Sunday 30 May 2021

Meet Tony. Retired. Dog walker.

I first met Tony just over a week ago and I bumped into him today at the same place - we were both coming up a road to access a trail section.

Tony is retired and he spends his days walking dogs. 

He has a number of dogs that he fetches a few times a week (or daily) for outings. He takes them on the trails and also for swims. Sometimes he has two together or, like today, four dogs together. The dogs were all very well behaved.

We walked a short section together today, Rusty and Rosy mingling with the four dogs that Tony had with him. He loves the indigenous forest section and clearly delights in the dogs' joy too.

I think Tony is awesome! He likes walking, loves dogs and is kept busy in his retirement. From what I can tell, he has been doing this for a number of years already. He seems fit and healthy - the walks are certainly a benefit to him too. 

Very cool.

Women can fix trails too

 This afternoon on local trail-related Telegram group, a lady posted about an erosion situation on a well-used trail. The peat-soil trail seems to be a straight up/down, which exposes it to greater erosion. It does not have switchbacks and cross-drains, which she says would help to break the speed of runoff water when it rains. She asked for maintenance to be done on the trails.

Another lady posted to say that if a path fixing party is organised, that she will be there to assist. 

The first one then replies with:

"It is not the job for ladies. It is hard labour."

Well, of course I couldn't resist a reply to say:

"Trail fixing is definitely for ladies too! Women are perfectly able to use axes, saws, shovels and mallets."

Over the years I've created brand-new trails. I've wielded a petrol-powered bush cutter to cut trails, I've clipped overgrown vegetation and I've cleared rocks from the paths. With my Forest Run events in the Parys area, my friend Karen (a woman!) helped hugely with this too. 

One thing is for sure, women are good at hard labour.

Sure, I don't have the same power as a 110kg, 6'3" man, but that makes me no less able to put in the hard labour to fix trails just because I'm a woman. Really!

A few months ago I built a set of stairs in my back garden. The slope up to the lawn area was steep and uneven -  an access barrier to my mom.

I cleared a lot of the vegetation in the background too. I did get a gardener into assist with a chunk as I just didn't have the time to attend to all of it.

Last weekend, I carried cement precast slabs from the upper far-back of the garden to the front parking area - on my own - to shore up an embankment. This also involved shovelling loads of soil to clear the paving to make space for the slabs. 

The soil took up almost a meter of space on the paving in places and was almost 30cm deep on the back side. That was a lot of soil to shovel.

The thing about hard labour - it is rewarding. Rewarding to turn a nasty slope into a functional and more attractive stairway. Rewarding to deal with a paving/embankment issue that has driven me crazy since I moved in and to make it actually look neat and tidy. 

The thing about comments like "it is not the job for ladies" is that daughters are raised to buy into this drivel. Waiting for the man on the white horse to change the lightbulb, wire a plug or light a fire. This is the same type of mentality that said women couldn't be astronauts or doctors or pilots or crane drivers or business owners - anything other than the women's jobs of being seamstresses, nurses and secretaries. 

That's why I had to reply to that lady's comment. That noone else had said anything by the time I saw the message was equivalent to agreeing with her.

I've yet to see a post on the two groups that I am on to join a trail fixing crew, but I really am looking forward to the opportunity. Cutting in stairs and taming unruly vegetation are my specialities.

Monday 24 May 2021

Rosy, speak! Little dog (almost) lost in the forest

The dogs and I enjoyed a bit of an adventure on Friday evening. 

I was heading off to dinner so we didn't have too much time but I headed to a section of indigenous forest that I really enjoy (pretty plus lots of fungi). My plan was to hit a nice loop and make it home in time for a quick shower before going out.

We found some fungi, took photos and were a bit behind schedule but all was pretty normal. And then... Rosy had been ahead of me. I must have heard her bark and as I looked up I saw her little black dog body in full-out running posture and ahead of her the white flash of the tail of an antelope. Not again!

Within seconds they were around the bend and at least 150m ahead of me. Rusty had charged ahead, stopped to look for me and then trotted on. By the time I got to the bend, there was no sign of Rosy except that I could hear her barking some distance inside the bush.

The area where we were used to be a forest plantation. I don't know whether the trees were felled or whether the forest was burned, but either way the forest blocks are now thick with bracken, black wattle, thorny brambles and lots of branches and logs. You can't see more than three to five metres inside.

I walked along the forest track for a bit, calling "Rosy come!", a command to which she usually responds. I stood around for a bit too. Calling and listening. Rosy was quiet - something that this little dog is not.

I figured that initially she was barking at the antelope but her bark had been different. When she got quiet, I began thinking that she was injured. Unless the antelope was lying in a tangled heap, it would be long gone. There had to be another reason that she was not coming to me. An injured paw? A broken limb? Impaled on a sharp stick? 

Rusty and I made for the corner of the forest block, coming up the other track to look for a better spot to head in to look for Rosy. We made good progress initially but unable to hear Rosy, I really was going in blind and didn't know where to head.

And then I had an idea.

A few weeks ago I taught the dogs 'Speak' and 'Quiet'. My objective was actually to teach talkative Rosy to be quiet on command. In order to teach 'quiet', she needed to know which command her talking falls under - in this case 'Speak'.

I shouted into the bush "Rosy, speak!" and got a squeak in return. Again, and then an answer. Rusty and I got held up at a dense section so we backtracked and headed back to the original track, trying again to get through at a spot that didn't look too bad.

I called to Rosy, letting her know that we were still there and that we were coming. Rusty and I crawled beneath bracken and over logs, taking care not to get too ripped by the thorny barbs of a bramble-like plant. Rusty did amazingly, finding us animal-sized spaces to crawl through. 

We got to a point where I could hear Rosy's soft responses but could not yet see this all-shadow black dog. I stood up, turned and looked into a small 'clearing' and there she sat, looking very, very sorry for herself. She didn't even come to me when I called. So I went to her and as I stretched out my hand she came to my side. She thankfully was not injured at all.

My theory is that Rosy completely lost her mind when she chased the antelope. She has a high-prey drive which makes her crazy for balls and chasing antelope, bunnies, seagulls and ducks. She isn't a hunter and she won't hurt them. They run, she runs. She followed and ran into the bush and then found herself trapped on all sides in the vegetation. She did not know what to do or where she was. It is curious that she didn't try to come to me as she could clearly hear me out on the track. The location of her barks and answers didn't change so I think she sat in the same place the whole time.

It had taken me 30 minutes to get to her and we only had about 20 minutes of daylight left. 

My Rusty girl then showed her uncanny trail sense. I'd been planning to get out the way we'd come in. Not far from where we found Rosy, I lost both dogs - I didn't know through which crawl space they'd gone. I called and Rusty came back to find me, leading me off to the side and not straight ahead.

My clever girl linked our new track with the initial one coming from the other track into the bush! Once past the dense stuff it was a shorter and easier exit. So proud of my dog!

We ran all the way back to my car - all of us safe and sound. The dogs, with their furry coats, were no worse for wear. Me, with my human skin, picked up some bramble scratches.

Rosy's behaviour has been exemplary these past few days. I think her adventure on Friday evening was a bit of a surprise and shock. We haven't seen another antelope since and I'm not entirely convinced that this crazy little dog can keep her head - but she does try.

I took the dogs paddling on Sunday morning. Rosy was a gem and is finally taking to her place on the front of my kayak. Rusty's spot is behind me - she is such a chilled passenger.

Calm water. Calm dog.

That face!

My special girl.

When we got Rosy from the SPCA she was listed as a border collie cross. She looks like a small version of a border collie but she is all black, without any of those distinctive border collie white flashes, which are strong genetic traits. She certainly has the temperament of a border collie.

Last week, our dog school teacher was researching dog breeds and came across the Markiesje, an old dog breed. 

She sent me a whatsapp saying, "Google 'Dutch Tulip Dog/Hound'".

"OMG! That's Rosy!" I replied.

This description from Wagwalking totally suits our Rosy.

These are generally very friendly little animals who love everyone, and thrive on attention but don’t tend to be particularly demanding about it. The Markiseje is gentle and playful with other dogs as well as with children of all ages, and although all interactions between small children and canines should be monitored, this breed is generally very trustworthy with the younger set. They are not prone to separation anxiety when left home alone, and they are generally well behaved when taken out in public as well. While this dog’s smaller size and cuteness make it popular as a family pet, they are also willing to do the work of a gun dog, easily taking to retrieving small game or game birds. These small dogs are typically too friendly to make an appropriate guard dog, but due to their alert natures, they often excel in the role of watchdog, alerting their family to any perceived threats and dangers. 

The Markiseje is a moderately active breed that needs to get around an hour of vigorous activity each day in order to keep them happy and healthy. These dogs can keep up on most walks and jogs, but they may also enjoy or possibly excel at several other canine activities as well, such as swimming, agility training, or canine freestyle dance. While these dogs are on the smaller side, they are often inappropriate as pets in smaller living environments such as apartments due to their higher activity and noise levels than some other dogs and are more likely to thrive in a larger home with a fenced yard.

We're going to go with this instead of 'border collie cross'.

Rosy is very, very smart. We're really settling in nicely now at dog school and she impresses each week. Where Rusty is a total natural, Rosy has to work harder to focus as she can be easily distracted by other dogs and people. She really tries to please. Sweet dogs. 

My first 'pet' Aseroe rubra (Anemone Stinkhorn fungus)

A week ago (Sun 16 May) , I found an 'egg' of an Aseroe rubra (Anemone Stinkhorn) fungus. I couldn't find anything online about how long it takes for the fruiting body to emerge from the membranous sac - I assumed it would only be a few days (and it was). On Tuesday night, it began to 'hatch' and I spent the next six hours observing this incredible process. I've put my photos - taken every half hour (or so) until 03h30 that night and then randomly over the next few days- into this short video. 

The fruiting body, with its stinky brown gleba (which attracts flies and insects, and contains the spores) is short-lived. Within 12hrs it had begun to wither and degrade and three days later, in the protected environment of the glass jar, was looking very sorry. In nature they're only around for 24-48hrs.

It was incredibly exciting and interesting to observe this hatching. When I first caught sight of the splitting egg and then the 'fingers' furled just under the very thing membrane - elated!

The process happens really quickly as the stipe (stem) grows and elongates, and the arms radiate with 'fingers' extended and the shiny brown gleba presented for all the insects to find.

It really is quite incredible to see it go from 'egg' to this in five hours.

And this by mid-morning...

You can watch my short video compilation of my photographs here. 

Wednesday 19 May 2021

I love fungi

 I've got the bug. Bad. Like real bad. Like I can't stop thinking about fungi.

Of course, they have always been around - something you see especially on forested trails. Mushrooms and lichens. I was always charmed by the mushroom 'bumps' under the pine needles in the Lakenvlei forests where I hosted my Forest Run event. I wasn't hugely moved by mushrooms. They were just interesting and fun to uncover on my visits there.

Then, in early April I saw my first stinkhorn fungus. And then another. I keep an eye out for them. 

At the beginning of May I discovered iNaturalist. I'd seen a poster about a City Nature Challenge and decided to participate, especially as I'd jumped back into doing some repeat photography

And then, just like that, a switch was flipped. iNaturalist appeals to me on many levels. 

  • I enjoy volunteering, assisting and contributing. 
  • I am community orientated. 
  • I have a background in science and research. 
  • Citizen science appeals to me.
I also identify with the incredible functionality of this platform. Anyone can observe, photograph and record sightings of fauna and flora, generating a massive database of information on diversity, distribution, seasonality and frequency. Researchers can pull from this data for their studies. There is no way that they would be able to generate the data on their own.

The iNaturalist software has this great feature where it suggests possibilities for the identification of your sighting when you upload a photo - much like facial recognition. It is brilliant. 

After discovering, I logged a few observations - like the two chameleons that I saw and photographed. And then a couple of flowers and an agama that I saw while away near De Rust. 

This whole time, I'm thinking about iNaturalist and the overwhelming number of things that I could log. Birds, trees, flowers, insects... A person could turn themselves inside out. I knew that I would need to pick something to focus on. But what?

I'm no good at birds - you need to sit around to photograph them. That doesn't work for me. When I'm out, I'm walking or running or paddling. 

The Proteas and Ericas and other fynbos are abundant with incredible diversity. I enjoy seeing them and sometimes stop to look closer at a flower. They're interesting but that's it. 

Insects too require more focus to find.

Fungi, on the other hand, they are just there. Everywhere it seems.

After getting back from De Rust, I began noticing more different fungi. Was it that I was being more observant or are there really more around? It seems the latter is probably the case.  I've just taken a look on iNaturalist at the seasonality of a number of different types of fungi in South Africa and it seems like April and May are high points. I also spend time in environments that are ideal for fungi.

I really, really, really like fungi. Not so much the regular mushroom type of fungi, but the other stuff like jelly fungi, slime molds, anything with nice colours and, of course, stinkhorns.

Some of my recent fungal finds.

Diversity is huge. Fungi offer a huge range in colour, size and shape and yet their classing is pretty good so that you can narrow in for identification. And I see them everyday.

I've been photographing them and logging my observations on iNaturalist. Yesterday I went out with the dogs and I didn't plan on photographing anything - but I couldn't resist and so got home with four observations to log - three of them new-to-me species.

The other night I took advantage of a book sale on Takelot so I ordered my first book on fungi. It arrived today. "Field Guide to Mushrooms & other Fungi of South Africa" by Gary B Goldman & Marieka Gryzenhout. It is magical.

What I have discovered is that this isn't just about photographing and logging as many as I can. I am a bit attached to a bunch of 'my' fungi. Most are on trails that I regularly roam so I like to visit them regularly. This is perhaps a bit of where my repeat-photography interest comes in because I like to re-photograph the fungi to see how much they grow and change over time. The slime molds are proving especially interesting (3 sites now).

I also have my first 'pet' fungus - and it is the reason that I'm awake at 02h15. I'm not working. I'm writing this blog and watching my new pet. I'll reveal more about it tomorrow.

Fungi. Who would have guessed! I have a lot to learn but with my new book, iNaturalist, people in this community and the power of the internet, I'll be on a steep learning curve over the coming months.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

What cooking means

Over the last few months, I've watched a number of cooking shows on Netflix. These are generally cooking competition-themed shows featuring regular people passionate about cooking, chefs, chefs with their own restaurants, self-made chefs hoping for their own restaurant and Michelin-starred chefs.

I thoroughly enjoyed Restaurants on the Edge (not a competition show) and recently completed 'The Last Plate' (experienced, accomplished and Michelin-star chefs take on challenges each episode and with pairs getting knocked out each round). 'Million Pound Menu' featured competitors (experienced chefs and regular people who are turning / have turned their love for cooking into their career) aiming to get investors to open their own restaurant.

I gave 'Chef's Table' at try, watching the first episode two nights ago. This show introduces us to cullinary stars from around the world who are redefining gourmet food. The chef featured in episode one, Mashama Bailey, from Georgia, USA, said something that really caught my attention.

She was speaking about her upbringing in this southern State and how her childhood memories were shaped by food. She was speaking about her grandmother - it seems like Mashama spent a lot of time at her grandmother's house. Mashama recalls how her grandmother always had good food on the go. She didn't have much money but she always made sure that she fed her grandchildren well. 

"Through her cooking, she showed us how much she loved us"

What has most struck me about these shows is how very passionate the participants are about cooking and preparing food for other people, even strangers - as in the case of chefs. They plan dishes and menus with ingredients, colours, flavours and textures to delight their guests. Through what they prepare they try to convey a message or to share an experience that they have appreciated and enjoyed.

In our homes, we cook regularly for meals, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. Even the making of the most simple dish, like soft-boiled eggs with toast soldiers, is an act of caring and nurturing.

When we invite friends or family over for a meal or afternoon tea, we make more of an effort like trying a new dish and adding a dessert. The effort shows that you care for your guests and celebrate that they are with you - in your life and physically present - through the meal that you have prepared.

We also express our caring for others when we make something that we know they love.

When I was travelling a lot in the mid-2000s, I would crave vegetables and salads. My mom knew this and, without fail, my returning-home meal would be rich in fresh, crunchy veg. When my dad visits, he gets to put in his order with me of a meal that he would like me to make for him. That I have prepared something especially for him is affirmation of my care and love - more than any words could say.

The backstory inserts in these shows on each participant are interesting. Across the different programmes, we see how, throughout their lives, memories and experiences are shaped by the foods and meals enjoyed, the people sharing these meals and the people who cooked the meals. Together these develop an interest in cooking and ultimately resulted in the participants being where they are now.

A meal on a plate is so much more than just food because of the person who put it there.

Friday 14 May 2021

A few days in the Swartberg

Last week, I enjoyed an unexpected but much-needed break with four-nights away in the Swartberg Mountains near De Rust. Located 90-minutes from George, it is a pleasant and easy drive.

Tied to work, my computer and responsibilities, I had no plans for a break - certainly not for another few months. I've really been feeling the weight of the last nine months.

Celliers took a few days off during the school holidays to go camping. He returned a bit refreshed and, knowing that I wouldn't take a break myself, he presented me with the booking and instructions to "pack a bag, you and your dog are going to go tomorrow". He and Magda, his right-hand at the factory, selected a venue and sealed the booking. I was also instructed to leave my laptop behind. I did take it but used it for map drawing and photos, not work.

Of course, I had plans to catch up on reports (that urgently need to be written but I don't get chunks of hours - and too many other things that need to get done - to focus and nail them), emails to send, replies to type... I did as instructed. 

I got a bit bogged down in the morning but left George around noon after answering phones and emails and getting to the shops to get some food for the self-catering place.

The drive out was very pleasant. Rusty is a great car traveller too. I listened to an audiobook and made it through to the Meiring's Rust farm - a few kilometres past the village of De Rust at the entrance to the Meiringspoort pass. 

Celliers and Magda chose well -  a perfect location for me. This place has lots of hiking routes and sits in the Swartberg mountains. It also has no mobile reception or wifi. Exactly what I needed. While I'm quite happy to turn off, having no other option is even better.

The last thing I did before leaving last Thursday was to print off some Google Earth views as maps so that I could explore the area. I don't like aimlessly wandering around.

Shortly after we arrived, Rusts and I went out walking to take our first look at the surrounds. Spectacular! 

On the Friday we did a nice long hike, discovered a flowing stream with crystal-clear water (good drinking and dog cooling). Saturday was rainy all morning so we played with rePhotos and when went out for a muddy exploratory hike in the afternoon. Sunday we went hiking at 7am with a retired guy from De Rust on a route off the maps that I'd printed and also with a section with no paths. We got back at 3pm. It was awesome. On Monday we had an easy morning and then packed to return home, bumping into adventure racing friends Heidi and Stephan in De Rust.

I got some great photos for observations - some proteas, succulents and an agama (like a lizard).

The time away was good. I don't know that I'm coping any better with day-to-day stresses and everything that I haven't done is still waiting to be done. But getting away was good for me and spending time with Rusty and being out hiking was brilliant.

Here are a couple of photos from these days away.

First afternoon out. Map, compass, kilometres and kilometres to play in and my dog. All good.

Not tame eland, but not skittish either. They hang with the cattle.

Rusty indulges me.

Big open sky - looking kinda Oudtshoorn direction. The big mountains are behind me.

Trying to take a selfie with Rusty...

Looking into Meiringspoort.

We're in the Swartberg mountains - but not on top.

Interesting rock.

Crystal clear.

A pretty, flowing stream.

Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra)

Common Sugarbush (Protea repens) flowers in bloom up in the mountains.

Snake ragwort (Curio repens) -  an unfamiliar succulent growing between rocks up high.

Western Sunbush - Leucadendron sessile (Protea family)

Tired dog.

Celliers, thank you for making me take this break.

Thursday 13 May 2021

The satisfaction of rePhotoSA

I spent a few days away with neither mobile reception, wifi nor internet access. I found the days to slow down considerably. As I'm back into repeat photography mode, I took the time to pull out some repeat photographs that I took in Parys three (what!?!) years ago.

I sat on these repeat photographs for months, waiting for the water level in the Vaal River to really drop. I was 95% certain of the photo location but needed more markers to really confirm and to be able to get my photographer position as close as possible to that of the original. 

We had a really rocky paddling season. It was hot and the river had been running low. And then it went really low. Bad news for paddling. Good news for my repeat photograph.

I went out two or three times, as I recall. It isn't only about the angle and photographer position, but also getting decent light (sun not directly ahead, for example) to capture the features.

I knew that I had the correct location but matching them up would need time that I didn't have. I think I was also hoping to get even better photographs. The water level came up a bit and never dipped as low as this in the next three years (which is a good thing for the river and everyone and everything downstream!).

And so, this past weekend, I pulled out the photographs and had a blast examining them. I found this to be incredibly satisfying. And very rewarding to add them to the repeat photography archives of the Plant Conservation Unit at UCT. They use these photographs to study changes in vegetation patterns over time.

The first is a photo by Pole-Evans, taken in late 1919 from what would have been a relatively new bridge across the Vaal River in Parys. It was built in 1915 and enabled people to more easily cross the river - between the Transvaal and Free State with horses and cars and wagons. Before then, there was a pricey ferry crossing that seems to have been limiting. The river is fairly wide here and very, very rocky - not easy or pleasant to cross even at very low level and certainly dangerous at higher levels.

Back to the bridge... The new bridge, that I stood on, is higher than the original bridge that Pole-Evans stood on. Even though I lay down on the sidewalk of the bridge, I was still higher up than Pole-Evans.

The level of the water in the Vaal River at Parys is regulated by release from the Vaal Barrage (built in 1923), which in turn gets water from the Vaal Dam (built in 1938) further upstream. In Pole-Evans' time (1919), the river flow would have been seasonal and thus much lower than what we experience now with regulated flow. In my five years of living in Parys (until end Oct 2020), the water level at which I took this photo in Jan 2018, was the lowest that I experienced (probably 10 cumec). I'd hoped to get even better repeats with lower water, but this was it during my time there.

The Vaal River has flooded heavily many times in the past 100 years, which would shift and move rocks around and weather them. Despite this, not a lot has changed in the rocks - remarkable. The biggest change is in the vegetation growth.
I'm posting here a comparison collage and a version with my markings on it. I've also included some close-ups of the then-and-now rocks

This first is taken looking upstream and to river-right. 

FYI - River-left and river-right are designated according to the water flow direction (downstream). So, if you were paddling downstream, the bank on your left is river-left and on your right is river right. If you paddle upstream, river-right would be on your left-hand-side and river-left would be on your right. The designations of river-left and river-right are fixed regardless of what you do.

Original photo by Pole-Evans, taken in 1919. My photo taken in January 2018.

Looking just at this image above, you may not be convinced immediately. Take a look at this version with same-same rocks circled - and the close-ups.

The second photo was taken from almost the same photographer position, but this time looking upstream towards river-left - where Mimosa is (the Parys parkrun runs through Mimosa along that bank).

Pole-Evans original taken in 1919. My photo taken in January 2018.
Note the low weir, which wasn't there in 1919.

While I can't comment with any authority on the vegetation types, it doesn't take a botanist to observe the dominance of alien Eucalyptus trees along the Vaal River.

I pulled out a third rePhoto that I also snapped in January 2018 from the Venterskroon road. Driving home from Venterskroon - a historic location in the Vredefort Dome about 30 minutes from Parys - I was looking out for this view. I had a gut-feel for the general location. I spotted what I was looking for in my rear-view mirror. I pulled over, snapped the photo and planned to come back to trespass on private land to really nail the photograph. I didn't get around to it. My photo is decent, but it isn't exact. I put it out there for someone to do better. The vegetation in this area has been impacted by at least 170 years of farming activities.

I still have a good four or five rePhotos for Parys where I'm fairly certain of the locations but would need to get out there to nail them. I'm tasking some Parys friends to take a look - especially now in winter when the vegetation thins. 

Wednesday 12 May 2021

45 Days of Running

11 years ago I started with '35 Days of Running' as a 'project' to refocus my attention on my running, which at that stage was disrupted and, with 2-4 runs a week, was the most inconsistent I'd been since I was 15. Cold winter evenings demand more motivation to drag oneself outside for a run, and so this challenge really helped on the coldest of days to get me out there.

Each year, I've done this challenge where I have to run every day for the number of days leading up to my birthday of the age that I am turning. I've varied the theme by distance or duration but the foundation is the same - to run every single day.

In these recent years I've felt the impact of this challenge less, especially the last four years with Rusty as I take her out every day anyway. Nonetheless, I jump into this as something of a tradition.

With my birthday coming up next month, I'm already eight days into this. 

I spent days 2 to 5 on a farm near De Rust so I enjoyed a few hours of hiking with Rusty each day, which was spectacular. Days 1, 6 and 7 were just local outings.

This year, Days of Running will have more walking than running as I continue on a biokineticist programme to rectify my nothing-structurally-wrong-with-my-knee, shoe-induced 'niggle'. I am running, but low volume and gently with a greater balance of hiking each day. Some Days of Running, as in past years, may be Days of Paddling to do something active and off my feet.

If you still have a birthday coming up this year, a 'Days of Something' challenge may be just what you need to give you a goal and some focus. I've found it to be very rewarding and this year should prove no different. 

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Repeat photography quest

A few years ago I discovered 'repeat photography' after being tagged by a friend on Facebook on a historical photo taken in the Parys area.

rePhotoSA was established by the Plant Conservation Unit at the University of Cape Town. They have  been scanning old photographs for two decaudes to have them saved in digital form. They have assigned images to geographic areas (where they have information on the general area where the photo was taken) and they ask 'citizen scientists' to attempt to re-photograph the exact scene. This gives them study material of the changes in vegetation to an area over time. 

On their Facebook page description they write:

"This project encourages you as the public or 'citizen scientist' to contribute to an understanding of how South Africa's environment has been changing and is continuing to change. This is done by comparing two photographs of the same view, taken at different times, and then recording the major changes that have taken place between the photos. This approach is called 'repeat photography'."

As rePhotoSA combines being outdoors, a bit of investigative sleuthing, good observation skills and some map work, it is like this was created just for me.

I can't believe that I haven't written about this on this blog before. I've just done a search for rePhoto and found nothing - WTF was I thinking? 

In the recent fires at UCT, the Plant Conservation Unit offices were destroyed and this is where their historical photographic collections were housed.

While they have most of the historical and repeated images in digital form, they were still busy digitising the few remaining large collections, where were destroyed and are now lost forever.

Since I've been in George, I had not looked on the rePhoto website to see what they had for this area. There are not many, but there are a few. I recognised two locations immediately. I have taken the photographs but the light really is not great and may have to wait for summer when the sun to more to the south. Of course, I'm striving for excellence.

There is a third photo that I am fairly certain of the exact location - I just need to go get it. The fourth, I'm confident of the general area and direction. I'd need to head there to look around (about 30 minutes from home).

As I travelled to Swellendam on Monday evening, I checked to see what was available along my route. I found three worthy photos. The one I have a 100% fix on but as it was off my route, I'll save it for another journey when I have more time. 

The second photo was assigned to an general area and shortly before dark, I saw it. It is visible in the George to Cape Town direction - if you're looking for it. On my return route, I snapped a photo from the side of the road but this will be one where I'll need to get further in on dirt farm roads to really nail the image.

Top photo taken by Acocks in 1968. My photo snapped from the side of the highway on 4 May 2021. Photographer position is probably on a higher hill, closer to the mountains and more to the left of where I am standing.

The third one was in Mossel Bay and just looking at it I had a fair idea of the general area and so I made for the location on my trip home. I was limited by driving a small truck with trailer so my manoeuvrability driving on small roads in an unfamiliar area, while looking at mountains, was limited. 

Nonetheless, I found a parking area and snapped a pre-rePhoto. My photographer position is close but a bit off. From the road I identified two other possible places nearby from where I should be able to get a more exact repeat. Parking and walking will give me better access.

Top photo by Pole-Evans in 1915. Bottom one by me on 4 May 2021. Mine is close but not exact. 

I have a connection to this Mossel Bay photo because it was taken by Pole-Evans in 1915. The repeat photographs that I duplicated in Parys were taken by Pole-Evans in 1919. Fascinating guy. I remember reading up about him a few years ago.

You can see my repeats for Parys on this page of the RePhotoSA website. Looking at these, I have another two pre-rePhotos saved on my computer. They were not 100% exact and so I didn't upload. For another two, I'm fairly certain of the general photographer position. I think I need to task my friends Graeme and Karen with getting these this winter (images show more of the terrain when the trees have no leaves).

Achieving a rePhoto is highly rewarding and I look forward to contributing more to this project.

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Thinking about death (and the environment)

 I think about death quite a lot. Not about killing myself. Just death.

This evening, I tuned into the ESSA monthly meeting where the guest speaker was talking about the impact of climate change of species diversity. Countries have signed declarations to take measures to limit the raping and pillaging of the environment. Some are progressing with their goals, a tiny percentage are achieving some and the rest are nowhere close.

Environmental scenario planners have five scenarios in place that, like economic and other scenarios, state that if this and that do not happen, then this is will be the outcome by that date. Or if the focus is this, then that will be the outcome.

Time frames are given. Plans look ahead to 2050, which is only 29 years away. Another - I think related to exponential population increase in Africa - looked ahead to 2080.

I turned to my mom and said, "Well, I'll be dead by then, thank goodness".

And then I think of David Attenborough. There's that show 'A Life on Our Planet' about his life in nature. The changes that have been documented in his lifetime. 

And what about that one 'Mission Blue' about Sylvia Earle and what she has observed in the oceans in her lifetime. 'Chasing Ice' about glaciers is also an impactful one.

This also applies to the changes that I've seen in my lifetime (half that of David's) - animals that have become endangered and critical, habitat destruction, urban development (even just where I've lived), poaching, population growth...

I went to India in October/November 2007 to run the Himalayan Stage Race. I was kindly hosted by India Tourism and after the event we (media group) toured a number of remarkable historic sites in Delhi and Agra. In Delhi there was a big electronic signboard with a population count for India - numbers that went up and down and up and up every few seconds. Being in Delhi and the drive to Agra gave me a wee taste of what it means for a country to have a population of 1.3 billion (at the time). I've also flown over Sao Paulo in Brazil... It was the first time that I realised that until the human population is zapped, there really is little hope for anything else to make it. 

Perhaps a fatalistic outlook. Nonetheless, I still pick up litter on the trails, do my recycling and composting, consciously reduce my consumer behaviours, strive to reduce my electricity and water usage, and overall I aim to reduce my footprint on the earth.

The changes required to save the planet are really just so massive. The thing is, we can't just give up and do nothing either. While the achievement of goals now by countries is not enough to turn the tide, some do get it right. Perhaps too, in another 30, 50, 80, 100 years, with different ways of doing things and more conscious material substitutes, it will be easier for individuals, companies and countries to reduce or eliminate impact and to rectify the wrongs?

I'm still of the simplistic opinion that people need to go. Bye bye. Gone. Exterminated. 

It will take a long time for nature to reclaim what we will leave behind. Our city ruins won't look anything like the Inca and Mayan temples covered by the jungle or the temples of Egypt covered by sand that were made by natural materials (think 'I am Legend' without the zombies). Fortunately, the planet has geological time to rid itself of us - and hopefully the creatures that will be still be impacted long after we're gone will make it.

In 1989, I read 'The Last Great Auk' a book by Alan W Eckert. It was from the school library. I remember finishing the book during at a night-time study session in the school hostel. I was 12/13, in standard 6 (grade 8). Tears were running down my face as a read the last pages of the book. This was 32 years ago and I still remember this clearly. 

Despite incredible conservation efforts, I have a feeling that we'll be witness, during the rest of our lifetimes, to something like this (strictly speaking we already are; species are already going bye-bye). There is too much inertia in the current direction and, like stopping a train, it takes a while to get it to slow and then to change direction.

Thinking about the environment makes me think about death. 

I can only say, "I'll be dead by then, thank goodness" if these evidence-based scenarios for the world in 2080 hold true.

Monday 3 May 2021

Discovering iNaturalist

I recently learned about a City Nature Challenge from a poster stuck up on a window at my local shops. 

The challenge involves photographing any plants, insects, animals, reptiles, fish, fungi over a four or five+day period. You then upload your photo and observations (what, where etc) to Nat Geo's iNaturalist website ( 

This platform exists all the time, not just these few days, and it is global. 

Time-limited challenges are created to get people out to take photos and record observations. For this local, time-limited challenge, observations can be tagged to this specific Garden Route project.

I had not looked at the site until last night. There I discovered an incredible world. I've been looking for interesting things instead of everything-things and on this site everything counts.

I did submit two observations last night - a beautiful mountain tortoise that I saw yesterday afternoon and also a striking pocket of furry, orange Common Lionspaw (Leonotis leonurus) flowers in an area with more black wattle and bracken than anything else.

I had planned to put in some time on the trails this afternoon, now that I understand better how this all works, but ended up leaving for Swellendam for an early morning meeting. While I will miss out on contributing more sightings and identifications to this specific challenge, I can add my contributions throughout the year.

This platform is a phenomenal database for studying distribution, variations, numbers and diversity - all made possible by citizen scientist contributions.