The Knobbly Fig, in English. A species of strangler fig.
Prosaic words, for a thing so beautiful.
It sounds a little crazy to have favourite trees. Then again, I’ve never claimed to be normal, so, yes, I do have favourite trees and not just species, but specific individuals. Several of these are on Londolozi, and one of them is a strangler fig. You drive past it as you come out of Pioneer and Founders camps (or out of Varty and Tree if you pester your guide to take you past your favourite tree, so the poor man has to take a detour in and out of camp every morning and afternoon.) It stands in a deep dip, behind a dam wall. It might be easily missed if you were concentrating on the water, looking for birds, or hippos, basking crocodiles or the elusive rings of feeding fish. But if you glance across, there, quietly, is waiting the most magical scene. Imagine…
Somewhere, deep in an enchanted forest, lies a shaded dell. The red earth slopes steeply downwards to its floor, crumbling and sliding beneath your feet as you slip down. The ground is carpeted with layer on layer of leaf and loam, crunchy on the top, soft and yielding underneath. Dominating the small clearing is a fluted column, flaring to the base, trailing a beard of roots along an outstretched branch, crowned and canopied in green. Nature’s sculpture, laid for you to see, spreading its peace and glory over you as you stand below.
Each runnel, crevice, cranny in the trunk bears close inspection, harbouring as it might some creature, tiny plant or unexpected view. The years of growing can be traced within the bulges and extrusions of the bark. The threaded roots reach down towards you. The ground invites you to sit, back braced against the tree’s great truck, held safely in its peace. A soft breeze sighs in the leaves above as you listen, spellbound, to the many whispered tales of the tree.
As we drove past the other day for the final time, I glanced across at my friend, the strangler fig. In that glance was thanks for beauty offered thoughtlessly, for the easy access to nature in its glory, for moments of afternoon heat endured and eased by shade. I’m going to miss this tree (and if having favourites is a little crazy, what does that make me?), but as a very wise friend of mine once said, the bush is always there. When I am able to return, the strangler fig will be there waiting.
What stories it shall tell.
Written by Rebecca Green, Londolozi Guest
Photographed by James Tyrrell, Londolozi Ranger