The long view

2 10 2013
Burnt to the horizon and beyond

Burnt to the horizon and beyond


It is not often I get a view like this at the beginning of October. Just 2 days prior to this there was so much smoke in the atmosphere that the sun effectively set at 5 p.m. – a good hour before it would have dipped below the horizon if one was visible. The day before THAT the thermometer hit a record 35 degrees C – the hottest September day on record. By this morning it had plunged to 14 degrees, definitely cold for October. So yes, it is great to be cool and clear. But there is a catch.

As far as the eye can see (about 60km in this case) the bush has been burnt. It will continue to burn until the rains arrive, hopefully in mid-November. What this costs the country , and indeed the sub-continent, in lost soil fertility can only be guessed at. If the world has to increase its food production for a burgeoning population we could well do our bit by controlling the bush burning – after all, Africa will be where most of the population growth will occur.

And that black shape in the sky top right, that’s a bit of good news. It’s a bird. Take a photo in this part of the world of the sky and there is invariably a bird in it. But will this abundance always be there if the environmental degradation continues apace?

Grapes of wrath

5 09 2013

“2 million face hunger” the newspaper billboard blared.¬† It didn’t say where but I assumed it had to be in Zimbabwe. It was certainly nothing new and the newspaper headlines here are notorious for being misleading.

Topping up on supplies in the supermarket a bit further along the road I noticed some grapes. “Produce of Egypt” it said on the side of the box.

gyppo grapesWell things couldn’t be too bad if we can still import Egyptian grapes I thought. So I bought some. They tasted good for “grapes of wrath”. The skins were a bit tough but tasty, yes. I guess the producers were not concerned where their grapes went – just so long as they still have a market.

The hawk moth I found outside the bank. I had no interest in finding out how tasty it was but given the rather contrasting background I wouldn’t be surprised if a more natural predator had a go.

hawk moth

Bee season

13 08 2013

I got in late last night from a successful day’s flying in the Zambezi Valley. 7.5 hours driving 1h40 flying, 1100m height gains but no big distance. That is a successful day for a paraglider pilot, especially one who doesn’t get much opportunity to fly these days.


It’s easy to be a celebrity in the Zambezi Valley (near Muzarabani)

day end

Day’s end – the crowd moves off one by one


Richard and Craig offloaded the wings, commented on the bees in the dining room and left. I didn’t bother investigating further; there are often bees swarming in my chimney, especially at this time of year and they get trapped inside the lounge. No big deal, I’d get the vacuum cleaner out in the morning and suck them up.

This morning I walked into the lounge and discovered a swarm of bees had moved in during the day. There’s not a lot I can do at this stage except leave the windows open and hope they move off to a better location. In the meantime I think I’ll go somewhere else while they make up their mind!

Not a pretty sight early in the morning!

Not a pretty sight early in the morning!

HIFA 2013 – day 5

4 05 2013

A day of dance – mainly. The National Ballet put on When They Are Gone. Lots of colour and fun with a serious message highlighting the plight of the desperately endangered rhino. A great performance from and amateur dance group and completely choreographed in-house. Encore! (This show will run again at REPS soon – a chance to see it if you missed it at HIFA)

Dance Foundation Course put on their first show after only 9 months training! Seriously energetic, they seemed to revel in the dancing. The second half of the show was some aerial ballet on a rope by Belgian artistes les Cliquets

Last show of the day was Acoustic Night Allstars, a show by a group of local musicians supported by the German Embassy in Harare.

Some things we do better!

6 01 2013

Cape Town is a well-run city. It’s clean, the roads are good and things, well, just work! It goes therefore that it’s a great place to go on holiday to get away from the pressures of working and living in Zimbabwe. The weather is also good at this time of year as it is a Mediterranean climate. The team this time was the same as in 2011r; myself, June and Gary though their eldest son Stewart couldn’t get away from where he works in Sierra-Leone. Two weeks went fast, a reliable sign of a good holiday, and now I am back in the contrasting weather and countryside outside Harare.

It’s all too easy to resign ourselves that South Africa does just about everything better than us – their economy is easily the biggest in Africa. So I was rather pleased to find out from a customer yesterday that there is something we do better. Some friends of his also went to South Africa over Christmas and New Year but they chose to drive. The main border post at Beit Bridge through which they had to pass is not for the faint-hearted even at the best of times when queues can be daunting. Over the holiday periods things can get extreme. They took 12.5 minutes to cross out of the Zimbabwe border post and 2 hours to get into South Africa. Coming back saw them waiting 8 hours on the South African side and 1 hour on the Zimbabwean side where the officials were efficient, friendly and everything was well-organized. Yes! That’s one for the books!

Snakes and rabies

6 12 2012

In the 7 years that I have been in this house¬† I have only ever seen a live snake in the garden once and that was a very small boomslang (a timid but venomous tree snake) that did not wait around to be examined. So at lunch time when my domestic servant pointed out a largish charcoal-coloured snake in the rockery I was intrigued. My first priority was to get Kharma out of the way as I had no intention of finding out if she was snake-savvy or not. Dogs often are snake aware and Gary, whose farm I visited last weekend, has a ridgeback that is adept at killing snakes. My mother had a Jack Russell that thought it was a snake killer but on two encounters with cobras came off second best with venom in its eyes. My mother washed the dog’s eyes with water and gave it antibiotic eye drops and it recovered just fine. Cassie, my first dog (see Canine Chronicles on the right) was bitten on her face by what could only have been a puff-adder when I was living in the Chinhoyi area. After a couple of hours she looked more like a Shar Pei than a labrador but she recovered fine after I took her to a helpful farmer who gave her a big shot of penicillin (all the vets in the area were at a party). The next day she had cortisone injected into the bite area and after 5 days I couldn’t tell she’d been bitten. She lived another 13 glorious years without incident.

I told Kharma to get inside the house. She thought she was being scolded and sulked off down the verandah. I asked her nicely and she obeyed. I called the farm manager who said he didn’t have a shotgun handy but would come and have a look. I phoned Dave who knows about snakes but he didn’t answer. Gary seemed to think it could be a cobra or a black mamba but I was almost, but not quite, certain the latter don’t occur around here. The difference is important; cobras are not particularly quick or aggressive and mambas are both quick and aggressive. A bite from either can be fatal.

I caught a cobra by the tail once but I did have a major advantage on it. It was on a smooth concrete floor in a flower packhouse and couldn’t get any grip. I wasn’t sure what it was but knew that very few snakes can climb up their tail so just picked it up by the tail and put it in a fertilizer bag. I do know people who will catch black mamabas but they are fleet of foot and quick of reflex which I am most certainly not.

The farm manager arrived and was none-the-wiser as to what snake it was (it was uncooperatively hiding its head behind a rock). Some more farm workers arrived and looked dubiously  at the snake and one went off to find a stick with which to dispatch it. I offered to go and get my shotgun which is kept at work as required by the licence. Dave phoned back as I got to the pickup and said it was almost certainly an Egyptian/snouted cobra. I was called back to the front of the house and the snake had been killed; it was a cobra. Not a big one and I felt a bit sad that it had come to this. They have been around a lot longer than us so have a right to be here but I could not risk Kharma being bitten.

Kharma of course did not understand what all the fuss was about but was ecstatic to be let out and go for a drive in the pickup. She was less than ecstatic to arrive at the vet for her annual injections and rabies booster. Rabies vaccines are not normally required to be administered annually but while at Gary’s last weekend he recounted the recent incident he’d experienced with a rabid horse. Ignorant of the symptoms he’d initially thought it might be the equine equivalent of biliary, a blood parasite that in dogs is frequently fatal. It was only when the horse started attacking his dogs that he realized it was likely rabies. They have had a number of incidents this year with rabid stray dogs and one of his cows caught the virus and had to be destroyed. The carcase was buried in an old alluvial gold mining pit near the Hunyani River and promptly dug up by locals and eaten! I haven’t seen any rabid dogs around here but the vet told me that there have been a few on the north-east of town so we thought it prudent to keep Kharma up to date.

Snakes, by the way, don’t get rabies.

Why did the chameleon cross the road?

13 11 2012

Stepping out!

It seems a bit early for chameleon season. Normally they only become apparent once the rains have started but this year they must be ignoring the rule book because I have seen three attempting to cross roads near my work in the past 5 days. It must be a hazardous affair; I try and avoid them when I see them but I suspect most people don’t. This one was on a quiet stretch of road on the way to work this morning so I stopped for a photo even though I only had my cell phone on me.

I have no idea why it was crossing the road – it did not look like a good decision to me as there was not a lot of cover on the right. But I did see it safely across – they can move quite fast with a bit of prodding!

The colours of spring

4 09 2012

In the high latitudes nature colours the landscape in autumn or fall as it’s known in north America. In Zimbabwe the colours come in the new leaves in spring. The msasas (Brachystegia speciformis) are the first out and they don’t last long. I have tried on numerous occasions to capture the show and failed. This last weekend I had a bit more incentive as I had done nothing about the calendar that I produce every year for my company. So packing all the equipment I headed up to the Bvumba mountains in the eastern highlands of Zim with friends to where I knew the colours were good. Unfortunately the light was poor with all the bush fires around but I think I was reasonably successful.

Pure gold leaf!

The view such as it was. There were fires everywhere which did nothing for the light quality.

This was taken on a much lower part of the Bvumba.

The magic of late afternoon light. These colours are true.

This was taken on the way up to Mutare near Macheke.

There must be worse places for a picnic!

All the leaves on the tree are the same colour at once irrespective of their age.

Do spiders go to heaven?

30 08 2012

This was not a happy spider when I found her yesterday. Look at the legs – the way they are all curled forward. They do that when the end is nigh (or are dead) and sure enough this morning, when I opened the drawer where I’d left her overnight, she was dead.

She could move a bit when I found her, legs curled, on the floor of the bathroom. I moved her into some sunlight to take the photo and she didn’t try to move off. I wondered what the problem was. Old age? Parasites? It certainly wasn’t anything that had been sprayed as nothing had. She appeared to be in her prime – zoom in and marvel at those fangs and hairy coat! I cannot think what would eat a spider around here. It’s not actually spider season right now as it’s too dry to support much in the way of insects. That will change in the rains when the bathroom becomes a favorite habitat of mosquitoes. So even if spiders don’t go to heaven my bathroom will become a heaven for those of them still around. And yes, my house is a bit of a spider haven; I rather like them!

Winter’s parting shot

19 08 2012

Just when we thought a particularly cold winter had finally moved on it throws a parting shot. I was about to take the duvet off the bed yesterday and store it for next winter when a bitterly cold wind sprung up and it was back to wearing a fleece all day. By yesterday afternoon it had become overcast too and I didn’t even bother taking my model glider out of the Land Cruiser at the microlight club. It didn’t help that as I turned down the track to follow the runway I came across a raging veld fire that had been INTENTIONALLY lit! It was bad enough that there didn’t seem to be much purpose to it and fire guards are required by law to have been burnt by the end of June, but on a day with a really strong wind! Now that really got the bad humour going.

Of course where there is destruction there is opportunity and the herons had not wasted time getting in on the action and searching the scorched ground for rats and other animals unfortunate enough not to have escaped the fire. There were black-shouldered kites and black-breasted snake eagles also cruising hopefully above the burnt veld. I caught this heron as it cruised by no doubt looking for better “action”. It’s not a brilliant photo but I do love the way the low light has sculptured the wings and body.

A grey heron cruises past