The Cactus Patch
Volume 9       May 2006      Number 5

Back to Busy-ness
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

After a month of relative quiet, we have been hit with one thing after another. Things started quietly with the Commonwealth Games taking over TV on the 18th of March. By the time they ended on the 26th, Botswana had a silver and a bronze medal. The human rights film festival which has been accompanying the Maitisong one decided to run the week before so as not to compete and we watched some on the 24th and 30th.

Then the Festival began in earnest on the 31st with a production of "The Little Prince" which was brought in from Malawi. Good acting and costumes, but I never did like the story. We alternated choir rehearsals and shows for a week (even managing to squeeze in the museum opening of Artists in Botswana) and ended with a grand finale on the 8th of April. Our choir joined another plus the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra to accompany Sibongile Khumalo, the South African diva. We did John Rutter's "Feel the Spirit", an unusual arrangement of American spirituals done in an English manner. There were also numbers performed by local singers and instrumentalists. The evening was a sellout.

Polly's sister Martha arrived an hour late from Fresno (via Prague and Rome) on the 9th. Fortunately, the Cook boys who had been helping with staging the Maitisong Festival vacated our spare room that morning. Unfortunately, the German President Horst Kohler and his wife Eva arrived that same day and chose to visit the museum. We abandoned Martha (to rest from travel) and did our hostly duty to higher guests.

Polly took Martha to the Thrift shop and shopping on the 10th and 11th. On the 12th we went out to the Kapong Hills to check on the endemic gladiolus (seedpods not yet ripe) followed by a visit to Rob Patterson, an Australian who runs a nursery with the best succulents in the country. We had tea at his new house (not yet finished), which will have a garden on the roof and a water storage area underneath. Then we went out to Mokolodi Nature Reserve for a brief game drive followed by a video of Alexander McCall Smith at Mokolodi which features in his latest book in the "Lady Detective" series, "Blue Shoes & Happiness". We had hoped he might be there in person, but at least the manager of Mokolodi, Neil Whitson who features in the book was.

Polly took Martha to her friend Maggie's for coffee on the 13th and we set off to the north on Good Friday. We stopped near Shoshong to look at the strange euphorbia there. It was in bud, but plants on the hill had flowers so I tried to climb the fence. Unfortunately, the metal fence post collapsed under me leaving me flat on my back with my foot twisted in the wire. Eventually Polly and Martha rescued me. I limped up the hill and got a piece of the blooming euphorbia, which looks like plain old Euphorbia cooperi. I now suspect the one by the road is a hybrid with Euphorbia ingens, which appears along the road much further north. We then had one minor incident when the Land Rover started making a horrible racket. Fortunately, a Botswana Defense Force mechanic stopped and rescued us by disconnecting the belt for the air conditioner (which we weren't using anyway). Finally, we arrived at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary and were given a room at the Educational Center.

Next morning we went on an organized game drive and saw a lot of antelope and zebra. Just at the end, we found one male giraffe. Back at our room we watched nesting Meyer's parrots being mobbed by glossy starlings. After a long nap we set off in the Land Rover and found two rhinos dripping wet next to a pan. Just as they walked away, four giraffe came and drank. On Easter, we went for one last drive and saw two more (or the same?) rhinos twice. We had planned to stop on the way back, but there was no room at the inn (whoops- what holiday was this?) so we ended up at home.

After a day's rest, Polly and Martha have gone off to Pretoria and I'll report on that adventure next time.

The biggest excitement plant-wise was a ceropegia I collected a year ago at the Rhino Sanctuary. It is a puzzle in that when it finally flowered, it had the double bulbed and straight flower tube of Ceropegia nilotica but the top of the flower and the leaves with tiny points look more like Ceropegia lugardiae. Both are recorded for Botswana.

Finally, I have been reading an interesting collection of essays on South Africa's Environmental History (Dovers, Edgecombe & Guest eds., 2003, Ohio U. Press). I thereby learned that I pioneered yet another field. The book credits Carolyn Merchant with pioneering the field with an environmental history of New England in 1989. I published "A History of Man's Response to the Misuku Hills Ecosystem" in 1980, but no one reads Dziko, the Geographical Magazine of the University of Malawi.

The book stems from an Environmental History Workshop at the Univ. of Natal, South Africa in July 1996. To quote Jane Carruthers in chapter one, " It was a memorable few days. Very atypically, for a country of generally mild climate, there was snow in South Africa that week - the heaviest fall ever recorded. Together with the exceptional storms, this harsh weather played havoc with carefully planned travel schedules. The province of Kwazulu-Natal was isolated, even the main highways were closed to traffic. The landscape around Pietermeritzburg was littered with fallen trees and broken branches, indigenous and exotic plants alike unable to bear the weight of the snow. A shallow-rooted, tree-sized succulent Euphorbia, vulnerable to high wind, collapsed, destroying one participant's motor vehicle."

The book has a whole chapter on prickly pears by Lance van Sittert. It points out that the wealthy have fought to eradicate this "invader", but the poor have fought to keep it as they depend on it for food and profit.

Incidentally, the last recorded snow in Botswana was in the reign of Khama III over a hundred years ago. We have had unusual rain this year as I reported earlier and it has continued into April, although not with as great a strength.

Horst and Eva Kohler with Phillip Segodika, head of art.

Rhinos with red-billed oxpeckers.

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