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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

White breasted nut hatch

Actually, apart from the bunny, this guy made my day, too. I had wandered into The Ramble, where one is more likely to see birds at this leaf-thin time of year than solitary men standing about in odd places waiting for odder things to happen to them. I stood still to watch three little chickadees who looked as though they would have sat on my hand if I had offered it. And I also stopped to listen, because all I could hear, in the heart of New York City, was birdsong.

The nut hatch, the first I have seen (I am not a birder, rather an accidental bird watcher), was about 6 feet away investigating a fallen tree, and moving vertically up and down it, very slowly and methodically, and utterly unfazed by my presence. I went closer and did not disturb him then, either. He caught several insects and only then moved fast bambambam killing them on the bark with his beak.

Central Park Spring

I had an hour to kill between an Upper West Side rooftop appointment and West Village townhouse garden appointment. Two very different spaces needing gardens. Wild, windy and sunblasted. Cool, dark, shady.

But before taking the subway downtown again I walked into the park, opposite the Natural History Museum, taking bites of a $2 hot dog as I went. The park belongs to Cornelian cherries at the moment, the earliest of the dogwoods. I now see their point: planted en masse, the Cornus, er, mas, make absolute sense. Alone they are lost. In threes and sixes they are stunning clouds of pollen-yellow.

There was a lot of the Lonicera fragrantissima. It has followed me about for two days and the lemony-sweet scent is delicious. Below, one can see how nondescript the bushes are.

Daffodils. Much of the woodland is fenced off and I am sorry for it. It spoils the view and one loses the idea of wildness.

More Cornelian cherries near the Conservatory Pond.


And...a BUNNY! This rabbit made my day. I totally forgot to ask his name. He was being walked on the lawn on his leash and his owner was also sad about the fences. He was friendly, unstressed and very soft to stroke.

The pond looking back to Central Park West.

Rather icky water near the Plaza, on central Park South.

Blue squill, I think, in the leaf litter.

Birds and birdsong abounded. Squirrels too. And tourist taking squirrel pictures. I always wonder about those.

I'll be back.

Shadow Country: Mr Watson's Voices

My dog-earing habit was put to the test with Peter Mathiessen's Shadow Country, an 892 page Southern [why are most of the best Southern???] epic published in 2008 (The Modern Library). I felt lost when it ended, and irritable. It's hard leaving a world one has lived in every night for a month, for the empty unknown.

I actually put the book aside after the first part, and picked it up again weeks later. I found the going turgid and complicated and couldn't imagine wading through a whole book like this.

Then it changed.

It is masterfully written and everthing has its reason. The dog-earing was put to the test because I found no sound bites. Precious few dog-eared pages. It's as though his revelations take pages and pages and years to unfold. Everything is dependent on or born of what came before. So lifting paragraphs out of context is without reward.

But: one of the first dog-ears, on p. 58, was for Estorbo, my Dominican cat:

"Ass-toneesh!" the Frenchman inched a little more of Brewer's lightning into his glass like it was medicine. "I am ass-toneesh from the first fokink day I set my foots in fokink Amerique!"

And for growing things:

" ...I planted corn by hand, gold kernel after kernel, row after precious row. Thin fresh green lines, weak and broken at first, came forth mysteriously and rose in a green haze; for a while, I cherished each and every plant among the hundreds, even the weak ones I would later weed away. I felt ingrown in this dark soil, as the Artemas Plantation's heir, putting down soft tendrils like a native plant of our old land. I grew to love the Clouds Creek earth, and in summer I made strange love to it in the soft evenings, lying down upon it naked as the soil gave off the gathered heat of the long day." P. 535

And for lyricism

"We...walked barefoot down along the edge of the blue springs, beneath a canopy of crimson maples, old gold yellow hickories, russet oaks. Charlie picked watercress for our wild lettuce, and a blueberry with reddish stems: she called it sparkleberry. She led my eye to the woodland birds of fall, knew their brown names - hermit thrush, sparrow, winter wren." P 579

Poor, terrible Mr Watson.

Ramp watch

Farmers' market: no ramps yet...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kersefontein

After leaving Paternoster we arrived early at the farm and fed ourselves out of the back of the Landcruiser, which was still well stocked after 4,700km.

Hungry kitties joined us.

Hungry, thieving kitties who liked cheese.
And a tame, pushy sheep called Lemon.

Very pushy, and smelly. That night the sheep drank beer from the bottle of a blue-eyed boy, ostensibly the farm manager, who sat at his master's right hand at dinner.

This was a strange place. We had decided to stay here on the recommendation of a source I trust. But her experience was not ours.

It would take a better hand than mine to define the source, and describe the depth, of my unease here.

The farm buildings and house are beautiful and old, and have remained - famously - in the family since they were built. Pepper trees and eucalyptus against crumbling whitewash.

That night, at the long antique dining table, set with silver and crystal, and waited upon by Coloured servants - there is no other word to describe their role - there was vegetable soup, beef stew and boiled rice and peas, served to each guest in the manner of a nineteenth century country house by maids who could neither meet one's eyes, nor smile of their own volition.

The bombast, the undercurrents that I could strongly sense, but only guess at, gathered both of us up at that long table, and left Vince as ill as I have ever seen him and me eloquent and cold with rage.

It is a place to visit if you would like to see the relics of an old order. Some more worthy of attention than others.




Magnolia stellata, East Village




On East 9th where it makes a funny little triangle park between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

New York Spring





Not all graffiti, all the time...

Sara D. Roosevelt Park, between Christy and Forsyth, and on Delancey.

The Funniest Salad in the World

...is what I ate, between gulps of suppressed laughter, at Buitenverwachting, a very beautiful wine estate in Constantia.

The menu, which was all over the place - from Austria to SE Asia by way of North America - said Caesar Salad. I ordered it, followed by schnitzel, for good measure.

A huge plate arrived. With a Romaine/Cos lettuce quartered lengthways and lying in four quadrants. On each hunk o' lettuce, balanced see-saw-like, were rashers of very stiff and very flat bacon. And upon each see-saw, an entire anchovy, supine.  And on each tip of lettuce, poised like bubble bath on your loved one's breast, a puff of foam. The foam was parmesan-flavoured. Foam has made it to Cape Town. At last. And inbetween two quadrants of lettuce an entire poached egg. And beneath each poached egg, a small brick of pan-fried baguette. Dressing had been poured over the leaves.

I have never laughed at food before. Not even at Heston Blumenthal's snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream and vanilla pods like straws (I liked those).

I laughed and laughed.

Deconstructng the Caesar Salad. It's a good idea. But here it was on a plate as misunderstood and abused as a salad has ever been.We should have buried it with with honours in the courtyard garden and played Taps. It had been a brave attempt.

The schnitzel was dry and tasteless. The Sacher Torte afterwards, the first time I have ever eaten cake with a meal, quite delicious.

Visit Buitenverwachting for the architecture, the views, the wine, and the gossipy, Eastern Bloc spy history. Skip the restaurant, which in Etienne Bonthuys' early days (before he got stuck on Repeat) was a destination eatery, and order the picnic but don't sit under the oak trees: Years ago my mom and I were eating in the dining room (under the cheffage of Thomas Sinn, then), when a rotten branch fell on a family picnicking outside. A man and his little dog were killed.

The oaks have been well pruned now but still...

But if you really need cheering up, order the Caesar Salad.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hiking in Cape Town: Silvermine

Above: Gladiolus somewhere between G. undulatus and G. monticola. Marijke, Lynn? Photographed near pool above the Waterfall.

"The entire Cape Floristic Region averages 94 species per 1000 square km, making it much more diverse than any other part of the world. California and Southwestern Australia, two other Mediterranean regions, have respective average diversities of 14 and just under 12 species per 1,000 square km...Within the Cape Floristic Region, fynbos alone may contain between 150 and 170 species per 1,000 square km, an astonishing two or three times that measured for tropical rainforests..."

John Manning, Field Guide to Fynbos, 2007

Vince and I, two corgis and one black lab, set off from the eastern section of Silvermine, easily defined as lying on the eastern side of Ou Kaapse Weg, one afternoon after lunch at home. There are several possible routes one can follow from the car park, but we wanted a shortish walk of about 3 hours, and headed off towards the amphitheatre. I was relying on memory and an old map from Jose Berman's hiking book, circa 1976, but we should have had the up to date Slingsby's Silvermine Map.

These are excellent maps and I would encourage visitors to the Cape to purchase several (Table Mountain, Hout Bay, Cape Point) , and then use them. Very few tourists consider hiking proper (i.e. with backpacks, proper shoes and a MAP) when they come to the Cape Peninsula, and this omission deprives them of an unforgettably rich lifetime experience.

Table Mountain might look flat (or in our accent, flet) from the front, but in fact the Table Mountain National Park extends right to tip of the Cape Peninsula, with hundreds of hiking trails crisscrossing it, with plants and views unique to each.

Ah, Romulea, But you are not in Mr Manning's book. Growing almost flat on the sandy soil leading steeply up to the Amphitheatre, and as dense as gentians. Known as African bluebells.

For better ID'ing I have ordered Wild Flowers of Table Mountain, from England. Amazon had never heard of it. However Amazon did have Cape Peninsula: No. 3: South African Wild Flower Guide" by M.M. Kidd. A whopping $55. But I still have credit on my Christmas gift card. Thanks, Boss. Sold. So hopefully I will be saying "I think..." a little less often when it comes to plant names.

Pelargonium cucullatum, and the first and easiest I ever learned to recognize, as a child newly moved to the Cape from the grasslands of the Free State.

On a hill overlooking Ou Kaapse Weg, this Protea speciosa grew right next to the path.

Below, I have seen these pelargoniums two years in a row now, in relative abundance beside these paths, growing out of dry sand banks, with leaves frizzled to nothing. I think they are P. pinnatum. What I love about these walks is that you see one flower for a few metres, and then another, and then more of the second, and so on, so that always there are localized pockets of something new. And this was a midsummer hike, not exactly the most floriferous time of year.

"At every step a different plant appeared; and it is not an exaggerated description, if it should be compared to a botanic garden...so great was the variety everywhere to be met with."

William Burchell, journal entry for the last week of November 1810.
Flax - Heliophila, no idea which species. And blooming late...it seemed to be a late year in general.

Thereianthus, and again not sure which one - the last time I walked here I saw them showing only their tantalizing drying stalks. With petals they are lovely!

This stunning, shrubby erica, dripping with waxy white and green blooms, grew on the path down into the Amphitheatre, just after False Bay had come into view. Sunbirds darted about, drinking their nectar. No luck ID'ing, as it does not seem to match the white ericas in my book.

Poor, short-legged corgis. I had told them the walk would be gentle. I had completely forgotten a steep, boulder-climbing section. Not having a collapsable water dish, we poured their water into one of the honeycombed sandstone boulders on the way.
They said a lot in Welsh, and from the tone none of it apparently flattering to my person.

Lobelia, of course. L. coronopifolia.

Lachnaea grandiflora - mountain carnation/bergangelier. They can also be pink.

Polygala - butterfly bush.

Protea nitida, I think. For some reason I never paid much attention in the past to the most famous of the fynbos flowers. This one grew low down on a tree about 8 feet high.

Ben flopped into the pool above the waterfall.

And in the thicker, grassy vegetation behind the pool I found several more of these gladioli. The colouring looks like G. monticola but the form and habitat resembles more G. undulatus. Help.

The home stretch, coming full circle.

Home before dark. Obviating the necessity for a posse, which is what I found in the driveway the last time I returned, well after sunset, from this circuit.

Some hiking rules for visitors (and the first one I need to um, obey too. I hate hats):

1. Wear a hat
2. Take a sweater or waterpoof jacket no matter what the weather looks like
3. Take water and some food
4. Tell someone exactly where you are going. Write it down.
5. Do not hike alone

Mountain rescue: 021-948-9900

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fragrant Viburnum



Explosions of joy in my cranium after I crossed the street to investigate what I thought must be a weirdly early crabapple. No! It was something I had never seen before. I was clueless. The flowers looked like lilac, the emerging leaves looked like viburnum, the form...tree-like, but trained so...deeply perfumed and spicy, too. And dripping with blooms in late March. I mean nothing is open. Only the quinces have started. Not even the callery pears, which have buds right now.

Very exciting.

Thanks to googling and going with the viburnum idea, I think it is Viburnum farreri*, described as a very early bloomer, sometimes damaged by frost. And this one must have been trained upright from an early age, as most of us should be.

[The tree is on Baltic between Court and Clinton, north side of street]

That's all it takes to cheer this girl up.

That and gallon of hot pink paint from Tony's Hardware.

Update: * The ever helpful Plant ID Forum at UBC tells me this: It is more likely to be Viburnum × bodnantense 'Dawn' (V. farreri × V. grandiflorum).

Sigh. It's so good to know exactly what something is, and how it got that way. Thank you.
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