The Discovery by David Macfie
In my mind, the words of William Wordsworth echoed my visions of the day.
“I wandered, lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vale and hill….”
The hills, though, weren’t in the Lake District of northwest England, they were in Mpumalanga in South Africa. The day was clouded so that part fitted, but I really didn’t expect to stumble onto ‘a host of golden daffodils’. Feeling over-stressed, I had decided to take a short walking holiday for a bit of me-time and had hired a chalet at Merry Pebbles in Sabie. My plan, for each day, was to walk until I dropped and then cook my supper over an open fire. At the end of my stolen five days, I expected to feel ready for the world again.
Today I had chosen to do a ten kilometer hike, described as ‘challenging’. It was called ‘The Lourie Day Trail’ and promised sightings of Knysna Louries as one of its highlights. As an avid bird lover this was an irresistible lure. I wanted to take my time so I left my chalet at seven, with the early morning mist still visible over the river and headed for the start of the trail at the Castle Rock Caravan Park. This was already a stroll of a few hundred meters so I was nice and loose by the time I got to the signpost showing the entry to the walk. I set off at an easy pace, binoculars in hand, determined not to miss anything. I had done my research so I knew that I could expect to first pass through a pine and blue gum plantation. On cue, I reached the fringes and moved into this artificial forest. I don’t really like blue gums so I didn’t tarry long here, but I did watch out for any bird or small animal activity. It was a bit disappointing. The trees were quiet and I only saw common things like thrushes and the odd glossy starling. Then I reached the approach climb to the Bridal Veil Falls. It’s quite steep and wends its way through indigenous forest, where lots of little streams tinkle by and the shade encourages lots of ferns and tiny wild flowers. There were lots of small birds very actively flitting to and fro through the branches and undergrowth. But they all moved too fast to see clearly, so all I got was many sightings of ‘little brown jobs’ or LBJ’s in bird-watcher speak. Finally I reached the falls. I could see instantly why it was called ‘Bridal Veil’. The drop is close to a hundred and fifty meters and the water spreads out into a thin mist that looked exactly like a veil. I sat on a large rock and vegetated for a while, absorbing the silence and the atmosphere like a sponge, through my skin.
Invigorated I moved on to the next stretch, which climbed sharply through the forest. I passed Glynis Falls but didn’t spend time there. It wasn’t as spectacular as the veil. Moving through the forest was interesting but not riveting so I moved on more quickly, enjoying the strenuous exercise of the incline. Then I was stopped in my tracks. A male Knysna Lourie flashed overhead. I whipped my binoculars up to my eyes and followed its flight to a rickety, plate like collection of leaves, sticks and twigs in the braches of a leafy tree not far away. He greeted his spouse and then I saw the movement of the chick in the nest. I watched, entranced, as these beautiful birds tenderly cosseted their baby. This interlude already made the whole hike worthwhile and I moved on with some regret. I reached the end of the indigenous forest and started along a dirt road. I could see Sabie in the distance. Now there was a stretch of grassland. I was really lucky to spot a group of four rare secretary birds and watched as one of them caught and ate a small snake and swallowed it whole. A ground hornbill crossed the road in front of me and as I scanned the scenery and the sky, a peregrine falcon took a pigeon, high overhead. I saw the bird before it launched its attack and had my enhanced eyes locked on it, as it dove towards its prey. The pigeon didn’t see it coming and was struck like a pile driver. There was an instant cloud of feathers and the pigeon was knocked out of the sky. The falcon followed it until it hit the ground, then perched on the body and started to feed. Now I felt my day was made completely. I had never witnessed this before and it was totally exhilarating. I strode on, whistling with joy. Next I reached a section of pine plantations. The path angled down through the trees. I thought that my day couldn’t get better, but I was in for a real surprise. The trees were planted in military rows and here and there, clumps of boulders were stacked in between. I guessed they had been excavated prior to the plantings. One such clump was close to the path and I was almost past it, when I caught sight of a flash of green peeping over the curve of a boulder. I stopped to investigate and discovered a perfectly bonsaied pine tree growing in a crevice amongst the boulders. Its trunk was curved into a beautiful shape and the arrangement of the branches could have been done by a master. I knew this tree would be a wonderful addition to my bonsai collection so I carefully used the foldable spade I carried in my pack, to excavate it. I carefully placed its roots into a plastic bag and filled the bag with dirt. Then I tied the top of the bag tight round the trunk.
I completed my hike in a state of absolute delight at this discovery.