September 2017 in Chimanimani. I am looking at the sky and thinking of those people far away where the Monsoon has struck with deadly force and those on another continent as Hurricane Irma hurtles north, shattering lives. My view into this African sky of vivid blue is broken only by the unforgettable colours of new Msasa leaves.
No wind today, just the churring calls of the Miombo Tit and busy movement among the leaves – a foraging Apalis, a pair of Crombec, and on the Erythrina a fledgling attended by her gorgeous father. This Miombo Double Collared Sunbird is fairly described as a flying jewel. He is vocal, he is brilliant and he appears to be a great Dad, feeding his baby whilst vigilantly driving off other birds who venture near his progeny.
Since 1991 I have been privileged to witness the spectacle of Msasa (Brachystegia spiciformis) adorning themselves in their new leaves. Each year the colours astound us. And in time you notice something more than just this splendid thing called colour. September of 2017 brings a huge sense of relief, relief to be where the hurricane is not, relief to be where the monsoon is not, relief to be where I am right now among these trees. I have noticed the dying leaves provide tiny insects for the bird parties which come through at Frog & Fern. And how the buds of new leaves are probed by busy beaks and tiny, furry grey caterpillars hang on silken threads, buffeting in the breeze.
But this year it is the texture of these miracle leaves, smooth, shining and delicate. For a few weeks every September they hang softly, almost limp upon the branch. Trace your finger gently over the perfect surface this morning and by night you notice the colour has changed and the leaf is firmer. These spectacular leaves draw your eye but if you focus on the branches you will find something equally mesmerizing. Lichens of blue grey, silver and pure white. The texture of these ancient life forms vary from crinkled, crispy shards to soft velvet. Here among the lichens forage the full array of Miombo specials, Cinnamon Breasted Tit, Miombo Tit, Southern Hyliota, Miombo Rock Trushes. All year this wonderful tree, described by some as the most beautiful in the world, affords life to myriad insects and birds. Holding the soil on our precarious slopes, surviving drought, fire and cyclones this miracle tree is a precious thing and we should always remember this.