When you wake at 3:00 in the morning (as I regularly do), the silence is so absolute it’s unnerving. I can hear the heating element in the geyser percolating, roiling the water, modifying thermal subtleties. Dew dripping from a neighbour’s gutter is like the rhythmic beating of a metronome. In this profound absence of sound, a stomach’s subdued conversation rivals the reverberations of communicating elephants.
I made my first foray, on foot, to the shops this week (as I’ve already said, I’m fortunate that neither cooking nor shopping falls in my department). The purchase of medications was in order. Not for a virus, you understand. I was amazed at how quickly shops have adapted. Sanitizer everywhere, lines on the floor to ensure suitable social distances, perspex screens at the pharmacy and the tills, perspex masks (right out of a sci-fi movie) on the floor staff. I was also surprised at how seriously South Africans are taking this Covid-19 thing. Most are wearing masks (even while driving in an insulated car. Funny, that).
But as the weeks pass, more and more people are walking into town to do their daily shopping. Their only way of getting out, since we’re still not permitted to walk, run or cycle for pleasure. Many more vehicles, too, are ramping the speed humps and flying over the bridge on the causeway. They’ve got to get their kicks somehow.
Pied Kingfisher. Photo: Hirsh Aronowitz
What we have is time. And time brings peaceful contemplation. Which means we listen and observe more. For one, the birds … there are so many birds. Since we’re so fortunate to be on water, we have Little Egrets and Black-winged Stilts and Sacred Ibises in their flotillas. A handful of African Spoonbills are regular visitors and, newly, a fistful of Grey Herons stands like ghostly stumps on the sea marsh daily. Cormorants … White-fronted, Cape, Reed … stretch out and gently flap their wings to dry. A pair of African Black Oystercatchers pecks and shrieks at the water’s edge every day. At high tide, the squeaky chittering of Pied Kingfishers alerts us to their amazingly tenacious HIIT workouts above the water surface. Their daring nosedives have us convinced that one day they’ll end up stuck in the mud, facedown.
For these gorgeous photographs, thank you to friends Clare Bosman (Sacred Ibis, left & Grey Heron with a fish in its beak, below) and Lorraine Cloete (Black Oystercatcher, right).
Photo: African Spoonbill by Lorraine Cloete
Every now and again, we hear the rousing cry of an African Fish Eagle as it sweeps across the main body of the Knysna Estuary. We even had an African Harrier-Hawk (also known as a Gymnogene) patrolling the waters the other day, to the squawking consternation of the seagulls. A friend tells that they raided and thoroughly routed a pigeon’s nest outside an apartment complex.
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene). Photo: Hirsh Aronowitz
And then, in the evenings, there are our beloved Spotted Eagle-Owls who regularly use our roof as a scanning post to locate potential prey. Sometimes they announce their arrival with a throaty Whoo-HOO! At other times, we step onto the deck and there one is perched, sharp-eyed, alert, poised for a deadly swoop.
We’ve had several pairs of chicks hatched on Thesen Islands in Knysna; this is one of the latest brood, now fully grown, but seen here as a juvenile. Photos: Hirsh Aronowitz
This is what keeps me sane during lockdown. Preparations for a Pilates session in the garden under the Zen gaze of a buddha.
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