Nature, nurture

There is a log lying in the green belt close to where I live, and often I stop to look at it, and take in the beautiful continuum that is life.

I remember a ranger pointing out fallen logs to me in the high altitude forests in Colorado, and telling me that they now had a new role, that of “nurser logs”.

The concept made perfect sense, and it is wonderful to witness. Slowly, what may have been a mighty and towering tree, undergoes a transformation once it is prone, whether it was felled, or came crashing down due to lightning or some other force of nature.

As it decays, it will be inhabited by insects, fungus and microbes, and the disintegration of the outer bark provides a perfect “vas-houplek” for seedlings to straddle.

The little hollows, nooks and crannies along the length of the log offer hidey holes and habitats for all manner of little creatures, and judging from the scurrying and furtive little movements when I stand nearby, “my” nurser log is a hive of activity under its ostensibly quiet and sedate demeanour.

Moss covers the shady side, and fungi look like a forest version of coral reefs, in little clusters and curious shell-shapes. Birds perch on the log, and squirrels and other little mammals move about on it too, scattering their own debris and droppings, and further nourishing this environment.

All of this results in a rich humus, ideal for seed germination. It is such a pleasure to witness this microcosm of life, and the organic process of life, death, decay and rebirth, in a manner of speaking.

Forest ecology has always held such a fascination for me, and in my youth, some of the memorable moments I cherish were hiking in the quiet gloom of the dappled forests in Outeniqua. Growing up in the Garden Route was something I perhaps took for granted, until I encountered the arid regions of the world during my later travels.

There is a footpath nearby I also love immersing myself in, where the shimmery silverboom trees cling to steep hillsides, and the soil is a rich, red clay.

At the curve, the ferns grown thick, and the air is decidedly cooler, and the earthy scent is enough to make me headrush, especially after the recent rain (the Greek word “petrichor” describes this olfactory sensation most perfectly; derived from “petra”, meaning stone, and “ichor”, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology).

When I spot newly-excavated mole hills, I go on my haunches, and lift up a handful of precious soil, inhaling its rich, loamy scent, and rub it between my hands until they are rendered red by the clay.

Often I see scat on the track, evidence of little buck, perhaps, or mongoose or other resident creatures, perhaps even felines.

Occasionally the birds of prey will circle low overhead, giving me the eagle eye, and on Sunday I witnessed a “dog-fight” as an aerial battle took place within metres of my head, when three crows tried (unsuccessfully) to harrass a juvenile hawk, who was victorious.

This is what replenishes me. Nature is my nurser log, and it is with enduring awe and gratitude that I tread, and breathe in the oxygen-laden air, and feel the sun on my shoulders, taking in the views of mountains and oceans, and being alone with my thoughts in the company of all things great and small.

Carolyn Frost: Editor

PS: I urge you all to watch Shrek, at The Playhouse – it is such a lark; well done to Darryl and the cast.