There can be few greater pleasures than the silence of a forest. The silence of footsteps on fallen leaves, the quiet decomposition of detritus on the forest floor and the shield of soft green foliage separating one from the busy freeway helping to mute the daily din. The only real silence we experience is during loadshedding when every electrical device shuts down – now that is silence!
Over many decades, the trees on the slopes above Newlands have suffered the usual natural catastrophes of lightning strikes, gale force winds and disease, leaving massive trunks scattered among the tall, tall trees like pick-up sticks dropped at the start of the game. The fact that the surrounding trees seem unaffected by the felled giants indicates that they may have been saplings when the events happened, and the degree of decomposition is a sign of great age. One is reminded of that great philosophical wondering: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to observe it, does it make a sound? I would say yes, because the faculty of hearing is the only thing that allows a sound to be heard, and so observation is not necessary to prove that a sound has been made.
Although the jeep track and well-made paths criss-cross the mountain in a steady zigzag, the walk is neither steep nor dangerous, hence its popularity. In places, the roots of the trees are exposed across the path, where thousands have trodden before and polished the bark to a fine patina, with interesting patterns and gnarled knots to gladden the observant eye, and trip up the unwary. Bouldered ravines reveal the paths of streams that gush from the mountain in winter and some all year round. Table Mountain acts as a giant sponge, soaking up every drop that falls from winter rains or is carried over it in the cloud that drapes itself across the lip in summer – our famous tablecloth. If it were not for this ‘sponge’ feature, the Peninsula would be a barren and windswept appendage to the continent, without the vast floral kingdom for which it is world-renowned. It is a marvel to walk through a small area and see flowers that exist in no other place, and even better to know when you have seen them.
Another advantage of forests is the tree-top canopy that provides us with opportunities to listen to the many birds living among the branches, even if we are unable to see them, and the shade is always welcome on a warm day. One of my favourite places to be.