The great Henry David Thoreau was a man of extraordinary wisdom. He claimed that for the preservation of one’s health one should “saunter through the woods and over the hills and fields”. Sauntering should be approached with a mind set of ‘presence’ rather than ‘productivity’.
The origin of the word “saunter” goes back to the middle ages when people used to go on pilgrimages to the holy land. When asked by the villagers where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre”, meaning to the Holy land. So it is that they became known as ‘saunterers’.
My man and I were recently lucky enough to be part of a Lesotho wild flower ‘sauntering’ trip. This was just before Covid 19 became a frightening reality for South Africans too and the borders were still open. My partner had been recruited to help with the driving and I was lucky to be invited along and help where ever I could.
Our weekend companions were a lovely senior group – all members of a gardening club. I usually find it a bit daunting to be thrown into a group of ‘strangers’ like that, but it was not long before even I was drawn into the cheerful banter of our friendly nature loving group.
The drive from Pietermaritzburg past Underberg, then Matatiele, and finally up Qachas nek pass and through the border took up most of the day. This was a very scenic drive however with many birds and flowers spotted along the way. Finally by four that afternoon we reached our destination – Sehlabethebe National park. We arrived in a misty drizzly haze of cloud, which although hampered the view of our surroundings, did not dampen our high spirits.
After a hearty breakfast we all set off at nine the next morning with much enthusiasm – armed with several books on the flora and fauna of the area. Binoculars and cameras were at the ready, my Elsa Pooley mountain flower book clasped to my lap.
Needless to say we were not disappointed. The variety and beauty of the flowers found was astounding. A visual ‘smorgasbord’. We would stop at points along the way to wonder around and see what we could find and share with one another. The excitement at each discovery reminded me of Easter egg hunting – but an adult one with flowers instead of Easter eggs! These precious finds were also not plucked up, rather they were ‘oohed and aahed’ over and left in peace again once they had been admired and photographed.
There were many many flowers spotted and enjoyed during this trip, far too many to cover each and every one in a single blog post. I will en devour to share some of the flowers that stood out for me though.
The Gladioli were in peak flowering and we managed to spot five species! ‘Gladioli saundersii’ being the fem fa tale of the lot in my opinion, with her flamboyant ballroom gown so striking against the misty grassy hills. We also saw ‘Gladioli dalenii’, ‘Gladioli ecklonii’ with all her many freckles as well as ‘Gladioli oppositiflorus’ with her beautiful soft salmon colouring.
A few grass orchids – always a treat for me. ‘Satyrium longicauda’ both in white and pink. There were two new grass orchids for me. First ‘Disa fragrans’ which I first mistook for a ledabouria because of the speckled leaves. This gorgeous orchid was growing on the top of a massive overhanging rocky outcrop, next to a rock pool, creating a perfect little alpine like setting for it. This for me was like finding the gold foil covered bunny of the Easter eggs! Then on our way down again ‘Pterygodium cooperi’ – another new species for me. The prettiest little orchid covered in pastel pink bonnet-ed faces.
‘Zaluzianskya microsiphon’ another special find. This pretty perennial plant has vibrant peach coloured petals on the outside outlined in cream. It closes them into a drum shape when the light is low and opens them again to reveal creamy white faces on the inside in the sunlight.
The list goes on and on and I have included a few extra photographs without descriptions.
As the morning progressed the mist lifted and we were able to take in more of the beautiful scenery – rolling hills and mountains that went on and on into forever. Another special highlight for me was the breath taking display of ‘Kniphofia caulescens’. These spectacular red hot pokers were stretched out as far as the eye could see, flowering in masses, a sea of orange and yellow that tumbled down the valleys and into the marshy areas below the hills.
Our last ‘sauntering’ walk took place late in the afternoon. A slow amble amongst the kniphofias down below in the valley. The mist had started to roll in softly again as we enjoyed our last moments in this beautiful ‘garden of Eden’. Some of us in pleasant conversation and others lost in our own thoughts.
We left to go back to our own realities again the next morning. Each of us taking home something of value, some intrinsic treasure, to be taken out and savored in quiet moments of reflection.
Now we are in lock down, and I have taken out my treasures from the trip. Memories and photographs to pour over and enjoy – some to be painted. I spent a happy few days working on painting the Kniphoffias which had had such an impact on me. I enjoyed working in my oils again. This medium is smooth and silky – pure bliss to work with, especially for a landscape. This painting will be a happy reminder each time I look at it, of a special weekend spent sauntering in the magnificent Lesotho hills.