The Tightrope Walker

Birdsong and late summer cicadas greeted washday morning. February heat was intense. Thin clouds were swirling along the ridge of mountains to the north.

The sheets would be dry in no time. Maybe the rain would come and maybe it wouldn’t.

Certainly the maize growing region north of the mountains was facing a torrid time. Not enough rain during the growing season and relentless heat had decimated the maize crop. A hike in food price was imminent if no rain fell soon.

I imagined a similar February which had occurred more than 150 years earlier.


To experience the temperate climate which blesses the Garden Route of the Western Cape of South Africa is a delight.

Extreme weather conditions, such as drought, floods, fantastic lightning storms and wild fires, do occur, but these are extraordinary rather than the norm.

The great fire of 1869 recorded by Patricia Storrar in her book: “Portrait of Plett”, must have been terrifying. (1978, ISBN-0 908379 12 9)

January 1869 had seen a heat-wave in Plettenberg Bay and by 9 February a super hot northerly “Berg wind” fanned a bush fire along the coastal plateau towards the bay. The fire storm devastated the countryside, burning houses, livestock, indigenous forest and wildlife. It raged through The Crags and the howling gale blew the ash onto sailing ships 3km out to sea.

A great swath of land belonging to William Newdigate of Forest Hall in The Crags was razed to the ground. This was renamed Ashlands. The area directly north of Brackenburn is still called Ashlands.

Today The Crags has two Fire Protection associations which monitor weather conditions so that bush fires might be attended to before they become uncontrollable. The faintest whiff of bush smoke gets the lines of communication going.


As I held up the corner of the last sheet to peg it to the clothes line I watched the cloud along the mountain ridge, keeping an eye out for smoke and contemplated the fine line between comfort and disaster. Before I could peg the sheet down a tiny chameleon (Bradypodion ventrale) on the clothes line beneath the descending peg stretched out its arms and latched onto my finger.


I was shocked that I had not seen it attached to the clothes line. It hauled its little body onty the unknown entity of my hand. Thin tail twirled around my finger, it watched as I focused my phone for a quick snap shot.

Hastily the chameleon was transferred to a flowering shrub where it might find flies.

As it loosened its surprisingly tight grip to continue its journey I marvelled how we all walk life’s tightrope. How often we put our faith into hands we trust will lead us into safety rather than destruction.

In so many ways tiny messages are re-enforcing the decision to create a place of rehabilitation for wildlife, and thus write the next chapter in the existence of Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve.


Two days later the heat is overcome by soft drenching mountain rain. The cats sit stiffly on the porch, resenting the puddles; unimpressed by the sound of rain on the old zinc roof and the gurgle of water in the gutters.

I am reminded that even the finest line has two sides to it.


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