Thursday, March 26, 2009

Silence and Antiquity on the Veld

Tramping the 4,500 hectares of the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve is the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life for most of us. Leave the car at reception and enjoy one of the many hiking trails and an abundance of wildlife awaits, as well as archaeological treasures. Earlier this week I found this stone bowl for grinding grain just sitting on the ground not far from the remains of an ancient rondaval style hut (lower picture - click to enlarge). This bowl is a very rare specimen and we'll be putting it on display in reception. What grains were ground in this bowl? Not maize - that was introduced to Africa from South America by Europeans. Were the grains cultivated here, or harvested from the wild? If they were cultivated, how did the farmers protect their crops from wildebeeste, warthogs and other wild animals? I am keen to find the answers!

Evidence of past human inhabitants here is found in many places. It gives cause to wonder at the immense scale of time humans have occupied this land. I have yet to visit the caves here with paintings recording the different people that have lived at Ezemvelo over the ages. So that will have to wait for another day.

Meditation in the Classroom

Students around the world are benefiting from
the practice of Transcendental Meditation –
academically, emotionally and socially

By Steven Yellin

According to an American Psychological Association poll in 2007, one-third of Americans are living with extreme stress and nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe their stress has increased over the past five years.

And our students are facing the same challenges.
Consider the facts: There are 10 million kids on antidepressants, and 5 million kids have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), a stress related disorder, of which 4 million are on Ritalin. And the third leading cause of death among teenagers is suicide.
This is not a pretty picture. Certainly the growing tendency to prescribe high power, potentially dangerous adult drugs to treat this epidemic of stress is not the answer.

Another option, proven effective in schools around the world is Transcendental Meditation (TM), which is a simple, natural and effortless mental technique practiced for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day, and gives deep rest to the mind and body.

During the practice, the mind settles down and experiences finer levels of the thinking process.
When the mind settles, the body settles, and deep rooted stresses and strains are released. When coming out of meditation, a person feels like he or she has taken a bath from the inside out — the mind is clear and alert, and one has more energy and happiness radiating from within.

More than 6 million people from all countries, religions and educational backgrounds have learned the technique, and hundreds of scientific research studies confirmed the practical benefits of the TM program for mind, body, behavior and society as a whole.

Research shows this state effectively reduces stress and vulnerability to stress — and protects the developing brain of a student while fostering learning and emotional development.

Full article here...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Friends of Ezemvelo

A dedicated team of volunteers took part in the monthly work party last weekend, staying at Bambanini. On the Saturday we collected about 20 bags of litter and a trailer full of large items that had been dumped by the side of the road 3 km from our gate. It looks so much better now! Then we painted the kitchen at Bambanani - one of the cottages on the Reserve and made signs for the Protea and Burkea trails which will be put up at the next work party weekend in April.

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Trail in the making

We are working on a new trail in the east part of Ezemvelo. The idea is to open up this area to hikers, since it's close to the river and contains a rich variety of wildlife. There is also a rich variety of sites to see. The glacially polished rock surfaces date from around 290 million years ago. These are fresh on the surface just as if the glaciers left yesterday. The significance is that this indicates that some of the landsurfaces at Ezemvelo have been left virtually unchanged for 290 million years. Truly among the oldest landsurfaces on earth.

There's also a natural spring near there which is about the only water on the high plateau so is rich in bird and animal life. A well made animal track leads from the Spring all the way to the Wilge River. The trail goes past an amazing early pioneers farmhouse and outbuildings.

Some of the animals I've seen in my first week: pictures here...
More pictures here...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hikers Paradise- the Penduka Trail

After a week at Ezemvelo I’ve done a fair bit of walking and today I hiked the Penduka Trail. It is spectacular and has been created and maintained by a wonderful group of volunteers called the Friends of Ezemvelo. It’s possible to walk to the Penduka Trail from the main camp in a hour. I took a longer route along the Wilge River trail beginning north of Rhino House. The wildbeste were very close by on this little used trail. This leads to the picnic area at the start of the Penduka Trail. The trail itself took me 2 hours including a break at the Valley View lookout. From there I could look down on the Wilge River (pictured above). It is an exhilarating and delightful spot, very silent except for the sound of the river far below. I was lucky enough to see a large bird on a rock in the river far below with wings outstretched to dry after it had taken a dive in search of fish. My bird watching neigbour at the camp, tells me it was a Darter and is rather rarely seen around here. This is the perfect halfway resting spot on the trail.

On the way back I stopped at the rapids below Raptor Ridge, and found the remains of a small crab – left most likely by an otter. The Cape Clawless Otters are seen along the Wilge River here.
Walking the road back to the camp one can enjoy expansive views of undeveloped land looking to the north east across over 10,000 hectares of nature reserve. Nearing home I was met by a group of horse riders setting out for an afternoon ride. It was long hike and very interesting with a wide range of landscapes and wildlife along the way.

More pictures here...

One hiking family has made a nice website of their hiking weekend at Ezemvelo, including pictures of 2 hikes: the Protea Trail and Day 2 on the Penduka Trail. Click here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

South Africa becomes net importer of food for first time in 20 years

In 2007 South Africa became a net importer of agricultural products for the first time in more than 20 years as local food output failed to keep pace with a growing population, according to the National Agricultural Marketing Council.

Also the number of farms in active production fell by 12.7 percent to fewer than 40 000 in the five years to 2007, Statistics SA said yesterday. Agriculture experts attributed the decline to consolidation while discounting a government view that food producing land was being bought up for golf courses and game farms.

Full story in the South Africa Business Report

And another threat to the food supply ...

In the Wheat Fields of Kenya, a Budding Epidemic
Stem Rust, Vanquished by Science Five Decades Ago, Has Returned in a Destructive New Form

By Sharon Schmickle
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 18, 2009; A08

GREAT RIFT VALLEY, Kenya -- A virulent new version of a deadly fungus is ravaging wheat in Kenya's most fertile fields and spreading beyond Africa to threaten one of the world's principal food crops, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Stem rust, a killer that farmers thought they had defeated 50 years ago, surfaced here in 1999, jumped the Red Sea to Yemen in 2006 and turned up in Iran last year. Crop scientists say they are powerless to stop its spread and increasingly frustrated in their efforts to find resistant plants.

Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug, the world's leading authority on the disease, said that once established, stem rust can explode to crisis proportions within a year under certain weather conditions.

"This is a dangerous problem because a good share of the world's area sown to wheat is susceptible to it," Borlaug said. "It has immense destructive potential."

Full story...