Signs of spring

The wind-free Alphen Trail in Constantia confirmed that spring is now well under way after what seemed like a long, wet and cold winter. After the driest September in many years, the streams still tumble through the valley, providing pools where dogs romp and splash, uncaring of cold water or muddy coats – these waters are pristine and crystal clear as they have been through the millennia. The trail remains soggy in parts where watercourses altered and took the route of least resistance, and many trees succumbed to the storms of winter and now lie carved into chunks of trunk, an undignified end for these giants of the forest. Far preferable is for them to lie where they have fallen, slowly disintegrating through weather and insects until they return to the earth to nourish new growth. But a fallen tree that lies across this most popular of trails would make it difficult for the strollers, bikers, runners, horse-riders and dog-walkers to negotiate and there are times when the chainsaw must do its dirty work. The jarring buzz of chainsaws cut through the peace deep into this leafy suburb with accompanying crashing of falling branches and we winced with each separation of limbs from what must have been a huge old tree that had died and become a danger to the property. At least that is what we assumed, as there was no softening of the blows that would have come with a soft covering of leaves.

The shade was greatly appreciated as the day warmed up to give us a taste of summer to come. The difference between being hot or cold lies only in stepping in and out of the shade when the wind doesn’t blow, and it seems the sun becomes fiercer each year. The giant oaks with massive girths and branches spreading out umbrella-like are now dressed in soft green leaves, the first of the deciduous trees to come back to life after winter, while the pin oak and plane tree still stand stark against the sky. The towering pines, where sparrowhawks nest each year and squirrels scamper in the heights, beg to be touched, their rough yet smooth scored bark a delicate shade of puce, and their shed needles offer a luxuriant carpet to mask our tread.

The two trails that make up the circular walk encompass the lovely cork oak forest that runs along the lower edge of Cecilia forest, an old plantation of which only a small area remains. It is always with wonder and awe that we wander through these behemoths, with their straight smooth trunks of palest beige and blue reaching impossibly high into the sky, battling it out to reach the sun before their neighbours. It will be a sad day indeed if these are ever felled as might be intended. Woodpeckers and dusky flycatchers flit among the cork oaks, and even the rush of traffic just metres away cannot detract from the sense of peace that this area brings to those of us fortunate to be enjoying a fairly long (about 8km), undemanding and soul restoring morning in a suburban paradise.

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