The sounds of silence.

Night noises are mostly the things of nightmares with the old line of “what goes ‘thump’ in the night” coming to mind!

In a previous post, I contrasted the sounds of our home on a traffic circle in a quiet town in The Netherlands with the rural sounds of our Swiss alpine escape. A large enough contrast between European urban and rural night sounds.

Now that we are back in South Africa (temporarily, pandemic-ally determined) I feel compelled to make the comparison between the sounds of African urban and rural sounds, in particular those of the night time and the dawn.

Our dear friends, who’s generosity in opening their wonderfully hospitable home to us in the big city of Johannesburg, is where, after three years of living in The Netherlands, I realized how prolific the birdlife is in the southern hemisphere, even in an ultra urban place like Johannesburg: the noise of the feathered fraternity heralding the pre-dawn is astounding! 

Obviously the summer is warm and balmy, bordering on boiling, so the early morning hours are a welcome freshness to the start of the day, ideal for a run or walk before the mercury begins to climb. Having woken to the call of nature, that of an ageing bladder, well before the eastern skies began to lighten, I was unable to fall back to sleep for the cacophony created by the birds! Perhaps I ought to be grateful to them for getting me up with more than enough time to take my “morning constitutional”, without the excuse of not having the time…

Arriving at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm in the beautiful rolling hills of the KZN Midlands, (“The green, green grass of home”!) and successfully navigating the ruggard farm road to the cottage, on one of the peaceful trout dams that they kindly made available to us – what a treat – I realized, once again, how noisy the nights are in this part of the world.

With the farm being located in the misty region of Natal, there is still a fair amount of indigenous bush to be found on the cooler southern sloping hillsides. This vegetation is home to the bush-baby, in Zulu the muqa and in Afrikaans the nag-aapie. This shy little tree hyrax is a curious looking, furry little creature with round ears, a long, tufted tail and  large, protruding eyes. The most unsettling feature of these little animals is their cry, for it truly is a cry. Over the years of my childhood I had often woken to the sound of a baby crying and wondered where/what/who/how/why, only to be told by my parents to go back to sleep as it was nothing more than the muqa/bush baby’s warning of the mist coming in!

The cry begins with about three or four clicks, a slight pause and then the wail begins, usually about three mournful bleats, then the series begins again.

This sad sound is not to be heard every night and though, whilst somewhat disturbing, it is equally comforting to me as it’s a gentle creature making itself heard and not a harsh predatory sound that I hear from the jackal. 

The yip/shriek/bark of the jackal always reminds me of the destruction that these predators cause in a flock of sheep with young lambs – a farmer’s nightmare, not only in the cruelty of nature attacking a defenseless lamb but also the economic impact of a reduced flock.

If the birds are enough to wake one from a pre-dawn slumber, then the African insect colonies are enough to keep one from drifting off to sleep in the night hours: frogs, crickets, beetles and bugs all come together in a choir led by the Christmas beetles who’s shrill screech is unparalleled by any other insect known to man! The cicada begins chafing their air-bloated bodies with their wings/hind legs in order to produce the ear-splitting sound that, for me, signifies Christmas time!

They are shy insects that are extremely well disguised in the variety of greens of the bush. Finding one to study is no mean feat as they tend to fall utterly silent when one approaches their hiding place!

So, here I am in the light and warmth of the South African summer, sizzling to the sound of birds and insects in a frenzy – I’m sure that they are all just as excited about the Christmas holiday season as us humans are! What a contrast to the utter stillness of the snow-muffled Swiss Alps or the bird-less-ness of The Netherlands in the cold and dark of the mid winter solstice.

At least the earth will very, very slowly begin to tilt back on her axis, bringing the next miraculous cycle of seasons to our beautifully complex planet that we call home.

Feeling the welling of gratitude for our time in our “old home” and looking forward to the awaiting adventure of our “new home”, elsewhere on the globe…

Wishing everyone a healthy, peace-filled New Year!

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