Off the beaten track 4

Many a time as I have whizzed along the highway have I pondered pulling over to wander along the roadside just to see what’s there. It’s never been possible, as there is no shoulder to speak of and the speed of the passing traffic would suck me into a slipstream that I have no wish to be part of. Even the smallest of country roads, including the most corrugated dirt roads, always produce a passing vehicle the minute I stop to photograph a scene or a bird on a pole or even just the road stretching before me. Clouds of dust obscure my view, as the vehicle hurtles by as if I have no right to be parked at the side of the road and certainly no right to be enjoying the great outdoors. This is the one great failing of roads – they do not take into account those who are not actually going anywhere. It applies to roads the world over. I was once asked if I had broken down, although it should have been patently clear that I was looking at a group of Blue Cranes just over the fence. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt.

The gravel road between Leeuwenboschfontein and Montagu, which provides an alternative route to Touws River and Anysberg, was as smooth as tar despite a recent wash-away from flood waters which had been repaired and graded. From time to time we passed a farmhouse or other habitation as we crawled along undisturbed by any other vehicles, looking for birds and small mammals scooting along the roadside. We came to a rise and decided this was the perfect spot to park – visible from far, nice wide road, no fences, a farmhouse in the distance and open veld before us.

The first thing we noticed was loud opera music coming from the farmhouse, but it wasn’t long before we decided it must have been the farmer’s wife singing, as the notes were rather discordant!

The veld was the colour of ochre and tiny dolerite pebbles, with occasional quartz, were liberally scattered. The dolerite forms the resistant layers of the Karoo mesas and is most obvious in rocky outcrops where the dark, smooth boulders form heaps of neatly stacked blocks. It is my favourite rock – of which there are many – and to me the colouring reminds me of a hippo’s nose! I gathered a few samples to add to my collection of rocks of the world and then took a closer look at the vegetation. Tough renosterveld typifies this region – most of the bushes look dry and dead, but a few drops of rain will bring them bursting into green life with tiny leaves and pretty flowers offered to the pollinators for a short time, ensuring continuation of the species in these harsh conditions.

To roam the veld, watching ants scurrying in and out of their holes, spiders spinning webs in tiny shrubs to catch even the smallest insects, and the warmth of a breeze carrying the scents of the landscape must rank among the most peaceful, soul-restoring pastimes. Vast blue sky overhead, mountains receding into the far, far distance changing from ochre to faded blue – the call of the wild is absolute silence.

Here is a selection of the treasures we found, including ancient litter from passing pioneers perhaps.

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