge, and getting around in there is very difficult. The surveyor emerged with blood oozing from scratches all over his arms and legs. I was similarly bloodied when I went through the erf later to ascertain the position of the survey pegs for myself.

I have been spending my days exploring the different parts of the property, and have now been assigned some occasional labour in the food garden. I also work sporadically at clearing a trail through forest alongside the river.

I have begun to make an attempt to get to grips with the diversity of trees on the property, but that is not easy. In the Bushveld region, where I used to be familiar with many of the trees, there are a few very distinctive families, and once the family is recognised, it is not too difficult to identify the species. Here, almost every tree seems to be of a different family, and the families are not easily distinguishable either. I have managed only the obvious aloes (Aloe  ferox and A. Arborescens) and cabbage trees (Cussonia) and the Yellow-woods down the trail, and also the Guarri (Euclea undulata), of which there are several around my camp.

Silver bottom brown
African Grass Blue
Common dotted border

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