Wednesday, March 30, 2011

To frack or not to frack?

I couldn't resist doctoring the photograph which Shell has been flooding South African newspapers with in recent months concerning it's plans to frack up the Karoo. These full-page ads included a scenic panorama of a section of the Karoo, along with the words, "Shell's commitments to the Karoo", while below was a nicely worded letter from Monang Mohale, who is apparently the country chiarman of Shell South Africa. In it, he says, inter alia, that "the Karoo is a special place for South Africans. We must preserve it for our future and our children's future". Then he proceeds to explain how over three years they would drill "up to 24 wells" if granted licences to explore for gas. However, I read elsewere that if given the go-ahead, the Karoo could be lumbered with literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of wells. So my picture is probably not that far off the mark. There is a growing groundswell of opposition to the "hydraulic fracturing", or fracking, process in the Karoo, for obvious reasons. Not only will it deface this vast, scenic heartland of South Africam, it also stands to use masses of water (in a near-desert environment) and to poison the underground water system. Browse through this blog and you'll see numerous sketches I have done over the years of Karoo scenery. At a time when solar and other renewable energy sources are crying out to be explored and exploited, Shell seems bent on delving for a fossil fuel which will only have very short-term use and benefit, primarily, its shareholders. That the South African government seems happy to go along with this travesty is mind-boggling. One wonders how many more pockets stand to be lined in Frackgate, a worthy successor to Armsgate, Travelgate and numerous other cases of state corruption over the past decade.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bethulie and Skilderkrans

Last December we spent a pleasant few days in the historic town of Bethulie, on the north-eastern shores of the massive Gariep Dam.

I spent some time standing in the middle of a dustry street drawing this view of the Dutch Reformed Church (1887) which is a focal point of the town. Sadly, I did not get to draw anything else there, but the place is definitely worth a return trip. It boasts numerous Anglo-Boer War sites and historic buildings. It is also an object lesson in name changes. First established as a mission station by the London Missionary Society in 1829, it was first known as Groot Moordenaars Poort (Murderers' Pass) after a vicious Sotho-Griqua clash. Missionary Jean Pellissier, whose home is the oldest pioneer building north of the Orange River, according to a pamphlet, is credited with founding the town in 1832. The house is now a hisotirical museum. First known as Caledon, after the nearby river, it was then named Bethulia (Chosen by God) in 1833 when the French Missionary Society took over the area. It became Verheullpolis in 1835 then, once a town was actually established in 1863, Heidelberg. It was renamed Bethulie in 1872. The tourism pamphlet says the town had the largest British concentration camp of the 1899-1902 war.

Before we crossed into the Free State, we spent a delightful few days at a B&B on the Karoo farm Skilderkrans. This was a section of road next to the farm, with mountains behind.

A section of the dustry road leads the eye to koppies in the west.

The farm was mainly used for goats.

A section of the lovely mountainous landscape.

There is something quite evil about goats, with their tiny devil's horns and bleating calls. On the right is a water trough.

Loskrans and Hogsback

We returned to the farm in the Karoo near Steynsburg just before Christmas last year and one of our aims was to climb Loskrans. I regret to report I failed to drag my 54-year-old torso all the way to the top.

The krans is indeed "los", with massive loose boulders looking set to tumble under gravity at any minute. Indeed, the point where I decided to quit the climb was littered with rocks several times my height. Anyway, I noticed what looked like my three climbing companions on the summit and did this sketch. It was then that I noticed they just weren't moving! The shapes were in fact small bushes.

As I waited for my companions to come back down, I did several sketches, colouring them later. This was done looking up along the ridge to a thing called Visierkerf, or suchlike, which means it resembles the sights of a rifle from a distance.

A view towards the south.

And another, more to the east.

The farm manager and his daughter in an inflatable on what is known as the Big Dam.

Then, on another occasion, we congregated as a family last year at the Hogsback, where, in a rare break from the misty weather, I was able to draw one of the eponymous peaks, which I watercoloured later.

A none-too-flattering sketch of my mom, Brenda, at the age of 84, enjoying the view of the Bridal Veil falls at the Hogsback. Anyone who's walked there will know it is no mean feat. Bren showed up a lot of people less than half her age.

The Hogsback and Karoo are known to boast all manner of weird and wonderful creatures not often seen in zoology books. This is the wobbly-legged vole.

This amphibious creature also frequents the area, waiting to pounce should Shell attempt to rape the area with its fracking plans.

Van Stadens and Cape Recife

Bird-watching has taken my eldest son Luke and me to various places around the Eastern Cape over the past 10 years or so. Among them are the Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve, some 30km west of Port Elizabeth, and Cape Recife.

On our most recent visit to Van Stadens, late last year, we first visited the valley of riverine forest where you can walk for hundreds of metres through pristine forest. From there one heads across the motorway to the wild flower reserve, which is rich in fynbos. While we regularly spot the Cape sugarbird there, we have yet to see a male orange-breasted sunbird. Anyway, this is one of the views across the Van Stadens River.

Another view, towards the end of a walk down-river along the top of the valley.

Cape Recife is another favourite birding spot. It offers sea birds, inland water birds and a host of bush-loving birds. This is not the Cape Recife lighthouse, but a beacon built on rocks offshore and much frequented, at low tide, by fishermen.

There are two sewage reclamation ponds at Cape Recife where we have had numerous exciting sightings. This was probably a yellow-billed duck.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Op die plaas

I've given this an Afrikaans title because farming is, to a large extent, associated with "boers", the pastoral descendants of the early Dutch settlers in South Africa. Also, I'm busy reading Karel Schoeman's haunting "Na die geliefde land", from the 1970s, in Afrikaans, and am finding it incredibly evocative of the farming lifestyle.

Back on Spring Valley, the farm near Steynsburg in the Karoo where my wife Robyn spent many happy childhood holidays with her grandparents, I did a few drawings in oil pastels.

These orange flowers caught my eye.

Done a few years ago while her uncle, Bill Elliott, was still on the farm, this shows how easy it is to distort moving objects. Even a tired old dog doesn't keep still much.

The view over a gate towards another - made from an old ox wagon wheel - set into a stone wall. Behind, typical farming paraphernalia, and in the distance, a few koppies.

My wife, Robyn, won't be much impressed with this somewhat distorted view of her reading out in the sun on the sprawling lawn at the front of the farmhouse, where the dogs ruled the roost.

On one of many walks and mountain climbs, I did this view of the famous Teebus and Koffiebus mountains. It is fascinating to consider the infinite variety of views it is possible to get of this pair of impressive flat-topped koppies.

As noted on a previous blog, many Karoo farms which had been almost exclusively used for sheep and goats for a hundred years, are now being turned over to cattle - often of the Nguni variety. This to prevent further damage to the veld.

On a climb up what is called Red Mountain on the farm - because of how it glows as the sun sets in winter -I did this drawing of the view south. The alarming news concerning the Karoo is that oil giant Shell is seeking permission to frack it. Yes, that's not a misspelt expletive, though many would consider the process of fracking - hydraulic fracturing to release methane trapped in subterranean shale - to be a bloody disgrace. Here's hoping they are not permitted to destroy the timeless beauty of the Karoo by turning it into a dusty, polluted gas field.

Part of our group, and two dogs, admire the view from the top of Red Mountain.

Totally unflattering images, I concede, of close family atop Red Mountain. Only the dogs come off relatively unscathed!

Real and imagined

Taken from the same drawing book and done about five years ago, these sketches illustrate the fundamental difference between drawing from life and from your imagination.

One of the defining features of the first decade of this century, for my family anyway, was the dominant roll played by the computer. Even when we visited relatives in East London for holidays, my sons - especially the younger one, Doug - would end up playing computer games for hours with their cousin, Stuart. Here Luke, left, looks on as Stuart tackles some game or other.

At times I did manage to drag them out to see what EL has to offer, including a few visits to the famous museum, with its epochal coelacanth display. This is part of a pottery display in a section devoted to Xhosa and other traditional lifestyles.

On one of many walks to Nahoon mouth from Bonza Bay I did this quick sketch of two guys fishing from a canoe at Blue Bend.

In the same drawing book I did this picture of a mouse, allowing my imagination to have some fun.

The images become more bizarre the longer I work at them.

Unfortunately, my old ballpoint pen became a bit blotchy here, detracting somewhat from the image. I rather like the smiling tree, bottom left.