15 September, 2009


A body can travel a long way to see flowers. In my case, it involved some 9,000 kilometers. Just in from the western coast of South Africa, below Namibia and well above Cape Town, there is an arid, wide-open landscape (some 450,000 square kilometers worth) that is the ancestral home of the hunter-gatherer San, or Bushmen.

There is art to be found in the vistas there, both man-made, in the form of shamanic San rock paintings, and natural, in the form of the rock itself, the mineral riches it yields, and the plants and trees that grow upon, through and under it.

The flora in South Africa is particularly diverse: botanists divide the world's continents into six plant kingdoms. The Cape floristic (also known as the Cape floral) kingdom is the smallest, but contains by far the highest known concentration of plant species in the world. The region's main vegetation type is fynbos, which are a collection of evergreens, shrubs, and small plants with tough, fine leaves, and reeds. In June 2004, the Cape floristic region was given international recognition as South Africa's sixth UN World Heritage site. More than 9,000 plant species make up the region--6,000 of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Well-timed, ample rains permitting, the Namaqua expanses are utterly transformed during spring (which corresponds to the Northern Hemisphere's late summer). For a brief, dream-like span of time, the flowers come, in all their evanescent glory and variety.

There is more to a land than its vistas, of course, just as there is more to a meal than the accompanying wine. In the Languedoc, however, I have heard a saying: a meal without wine is like a day without sun. With this post, I begin then, with the 'sun' of the Western Cape. I hope you will enjoy the video--it was the only way I found to adequately give you a sense of the scope of a desert in bloom.

Shawn Colvin is performing "Ricochet in Time."
Tip: Click on the HQ icon for better viewing.

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