Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category


His name is Ramadiba


Her name is Mopane


Main building at Inkwenkwezi

Elephant Interaction—An amazing Experience 

(This post has a lot of photos—so please be patient and scroll through, and please enjoy!)

Our family in East London had won a raffle giving two tickets to a special Elephant Experience at Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve. It’s not far from where they live, about 20 miles north of East London. They kept the tickets to give to Rod and I, and bought tickets for themselves, and we all went one morning. An amazing experience, in the true sense of the word.



Our driver introduces the main trainer, Patrick

Inkwenkwezi is a lovely place. It’s not big, compared to the National Parks in South Africa, but it has a fair amount of wild game that one can view on their morning or afternoon game drives in 4 X 4 safari vehicles. They have a good restaurant, various types of accommodation, canoeing and guided quad bike tours too.

What they also offer is this Elephant Interaction. You can go early morning (8am) or mid-morning (11am), which is what we did, or at 2pm. You start at the visitors’ desk at the main building and a ranger drives you in a safari vehicle to the place in the park where the elephants are.




The 2 elephants waiting for the “show”



The ranger drove our group of 8 people to a remote part of the reserve and on the way we saw many impala—such graceful, beautiful antelope. We arrived at the elephant spot where there were two elephants, a male and a female, and four trainers. The male elephant, named Ramadiba after Nelson Nandela’s grandson, weighs 2.2 tons. The female, Mopane, weighs 1.9 tons. They used to have a third elephant but they had to release him to another big park because of erratic behavior. These are all rescue elephants from the Limpopo area in northern South Africa.




Patrick feeds Ramadiba pellets while explaining about elephants

Patrick is the main guide and trainer. He came with the elephants from Limpopo and has been here at Inkwenkwezi for four years. There are 3-4 other elephant carers/trainers, so the elephants get to know them all so one can go on leave sometimes. The care is for 24 hours, and these men actually sleep in a building next to where the elephants go at night.

Ramadiba was first in the Encounter experience. Patrick and another trainer RamPatbrought him closer to our group and he stood behind a wooden pole, a bit like a hitching post. Patrick fed Ramadiba with special pellets, made of lucerne, some sort of grass and molasses, placing a handful of the pellets into the tip of the trunk. As Patrick did this repeatedly, he told the group about elephants, in a very knowledgeable and informative way: the life and social habits of elephants, and about all the different parts of their bodies (see at the end). For example, as he explained about teeth and tusks, he showed the tusks and opened Ramadiba’s mouth; when talking about the eyes, he zeroed in on an eye. It was a great way to learn about these huge, very special animals.


Rod feeds Ramadiba


And Mike does too


Rod and another guest touch Mopane

After that, people in the group could go up and feed Ramadiba too. Rod and Mike both did quite eagerly. I did too, but very gingerly! It’s a strange feeling, to hold the trunk, place the pellets at the tip, which he then sort of snuffled up.

Then, another trainer brought Mopane forward. She just stood there, while one trainer fed her pellets and Patrick demonstrated on her—-mostly talking about the skin, the feet and the ears. People could also go and touch her, to feel how prickly the skin is, as there are many spikey hairs all over, and to feel how soft the back of the ears are. Rod, Mike and I all did this: what a unique experience and what a privilege.


Mike feels Mopane’s ears


I got brave enough to touch Mopane too!


Impala waiting to clean up spilt pellets

Thanks Mike and Margie.

As we left it was interesting to see that a herd of impala was hovering nearby, ready to come in and get the last of the pellets off the ground!

Some Elephant Facts:

—2.4 times the circumference of the front foot pad = the height of the elephant from foot to withers.


Patrick giving elephant facts

—60% of the body weight is in front, 40% in the back.

—the foot has a pad that’s unique, like a human fingerprint. Each foot has a shock absorber pad that helps with the huge weight and lets them walk silently. There are 4 toenails on front foot and 4 on the back. The nails are not connected to bones, just to the skin.



—the end of the trunk has lips; the top one can come over the bottom one. Elephants are left- or right-handed, depending on the length of the tusks and on how many callouses on that side of the trunk.

—the mouth: elephants have 6 sets of molars during their life that erupt from the back and move forward. After the 6th set, the elephant retires to a grassy spot for soft grass, as no more teeth will come. The tusks are the incisors. They continue to grow but if broken at the root in the cheek they stop growing. There’s a large tongue, which the elephant can’t lift back.




—the eyes have a nictitating membrane, and long eye lashes, for protection. Vision is very poor, but sense of sound and smell is very good.


—the ears are shaped like a map of Africa. The outside is rough, the inside very soft, like leather. The opening is in front of the ear. Ear flapping is used for cooling, and ears have lots of veins, also to help with cooling.

—the skin is different to human skin as it can absorb water. It has coarse hairs all over.


—the tail is used to swat flies, for balance in the bush and has a sensor for how far something is behind the elephant. Don’t stand behind an elephant as they sense that and feel threatened.


–gestation is 22 months. At birth the calf is about 1 meter (3 feet) high and is pale grey. The babies can’t use the trunk properly until 6 months old. Until then they use it like a toy.

More information on Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve:



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Viv M and Heather D


If you look really hard you can see two people in canoes


At this point the river is divided by an island

The Connecticut River is the longest river in New England. It is 410 miles long, the source at the Fourth Connecticut Lake near Chartierville, Quebec, and the mouth at Long Island Sound.

It is named after the Pequot word “quinetucket”, which means long tidal river. It runs through 4 states: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It forms the eastern border of Vermont and the western border of New Hampshire but technically only flows in NH, which has legal claim to the riverbed all the way to the Vermont side. Interesting factoid!

It is wide and mostly slow-flowing due to many dams, so it is very popular with paddlers and canoes etc.



The former railway bridge is part of the trail



Our family group on the bridge

Near Northampton in Mass, where we were staying for a few days to visit family, we got to walk over the river as we walked a bit of the Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail. It’s an 11-mile paved path that links Northampton, Hadley, Amherst and Bechertown along the former Central Massachusetts Railroad Company right-of-way. Passenger service on the railroad ended in 1932 and freight service in 1979.

The Rail Trail was opened in 1994, and our family in Northampton says it is very popular, for walking, jogging, inline skating and cycling. It is also wheelchair accessible.

We started at the Elwell Recreation Area on the edge of bridgeNorthampton and really enjoyed walking along the former railway bridge over the Connecticut River, wide at this point with an island in the middle. It’s a magnificent 1,492-foot iron bridge that parallels Calvin Coolidge Bridge nearby (for vehicles), named for the mayor of Northampton who would become the 30th president of the USA. Woods on both sides here make for a leafy peaceful haven.


Trail directions

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Small weeping cherry tree by the car park



Japan House

Sakura…cherry blossoms…weeping cherry trees. These signal spring in Japan, and here in Urbana, central Illinois, they are also a beautiful herald of spring.

We are very lucky here on our campus at the University of Illinois, as we have a Japan House, a cultural center run by the University to promote understanding of Japan, its culture and history. It’s a lovely traditional-style Japanese building, with a small enclosed garden to one side, complete with gurgling stream, stone lanterns and a quiet place to sit and meditate. The other side of the Japan House has a serene raked-stone garden and the whole overlooks a pond (complete with turtles and geese), encircled by a walkway, much loved by local residents.





Start of the ‘tunnel’

A number of cherry trees are scattered around our university campus, but the most striking of them all are at the Japan House. There is one weeping cherry tree, a gorgeous tree with thickly clustered pink blossoms, right next to the building, and a couple of others near the small parking lot.

But, because of a generous donation by Dr Genshitsu Sen, we also have the Sen Cherry Tree Alee, the walkways approaching the Japan House. It was planted with cherry trees on both sides in 2008 and now the trees have grown big enough that it’s like walking through a tunnel. In Spring, we feel as though we are passing under a lacy white and delicate pink net, the blossoms on the cherry trees are so thiick. With the stone pagoda lanterns and the raked pebble garden in front of the wooden building, we can almost believe that we are in Japan.


The plaque tells us that Dr Sen was a 15th-generation Grand Master Urasenke Tradition of Tea


cherrylanternAs in Japan, it’s a ritual to go and view the cherry blossoms, to walk under them and be blessed if petals fall on you. Rod and I went last Sunday, as it’s close to our house and we can easily just walk there. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and there were hundredss of others there, doing the same thing; ambling, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, taking photos, posing under the trees or amidst the drooping flower-laden branches. It’s a very special walk, and the collective feeling of happiness is palpable. Just to remind us of how wonderful Nature is, and how a walk in Nature (even in a somehwat urban environment) can really revitalize us.

(Thanks to Rod for the photos)cherrysky



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The new mountain


General information board


The whole area is also called a GeoPark

One of Japan’s Youngest Mountains

Most people know that Japan is a country that has many earthquakes and volcanoes—after all, it’s on the Pacific Ring of fire—and is a geologically very active, and unstable, part of the world. The whole country is on the Pacific Rim, including the northern island of Hokkaido. So, on our last visit to Hokkaido it was fascinating to visit a new mountain, to see these forces of Nature at work. We had a chance to see how that activity has worked—a new mountain that pushed up, and for all we know is still growing.

Hokkaido has had a lot of volcanic activity, and you see many conical mountains that are supposedly dormant, and not extinct. One day, our hosts Satoshi and Max took us on a day trip south from Sapporo to visit the evidence of new volcanic activity.


Special National Monument SHOWA SHIN-ZAN


We can walk up fairly close to the base of the new mountain


View from one of the shopping areas and where the ropeway begins

In the south part of Hokkaido is Shikotsu-Toya National Park, which includes Showa Shinzan Special National Monument and Mount Usu, among other sights.

We went to the Showa Shinzan Special National Monument, just off Lake Toya. Lake Toya is a caldera lake created by a major volcanic eruption tens of thousands of years ago. Around the lake today is a hot spring region, with many spa facilities, and fertile soul for agriculture. There is also Showa Shinzan, sometimes called the “natural volcanic museum”. It’s a volcanic lava dome, next to Mount Usu. The story of this mountain shows that volcanic activity around here continues and it’s a hot spot for volcanic activity. And it’s a pretty amazing story.


The mountain is still smoking

The name Showa Shinzan means Showa new (shin) mountain (zan), as it formed during the reign of Emperor Hirohito, in the Showa period. The mountain was created between December 28, 1943 and September 1945. Initially a series of strong earthquakes shook the area from December 1943-June 1944 and wheat fields were uplifted. Next came the eruption phase, which lasted between the end of June 1944 and the end of October 1944, when lava broke through the surface. Lava reached the banks of Lake Toya, burning houses and forests in its path. Volcanic ash was deposited kilometers away, and the protuberance in the ground continued to grow. In the post-eruption phase (November 1944-September 1945) eruption activity stopped and the lava dome began to take shape and the current peak was created. It is now 1,306 ft (398m) tall and still actively smoking and gently steaming, so who knows what’s coming next!


No doubt that this is still active!


The board is rather damaged and not clear, but you can still see one of the postmaster’s diagrams

Showa-shinzan first appeared during WW2 so the Japanese authorities were worried that it might be interpreted as an unlucky wartime omen, and therefore its existence was kept secret. Much of the information about the peak’s formation during these years comes from local postmaster, Masao Mimatsu, who kept detailed measurements of its progress. Those records are very important, with lots of geological information.

It was really interesting to see the new peak, smoking, and giving off a faint sulphur smell. The top of the new mountain is still barren: vegetation only starts growing slowly from the base. It’s a very pretty park, as there are woods below the mountain with many silver birch trees and plenty of bright green bushes. The day we were there the new mountain, reddish-orange in color, was glowing in the sunshine, so the view was like a landscape painting. Interestingly, the colors of the mountain changed a bit, depending on the vantage point and on the light, so sometimes it seemed more reddish and at others more yellowish.


Very pretty woods


Max shows us an Ezo deer at the Visitors’ Center

There is a small Visitors Center to one side, with information on the development of this whole area. We were also fascinated to learn about certain animals that are unique to Hokkaido. Ezo is the old word for Hokkaido so these animals are known as Ezo higuma (bear), Ezo lisu (squirrel) and Ezo shika (deer), for example.

Lining the carpark are many small shops selling curios, souvenirs etc.

A ropeway takes you from near the foot of Showa Shinzan to the top of Mount Usu, with great views out over the area and the lake, but we didn’t do that.

Thanks again to Satoshi and Max for being such wonderful hosts!


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A magnificent African elephant about to start a sand bath int he river bed


Collection of pretty gourds in Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis

So many people are shocked, angry, stunned, grieving at the outcome of the November  USA election. “Whatever will be, will be” after this and events will run their course. But, living with anger and grief is not a good thing for anyone, so I thought this might help for a while.

Mother Nature is a wonderful thing, and usually getting out into Nature (in any form) can be very soothing. (Let’s just hope the new administration doesn’t reverse some/any of the good that’s been done to help our environment—might be a rather forlorn hope, I’m afraid).

I found this poem by Wendell Berry, and it does offer some solace.


A misty fall day in a park in northern Hokkaido, Japan

I’m also going to try and find a photo of ours of something beautiful and wonderful in Nature for the next few days, to try and help soothe some souls.

Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, a farmer, poet, essayist from Kentucky

“When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

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Fall on our street

fallThe glorious fall colors around our house in Urbana always get us “oohing and aahing”, especially on a sunny day when the light makes the leaves seem luminous. Cameras come out as we try for that elusive perfect photo on our tree-lined avenue that becomes an autumn-hued tunnel.

As we took these photos I realized that we’ve done the same for the other seasons, and I thought it would be fun to put up a kind of collage, with a comparison of our avenue at different times of year. And the back of our house through the four seasons too. What a difference a few months make!

This also makes us realize that we’ve actually come to love the four seasons and their changing, even though we are originally from southern Africa where the change of seasons isn’t at all well marked.

Please scroll through and enjoy!


The cycle begins


Beautiful greening begins after the bare winter


Late spring


A green tunnel in summer



Doesn’t look the same in winter!


A blizzard hits our street


Our neighbor’s magnolia is gorgeous in spring


In summer everything gets very lush


Our back yard in fall


Back of our house in winter


Icicles above our front step


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One of the bays in the peninsula

One of the bays in the peninsula

cliffs2Chaeseonkgang Cliffs

I wrote recently about a Korean Salt Field (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/korean-salt-fields/ ) called Komso (Gomso) Salt Field on the Byeonsan peninsula in the north part of Jeolla Province in the western part of Korea. Gomso is along the Gomsoman Bay, adjacent to the sea.

The coastline around here is very interesting, stretching from

Chaeseonkgang Cliffs to Gochang, an area that includes Gomso Salt Field. It features a very well-developed wetlands area, bays and inlets, and miles of cliffs.


Part of the 'beach'---you can see people looking for stones

Part of the ‘beach’—you can see people looking for stones

Rod M and Chang K walk onto the rocks

Rod M and Chang K walk onto the rocks

After visiting the Salt Field and having lunch at Naesosa Temple, we walked along a short stretch of the Chaeseonkgang Cliffs, which are steep and rocky, with spits of rock and rock pools running along the “beach” area and into the sea too. It was lots of fun to look at and collect some of the multi-colored stones on the small sections of pebble beach—as many other Korean visitors were doing.

This is not a big tourist destination, although there are a number of large resort hotels nearby, largely used by Koreans. So, we felt very privileged to be able to visit somewhere so off-the-beaten-track in Korea and to see the “wild side” of the countryside (not an easy feat in this small country!)

Some of the pretty stones people were collecting

Some of the pretty stones people were collecting

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