There’s always lots of enthusiasm on a BotSoc walk: eager observers all of the wonders that bless us in the Overberg, experts in the Latin genus, species and family and those of us who dabble around the edges using a mongrel mengsel of English and Afrikaans common names.
On the May 2 Platbos walk, though, there was an added something going on: forests sprites, wise tree Ents or something druidic. Who knows, but what a magic morning it was, a breeze in the upper canopy, a sky flitting in and out of grey, the soft crunch of forest floor underfoot and our voices ringing out at each new wonder.
Frank commented that Platbos is not a very healthy forest, stressed as it is by exposure, poor soil and lack of water. It’s not the usual afromontane forest tucked into a damp and protective fold of a kloof. Its own brochure describes it as an enigma, with Celtis, Apodytes and Olinia dominating the tree mix and with many of the usual afromontane species absent. The sandy alkaline soil is dark with the history of dead trees and many of the species are a mix of the living and the dead. The new springs from the old creating an intricate intimacy of shapes, one generation nursing along the next, new growth folding and squeezing out of the old in a process called facilitation. Along with this dank, dark process of life support the brochure suggests that the early morning mists during the summer mornings help the forest survive the heat of the dry season. The extensive presence of Old Man’s Beard is probably a measure of all this stress but it does add a special spooky wistfulness to the atmosphere.
Adding to the magic of the forest are layers of vegetal texture: polka dot lichens paint the bark, particularly of the white stinkwoods. In other places bark is covered in dense bobbly moss which in turn supports little colonies of strap-leafed ferns and frilly families of pretty round leaves we couldn’t identify but which looked liked baby spekboom clusters draping over the branches.
An old Japanese tradition of forest bathing, — immersing one’s soul in the nurturing atmosphere of the forest as a healing balm — has gained global cachet as our world seeks alternatives to all the ills we’ve created. For the 25 HBS members who bathed I’m sure we’ll soon crave a return to the special enigma of Africa’s southernmost forest. I’m imaging an overnight in one of their camping sites. Who knows what sprites may come out to play and perhaps not just the leafy kind but the furry ones too, all listed as residents we did not meet — not yet.
Submitted by Dale Lautenbach
Apologies for the late posting of this article – I was away. Ed.