The Other Side of the Mountain

After a bit of a lazy morning, the highlight of which was scrambled eggs for breakfast (What? But it’s not Saturday! This IS a good day!), we decided to have an early lunch (we’d had a VERY early morning — all that talk about how we were tired of having to get up so early to go golfing? well, “early to bed, early to rise” proved to be true this morning at 4:45am!) and take a drive out to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located at the eastern foot of Table Mountain. (Whew! I bet you thought that sentence would never end.) We got there just before 2pm, which turned out to be just in time to join a free walking tour, led by a volunteer septuagenarian botanist who shared his love and enthusiasm for everything about the garden for the next 3 hours!

Cycad in Kirstenbosch
Considered ‘living fossils’, cycads are the oldest living seed plants and have survived three mass extinction events in the earth’s history.

I am not a “plant” guy, but there is something about listening to someone who is PASSIONATE about his or her field of interest, no matter how narrow that field might be (and there was NOTHING narrow about the fields at Kirstenbosch! the gardens take up 52,800-sq-kms!) that is contagious. And so we spent the afternoon with a group of 15, following old Mr Finkelstein around the park. I’ll leave the particulars of the various latin names and special attributes of the genus and species and pollinators and reproductive parts and sex habits (seriously!) concerning plants to Wikipedia. Suffice it to say the flowers were interesting and beautiful. Although the garden is huge, and the South African winters are mild and rainy so there is always SOMETHING in bloom, old Mr Finkelstein could walk up to a patch of brown and dying ‘schtruk‘ and turn around and wave his arms and excitedly describe in great detail and delight, in the most eloquent and rich vocabulary, how ‘absolutely STUNNING’ this patch looked about two months ago when it was FILLED with tiny flowers of every shade and hue. And then we’d march off to the next patch and I’d think to myself now he’ll tell us something about that big bushy orange plant with the interesting leaves, but no, he stops and bends down and points to a tiny little ‘weed’ that has a one-centimetre white 5-petalled flower peeking out from one of its branches and old Mr Finkelstein nearly has an orgasm! Yeah, okay, that’s special.

Dinosaur sculptures, in tin, are life-sized and anatomically correct and are placed in amongst the cycads in Kirstenbosch.

And lest I make this sound like it was NOT fun, I KNOW that if Sue and I had visited the gardens without a guide we’d have done it the “American” way (Finkelstein’s words) and marched once around, snapped a photo of those extremely rare and endangered cycads, two photos of those tin dinosaur statues (which Mr Finkelstein detested — what have THEY got to do with botany?), and been back at the souvenir and snack shop in 20 minutes, ready to get back on the bus and head to the next tourist stop — now THAT’S how we usually visit places like this. But that old saying, “You’ve got to stop and smell the roses…” applied to our walking tour with Mr Finkelstein, who invited us to rub a leaf and smell the mint, snap a twig and smell the camphor, sniff these flowers and smell the lemon, etc. Okay, I think you get the picture. Chasing my lawnmower around the backyard will never be the same again!

We drove back home. Sue made supper. We caught up on the news. Sue watched the latest episode of “Canada Reads” on CBC. Ice cream and a small glass of port for ‘night snack’. Went to bed a little after ten.