Monday, March 7, 2011

The lily that has a corner of my mind

Yesterday we went to see a forest about a lily.
It was one of those glassy days where the sky and the ocean melted into each other and Silvermine reserve floated somewhere in between. When it comes to Silvermine, you get east-siders and west-siders. I’m an east-sider. That’s the part of Silvermine on your left as your drive on the Ou Kaapse road towards Noordhoek. The east-side is wilder, bigger and it has Mr Pakkies. This friendly man is always at the gate to the parking area to collect your R5, comment on the weather and send you on your way with a smile. I’ve come to think of Mr Pakkies as my Silvermine guardian angel, so I was upset when a new man at the gate told me that Mr Pakkies is very ill. I hope he gets well soon, the east-side is not the same without him.
There are a dozen ways to get to Spes Bona forest, where we had our date with a lily. We walked up the hill to Nellie’s Pool and rested in the shade while all the frogs at the water’s edge went plop into the water. We took the path down towards Kalk Bay and it was like walking over the edge of the world. The mountain ended in the ocean below, where a shroud of mist and thin cloud smudged the horizon into infinity.
We turned off the path leading to Boyes’ Drive and climbed up to the forest. And entered a fantasy world. Huge green boulders glowed green with old moss. Milkwood and yellowwood trees with gnarled trunks grew out of a thick carpet of dead leaves. A wooden boardwalk, spiralling into the shade, was tinted moss green as the forest claimed it as its own.
On a huge grandfather of a boulder we took out our tea flask and let the birdsong, the dappled sunlight and the shade wash over us. And then. There it was. A spark of red in the dark forest. A bright red waxy head had pushed up through the forest floor to announce with a big smile: “Here I am, the beauty of the forest!”
She has many names: paintbrush lily, blood flower, March flower. Her true name is Haemanthus coccineus. Here’s how I remember it. ‘Haima’ is Greek for blood and ‘anthos’ for flower and just in case you missed the obvious, ‘coccineus’ is Latin for red. If I was a botanist, I would have given her a Latin name that meant scarlet miracle.
Take any day of the year and give a thought to the paintbrush lily. There she is, in a forest in a crevice in the Kalk Bay Mountain. As the winter rains fall, her big fleshy leaves grow. Come summer, those green leaves die. Through all those hot, dry months you won’t even see her, but you can think of her, nurturing a big fleshy bulb below the ground. One day, towards the end of summer, a big red flowerhead will burst out of that bulb and push into the light. And on it, dancing in the forest breeze, will be a hundred tiny scarlet flowers. Then the moths and the bees and the sunbirds will fly through the green and brown forest and land on her red billboard. Think of her, when, at the end of summer, she at last drops her beautiful red head on the ground. But still it is not over. 
Her seeds fall and then the gentle drops of the first winter rain caress her and it starts all over again. I keep a corner of my mind for the forest lily there in her mountain crevice as I rush here and I rush there. And when I do think of her, the day slows down and I’ve touched the ground again.