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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday, 7 December '09: Circles in the forest

Dalene Mathee (1938-2005) , South African authoress, lies buried at the foot of the great tree on the fringes of her beloved Knysna forest. A fitting resting place for someone whose most acclaimed 1984 novel, Circles in the forest (cited on an international publisher's list of the 100 Must Read books) deals so poetically and poignantly with the exploration of the indigenous forests, the extermination of the Knysna elephants and the humble lives of the forest folk, the woodcutters.

"Like a mighty king it stood towering above the white alder and mountain saffron, the stinkwood, assegai and hard pear. As if God had planted it long before the others, its giant root anchored it to the ground like giant arms." These lyrical words have been translated from Afrikaans into fourteen other languages. Mathee's forest novels: Circles in the forest; Fiela's child and The Mulberry Forest, have thus reached around the world, even to Iceland.

But what of Big Foot, the doomed bull elephant of Circles in the Forest? Could he have ripped out this tree with his enormous trunk, leaving its carcass across our path? Sadly Big Foot has disappeared along with the rest of the elephants who roamed the the forest and fynbos areas in the southern Cape in the late nineteenth century. The elephant population declined rapidly as increasing numbers of woodcutters and hunters settled in the area. By 1908 the population status was estimated at 20 individuals, dwindling further to an estimated 11 by 1970. By 1980 a mere 3 individuals were believed to still roam the area.

In 1994, three young female elephants where introduced from the Kruger National Park in an attempt to sustain the presence of elephants in the Knysna forest area. The translocated elephants did not remain within the largely forested conservation area but progressively chose to range in more open habitat on private land, and were eventually relocated to the Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape.

So Graham, Di and I walked the magic circles without any sounds of distant trumpeting or crashing feet. All we heard was the cry of the Knysna lourie and glimpsed the flashing of brightly coloured wings among the treetops.


Vicki Lane said...

Beautiful, but sad. I shall have to find Mathee's book Circles in the Forest.

Judith said...

It's so lovely. My only experience of Africa was time spent in Ghana, although I did see Africa from a distance earlier this year when I sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar.

SmilingSally said...

Your writing is quite lyrical, Eleanor.

Gaelyn said...

A beautiful place befitting this authoress. How sad that the elephants no longer trumpet.

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

This was so interesting! I'm going to look for this book. I love Elephants. I support an Elephant Sancuary in Hoenwald, Tennessee.

jeannette stgermain said...

How sad about the elephants. I guess in South Africa the elephant is much at home, like in California the bear.

Sreddy Yen said...

Hi Mrs Lemmer~! I haven't visited your blog for a LONG time. This is an interesting post, as we've just finished reading "Fiela se Kind" in Afrikaans this year. I love your Mossel Bay photo on the side! Enjoy your holiday :)

Max-e said...

Hi Eleanor I have been our of circulation for a while, having been caught in the trap of busy-ness. I have really enjoyed this post. It brings back memories of many vists to the forests with my family. I have also read and enjoyed all Delene Matthee's books. And being a good Suid Afrikaner, have opted for the Afrikaans, rather than the translations.
Hope you have a really blessed new Year.
BTW I like your new header.

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