The idea started this morning when I looked out the window to see this picture: as you might know my foreman and his wife, my housekeeper, mean more to me than I can ever pay them. What I can offer is the luxury, to a rural black family, of them living together as a family 7 days a week. The boys, who I will refer to here as Alpha and Beta, love the dogs and love to come along on a walk. They attend our local school and during term time I take them up to the tar road every morning to catch the school bus. With them on holiday at the moment there is extra opportunity and incentive for walks. But first this moment…

1 Zakia and Monty

Beta (the younger) jumped up when he realised I had my camera out, but then joined me as I took more shots of the lovely wintery view down the main axis.

2 View down the axis

3 Closer view down the axis

Which is when we spotted this fellow and brought him closer to photograph.

4 Chameleon

He’s a tiny fellow, the Drakensburg Dwarf Chameleon, and plentiful on Sequoia. Below you can see just how tiny as he sits on my hand.

5 a tiny fellow

There’s a reason he was sitting on my hand and not one of the boys’: many black people, even sophisticated westernised ones, have an irrational fear of chameleons similar to the more common fear of snakes. If they see one, they kill it. Over the years I have persuaded my staff to at least ignore them, if not appreciate them. Yesterday for the first time I got Alpha to hold another, larger specimen, but Beta had shied away from doing so. Luckily by the time we had finished studying this one, both boys had held it and lost their fear. Then we took it to the greenhouse were we released it into a warmer atmosphere than the great outdoors in winter…

7 released in the greenhouse

We photographed him and then searched for yesterday’s fellow, who we had also released here.6 Zakia and Renki come to have a look

And we found him! But we couldn’t find a third one, a very tiny fellow, whom Beta had spotted in the greenhouse when I was showing this one to them after taking it there yesterday.

8 Company

When I was still living down at The House that Jack Built, chameleons moving in in the late winter afternoons to the warmth of the clematis that grows in under the roof at the front door was cause for daily excitement. One winter I counted five most nights! That is why I know that they seek out warmer spots in winter.

9 Examining a snail shell

This afternoon’s walk started off as an inspection of the stocks and primulas planted in the Rosemary Border in the hope of having additional colour as visitors arrive during the Spring Fair at the end of September. A few plants show on the right. Alpha is examining a snail shell which lay hidden under the growth cut away in preparing for the annuals. Here it is on the wall.

10 Snail shell

We are incredibly lucky that these, the only snails we ever see here, are carnivorous. I’ve always feared accidentally bringing in the round snails I’ve seen chew up whole beds in London – and do only slightly less damage in Johannesburg.

11 Makou dam in winter

Then the walk continued. Taubie is now 14 years old and although she is slow and for a large part of the day quite sedentary, she loves a walk and still eats well. But two years ago I would not have predicted that she would still be with us now…

12 Taubie at the stream

Whilst in an elegiac mood – I took on today’s walk what might well be the last photo of the pine trees around The House that Jack Built. The sawmill is cutting in our forests and I’ve decided that these trees, now all 35 or more years old, must go. In a plantation they would be cut after 25 years. There will be some rethinking of the area around the cottage once they’ve gone.

13 THtJB before the pines are cut

From here we zig-zagged through the arboretum, the boys playing hide-and-seek amongst the tall azaleas, jumping on puff-balls and making the happy noise children make when they can run free.

14 Big House reflected

One would think it was quite a long walk – but Mateczka decided otherwise. She started a game of running, tearing through the dried cannas, and got the boys as excited as she was. I kept swinging around with the camera, trying to achieve no more than having a dog, a boy, or both in the shot when I pressed the shutter…

15 Action shot - Mateczka

16 Action Mateczka and Zakia

17 Action blur

19 Action again

18 Mateczka camouflaged

Then eventually Mateczka stopped dead in the cannas, as if she knew how well camouflaged she was…

20 Renki in the Garden Celibrating an Imperfect Universe

And when I looked again, Beta was jumping along the Garden Celebrating an Imperfect Universe, just as I imagined children would jump when I first conceived the garden two years ago… it really must be completed now!

21 Autumn rose in Alfred's Arches

By now we were making our way back up Alfred’s Arches and with the leaf canopy gone I could marvel at just how many bird-sown plants were growing in the dappled shade it provides – including a pair of willowy roses almost opposite each other. Could they have Rugosa blood?! With a bit of luck they will flower next year and I will learn more about them. To end off, a farewell to autumn shot: also growing here courtesy of the birds, and perhaps storm water, are many nandinas and several berberis. Here they make an impressive showing, even though the solstice has come and gone!

22 Autumn finale


14 thoughts on “ALPHA, BETA AND ANIMALS

  1. I could almost feel the fall air as I took this delightful walk with you. What better accompaniments to fall’s beauties than playful dogs, happy kids, and charming chameleons!

    • I have had so many moments, Ursula, where they joy of children has made me appreciate my gardens tenfold – including the picnics I used to host for my pupils at the end of each year in my teaching days…

  2. Super post, especially the kids, dogs and chameleons. STILL waiting for summer to begin in England, although our vegetarian snails are loving the damp and devouring everything they can! Always enjoy your posts Jack.

  3. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? I treat myself with your posts, Jack. Storing them up to read when the drudge of a desk-bound job gets too much to bear.

    • Why thank you, Lynne! (My cousin, a novelist, once commented that bringing children into a story immediately increased one’s chance of success. Judging by these comments the same goes for gardening blogs… 😉

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