Books about hunting – especially the anecdotal kind – frequently contain stories about mighty stags that were hunted by many men without success. Invariably they disappeared without trace – only to be seen again during the roar (rut) by the light of the full moon.
One can imagine these apparitions and the stir such a sighting would have caused among local hunters. No doubt the stories were told and retold around many a fire, especially in the old days when deer were more common (in New Zealand, anyway). In those days hunting was a regular pastime and passion – even for deer cullers who often complained of long weeks of loneliness in the bush, with bad weather thrown in to boot.
It is hard not to experience a shiver of excitement at the thought of a mighty stag who eluded all the hunters and who still stalks the night skies when the hinds are on heat and the moon is full.
Acrylic on Arches Dessein art paper, 160gsm 11.25″x 13.25″
For more details, click on the image.
Moreover, this journey has its own unstoppable momentum. Days flow into nights and nights flow into days.
There are no ‘sleep stopovers’, no hotel rooms. no packing and unpacking bags, no break in the inevitable flow of the steady heartbeat of this mighty continent, transmitted through these shining, silver rails.
When night falls, living space is transformed into sleeping space: bunks let down that rock the traveler into slumber almost before his head hits the pillows. And the journey goes on.
Up ahead, the loco still puffs its way through the darkness, slowly gaining altitude as it heads towards the central plateau lying beyond the Highveld. Final destination altitude is over 4500′ (1500m) above sea level: a long, slow climb of over 1100 miles (1800 km) from Cape Town, and that’s as the crow flies.
The route passes through the South African diamond town of Kimberley – viewed only as a skyline during a short station stop – and then heads more directly north. After Kimberley, no major towns are in evidence as the loco strikes out across the eastern plains of Botswana, with the Kalahari Desert lying further over to the west.
All around the train the open canopy of trees – mopani, msasa, acacias – drift past the traveler like ghostly sentinels under the moon, illuminated by the glow from the carriage windows. Wildlife goes about its night business, probably with barely a glance at the familiar string of passing lights and muffled sound, soon to vanish again intp the vast spaces of the dark.
Digital – vector art. For more details, click on images.
To travel north from Cape Town via railway into the wilds of Central Africa is to discover mile upon mile of veld stretching interminably as far as the eye can see – a vast ocean of grasses and trees that goes on for days.
Traveling by air can’t even compare – what can you see from 40,000 feet? That kind of journey doesn’t make much of an impression on the mind, let alone the soul.
But train travel is a different story. The slow rocking of the carriage on the rails brings a sense of peace and timelessness: three days of suspended animation in which the demands of the modern world are laid aside. Back to the era of Burton and Speke – and Rhodes? Not quite that far – but far enough to realize we have seriously compromised ourselves with the modern fads of ‘fast’ and ‘instant’.
This land teems with wildlife, rarely visible in quick glimpses from the train – and much less so today than formerly. But the wildlife is there, as it has been for centuries – living out its own dance on the hot, shimmering plains that would swallow us up if we were to step away from the lifeline of the two slim, steel rails beneath us.
Digital – vector art. For more details, click on images.
Geology and the passage of time…
The volcano that once existed here is sleeping now. The scorching fires have long since died away, and the battered earth has drawn a cloak across its scars.
The subterranean pipes that carried searing hot magma from the earth’s fiery core remain: embraced now by powerful, living roots that grip and swell around them.
Where once a crater stood, a wild tree grows. Tucked away in bolt-holes far below, by day the kiwi sleep.
Yes, there are 2 of them there.
Acrylic on Arches Dessein 120 gsm art paper, 19″x 25″.
For more details, prints and products, click on the images.
I’ve been out of circulation for quite a few months – and there’s a reason for that. Back in late 2014 I was struck by a nasty disease called polymyalgia, which came close at the time to destroying my mobility. Fortunately, once diagnosed, the solution was revealed – prednisone.
Aaargh! Well I wasn’t entirely happy with that, but does one want to walk freely or not? In addition, it was causing mayhem with my blood – too many platelets, anemia etc. So my doctor put me on a modest dose of prednisone and over the period of about 18 months we tailed it back and achieved a recovery.
In the meantime, however, I had an accident and decided to go to a chiropractor (fortunately a very good one). I’d had chiropractic before because I have 2 curves in my spine, not helped by riding horses. So we entered into a process of sorting out these curves and re-stabilising my backbone.
I’d been quite depressed at the time of the polymyalgia – a mental state that was not helped by seeing all the things that needed doing round my 10 acre property and not being able to do a thing about them (physically or financially) – and so the obvious answer seemed to be to move away from this place, which I’ve been associated with for 47 years and have loved dearly. I’d even got to the point where I wasn’t interested anymore.
But things kept getting in my way – not the least being shortage of finances to get things tidied up for sale. On top of that I had a tree fall on my roof (damage? – oh yes!) and a second tree taken down because it was in danger of following suit. Fallout everywhere. Funds getting even lower. I seemed to be stuck in mud.
Then just before last Christmas, the tide started to turn. We began to win with the chiropractic. I’m now getting around my land as in the old days – and for the most part it’s steep and hilly – and working quite hard, if carefully. There are a few things I used to do and now cannot, but apart from that, the recovery is little short of miraculous.
I’ve decided to stay – how could I ever have thought of leaving? To keep my grass down I’ve taken on breeding rare breeds Damara sheep. My first 2 bought in early July are a Damara/Arapawa cross and her daughter. Both have had lambs to a Damara crossbred ram, and I now have a fullblood Damara ram also. So the headcount is currently 4 females and 2 males – and the lambs at 2 weeks old are a delight!
Below is one of my drawings of an Arapawa ram. This breed, now officially accepted as a Rare Breed in this country, came about by early explorers and whalers dropping off sheep (probably of merino origin) on Arapawa Island in Cook Strait – where they continued to breed. No doubt the motive was to provide a food source.
Initially they were regarded as game. Later they were marked for extermination, until their value as a gene pool was recognized and a sanctuary established for them on the island, all thanks to the efforts of Betty Rowe and her husband Walt. Now there are a number of breeders of Arapawa sheep throughout New Zealand.
Like Damaras, Arapawa sheep are shedders, and are naturally resistant to fly-strike.
So here we are!! Hallelujah!
For prints, products and more details, click on the images.
In New Zealand, we call it ‘the roar’ – a time when young men’s fancies turn not to thoughts of love – not human love anyway – but to thoughts of bush stalking, cabins, tents, rifles, calibers, campfires and cameras.
For them, this is THE time of the year.
Very disappointing for the young maidens in their lives, but get used to it, it’s an immovable fact of life…
Original in graphite pencil, colorized in Photoshop. B/W version available HERE.
Click on images for more details.
Before long, once the challenge is given, a bellow of reply comes echoing back through the forest, and the Challenger knows for sure that a rival stag is after his harem.
Both red deer stags are on full alert now, and the ball is back in the Challenger’s court again.
As mentioned previously, it is likely the stags may not be able to see each other through the forest in these early stages, so they are sizing each other up on vocals as one call follows the next.
Slowly the stranger stag moves closer. Once within sight of each other, they move in and engage quickly, lowering their antlers and locking them like wrestlers. Then comes the test of strength, body weight and agility as they push back and forth, and circle, each trying to flip the other.
Getting flipped puts a stag at the mercy of his opponent, so frequently the stag who feels himself outmatched will break away and make a run for it, with his adversary in hot pursuit.
For more details about the artwork, click on the images.