A Walk near the edge of the Burn

This morning’s walk in Fernkloof took 15 hikers into the edge of the recent burn before turning back to walk along the front of Kanonkop and over Lemoenkop.  It was interesting to see how the Phaenocoma prolifera (Cape Everlasting) appeared to have its flowers unscathed by the fire. Perhaps this plant has some chemical resistance to burning as the petals are certainly dry enough to catch at the first sign of fire.  This is a protection method for its seeds, but I wonder how it works.

I attach some images of what the smoke was like in Prestwick Village as the inferno blazed above us on the mountain.  It was pretty scary and our thoughts go out to all those who were badly affected and who lost so much.

A Letter from a Distant Cousin

Sometimes one digs into one’s family history a bit and discovers the most fascinating stories.  John and I may have met, as he says, in Brazil in the mid-forties, but our paths have never crossed since that time.  How amazing therefore, to receive his interesting letter after more than seventy years, written in response to my inquiries re ‘Lost’ family members.  This is what he wrote.

Dear Ronnie,

As far as I remember, we met briefly  on Fazendas Três Barras as children, where I ate mangoes and rode along the Rio Grande with your father.  Now that we are of an age when we might have enjoyed these recollections our health has slapped us with a peremptory No!

But let’s make do with what we still can.

Regarding the Dawsons, I am sure I know nothing Barbara does not know better. So I’ll tell you a little about our mother’s German family – the Beckers. Grandfather Franz Richard Becker was born in Erfurt, Thuringenand and became a painter at Weimar. He married Marie Sophie Fischer and they had two children – Kurt and Johanna (Hanni) Charlotte, born on May 4, 1908.

In World War I, Franz – an ecologist at a time when this word was as yet meaningless – became a stretcher-bearer, for he wanted to save, not kill until he was wounded.  His dream was to emigrate to Brazil, which he only accomplished in 1922 because Germany had no ships left after its industrial park was taken over by the allies for war reparation. 

The Beckers broke open a farm of meagre success in the jungle of Dona Emma in Santa Catarina, where Marie was bitten and nearly killed by a bothtropic jararaca snake while a jaguar sneaked around their provisory hut after baby Erich, whom they had adopted and brought from Germany.

After painting a portrait of the wife of Indian protector Eduardo Hoerhan, Franz lived with the Botocudo Indians, whose pictures brought him fame. 

Meanwhile Johanna, now a teenager of considerable beauty but barefoot and often hungry, became the object of gossip when she got pregnant of Rolf, born on April 19, 1929.

Dr. Goebbels’ war propaganda did not impress Johanna, who set out for São Paulo, where she began to work for the English at Frigorífico Anglo. Here she got pregnant again, by Cyril Charles Coningham, who left her for South Africa. This affair resulted in John, born on September 2, 1935.

Then Johanna married Frank Leigh Dawson, who bought a farm near Cotia, São Paulo, for the Beckers to take care of. 

Here Barbara Jane (my first cousin) was born.

This farm was haunted, believe it or not, which was probably why Frank found it cheap. Ours was the only family who did not suffer a tragedy here. The two babies of one family were out in the patio one evening when a servant threw a fluttering lamp from inside the house, which exploded upon them. The teenage girl of another, got her arm caught in the buzz saw. The son of the new owners after us – a priest – drowned in the lake where I used to fish. 

Of our family, Grandpa Becker was caught in the pasture by the bull and hurled into the air, saved only by Grandma clubbering the animal resolutely on the horns with a tool handle; brother Rolf was hit by a car and squashed against the street-car on the step of which he was travelling; baby sister Barbara nearly suffocated of diphtheria. Rolf ran on foot to fetch a taxi from Cotia, and Barbara was operated promptly upon arrival at the hospital. “Just in time”, said Dr. Warren. But I was by far the most persecuted by the Evil: at age two I fell into a pond, the bottom of which consisted of glass shards from broken bottles – I don’t know how I got out; at three I was run over by a break-away horse pulling a sled loaded with maize, left leg broken in two places, plus lesser wounds all over; at five I was bitten by a jaracaca and suffered a tremendous allergic reaction; at seven I was hit by a car. Fortunately in those days cars were slower.

Then Frank sold that farm and bought another, wilder one in Embu south of São Paulo, where nothing ever happened.

Next we moved to Santos. Meanwhile Rolf had become a pilot. I joined the Army, first the Coast Artillery, then the Cavalry in Mato Grosso. After six years I left the military for my nine-month motorcycle trip across the Americas, after which I got married and went to work for Winchester (“The Gun that won the West”) in Connecticut. Later Fazenda Bodoquena in the Pantanal, Trans-Amazon Highway building bridges, etc. and became a writer.

Yours,

John

Breede River Camp

A visit to David and Tanja’s camp on the Breede river at Rivierzicht near Robertson yesterday was an eye opener in terms of a well set up camp.  Together with their friends they have occupied a prime riverside site and their camp has all the facilities required for a comfortable outdoor holiday.   Water activities feature prominently, with ongoing fishing (Jordan has caught around 80 kg of fish in a week!) and fun in the sun.  A passing floating restaurant was happy to give just about all the campers a tow down river on their various flotation devices.  It made for a happy scene.

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Fernkloof this morning

Our short walk in Fernkloof this morning took place in cool conditions.  Rain threatened and we even had a few drops, but sadly, nothing came of it.  We wandered around the back of Lemoenkop and up the steep steps to the three dams, before returning to the Visitors’ Centre via the Fernkloof Gardens.

The litter at the base of the three dams is a cause for concern and I will forward the picture to the Municipality for their attention.

Birding around Caledon

Our trip to Caledon this morning in search of unusual Overberg birds was not unsuccessful.  We did not find what we were looking for, but the slow drive along farm roads was rewarding in that we did manage to see a good selection of the usual suspects.  There were very many larks, Red-capped and Large-billed, in the rocky fields as well as Pipits and Capped Wheatears.  Dams along the way abounded with Spur-winged Geese and there were many Blue Cranes in the wheat fields.  The Spotted Eagle Owl at the side of the road was a bonus.

We stopped in at the Caledon Cemetery to try to find some old family graves, but without success.  It was sad to see the neglect in this memorial garden.  A visit to the Wild Flower Garden was more rewarding, as we saw a juvenile Klaas’ Cuckoo near to the entrance and it allowed us to approach to within a few metres.  There were many sunbirds and other fynbos species on show.  Then, a visit to the settling ponds revealed many more Geese and a few other waterbirds such as Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed Teals, a few Moorhens and a Black Crake.  We got 75 species in all.

A Walk on the Contour Path

This morning’s walk along the Contour Path from the Visitors’ Centre to Elephant Path and back (a distance of 6.7 km) was attended by 18 Hurriers and one guest.  The weather was cool – perfect for walking – and we all enjoyed the sights and sounds of the mountainside, especially the views over Hermanus and Walker Bay.  The new Sports Centre, under construction on the north side of the High School, is progressing well and the tennis courts and astroturf  hockey field look ready for use.

Our walk was followed by a gathering at Fernkloof for tea and the planning of the 2019 First Half Hiking Programme.