Bobbing and weaving

As you tree-loving people know, rewilding – like life – can be a wild ride. So has it been over the past two months, as the shadows elongated like daddy longlegs at dusk, thunderstorms shivered and roared, and mosquitoes made merry on our ankles.  

The invasive guava trees have been packed with serious vervet monkey faces, feasting on fruit as butterflies probe the shattered fruit below. 

A black-haired Bush Brown gets its Vitamin C

Everything has continued to grow, and grow some more. It took 20 minutes to get close enough to someone’s tree the other day to measure it. Managing invasive vegetation regrowth is without a doubt the project’s Sisyphean task. As a volunteer asked recently, ‘Don’t you sometimes feel like you’re rolling a rock uphill?’ Yes, oh yes. But what a lovely rock.

Restoration work – planting, clearing, observing – is what keeps energy levels flowing. A little more unnerving is the slow grind of admin tasks and bills: a rock that’s more stern basalt than sparkly quartz. More on that later (beware: the donate button appears).

First: Two episodes of Ferncliffe high drama.

1. We scrubbed up, put on some non-gardening gear, and popped out for a coffee with a friend. Upon return, we found burglar bars peeled back like banana skins. Inside, a tool room empty of our trusty, essential gear. (Posh gear too: Our donated Husqvarna electric battery-operated chainsaw and brushcutters, without which we’d never have made it through summer.) And a deeply upset Rocket, who hadn’t been able to keep ‘them’ at bay.

Picture Connor and Rocket moving like dragonflies, locating the hole cut in the fence, and shooting off in pursuit. Imagine the Red Alert security officer puffing after him in 37-degree heat, in a bullet-proof vest, poor soul. About a kilometre into the forest, see Rocket lift that elegant nose, and gaze upon two fellows about to lunch on cheese and bread from our kitchen, the Husqvarna equipment at their feet. Shouting ensues. They run. Happy ending! (Except no-one caught them, the rotters – the security firm had yet to catch up with Connor. And our laptops are lost forever.)

2. A neighbourhood Whatsapp group pings (do you have such things? Ours is wonderful for solidarity around power and water outages, for example.) There seem to be people washing clothes in Boulder Dam… can you picture the horror? Soap powder and sensitive aquatic systems? We cancel other work and walk up, removing two snares on the way. Grrr. And there, on a rise, is a small settlement. Makeshift, plastic and pliable materials, but structures and the smell of a fire, and a couple of folk, doing very little. South Africans will understand the complexities of land and poverty in this equation; but this is a nature reserve and there is no historical claim to its beleaguered, biodiverse remnant of mistbelt forest. Authorities are notified. The people move, leaving the frames of their shelters behind, like shed exoskeletons. Over the next week Connor removes a dozen more snares.

As we posted on World Rewilding Day: Sometimes restoration feels like one step forward… and a whole lot of bobbing around, evading chaos, taking stock, regrouping. A bit like this chameleon (click to see its unusual locomotion technique).

We might sound flippant, but the pressures on Ferncliffe are immense and the stresses and strains sometimes feed into the project, too. We’re determined to do more this financial year, and have done such grown-up things as set up a payroll system – and get insurance for that Husqvarna gear.

But to care for the ever-growing number of trees in the ground, keep whacking back those invasive species, plus find time for Rocket’s walks…  well. Sometimes the stress levels rise. You know. You start to identify more with the victim of an unusual assassin bug found on the shadehouse than the Bush Beauties skittering under a growing sapling.

Just kidding. Actually, low spirits are constantly vanquished by the beauty and complexity we see around us, and by the support and enthusiasm you all send through digital and real channels in so many ways. The sudden growth of a sapling, lines of bagged seedlings in the shadehouse. Never mind the Green Twinspot that’s flitted past our window as we sipped morning coffee. (Three times in five days!!! It was collecting Rocket’s shed hair, presumably for a nest.)

The plump morsel that is the male Green Twinspot, in this case photographed by Hugh Chittenden

Every Tree or Day’s Wage donated, every adopted giant, every volunteer hour or contribution helps us keep growing. And if by any chance you’d like to be a more regular contributor, you can adopt a bill too: How about that equipment insurance, for example?

Stay in touch!
Connor & Janine

* Please mail us if you’re a local and would like to join a Whatsapp group to be alerted as to Ferncliffe news and events (volunteers are so welcome).

* Thank you to Industrial & Chainsaw for looking after our trusty Husqvarna gear so well!

* Some smaller monthly bills, from as little as R120 to R520 per month include Internet provider, general accounting, team refreshments & supplies, an average water bill, the payroll system, public liability insurance, equipment insurance, vehicle insurance, employer UIF contributions and more. Click here for recurring donations.