In the early morning I took a guided Walk through the mystical and ancient Milkwood Forest with Chumani, one of the Grootbos Guides. We started right where the arrow suggested, which happened to be about 2 minutes from my tree-encased Forest Suite, heading along the path with dappled light and ancient branches overhead. I knew I was in a sacred place.
Chumani is a brilliant guide and local expert, I learnt much from him during the hour that we shared together. His method of teaching involved asking me questions about the snail shells, spider webs and forest creatures we saw. I couldn’t answer any of them, yet his gentle lessons left me much enlightened about this self sustaining ecosystem.
Firstly, that the trees are White Milkwood, formally known as Iron-wood as a result of their hard timber, now protected. They’re found along our Coastline and the White refers to the milky latex that the young branches exude when broken. The ones at Grootbos are estimated to be over 800 years old.
I learnt that nettles that grow in the shade can do you no harm, its only those that grow in the sun we need to worry about.
That we shouldn’t randomly grab branches as we walk among the trees, as the little Bark Spider could be harmed whilst sitting disguised as a knot on the tree. I saw the Rain Spiders nest, although it was vacant given that he had moved into my bathroom the night before.
Chumani told me that the many shells scattered under foot were from snails that lived in the soil, and once they died the shells came to the surface and turned a bleached white.
He showed me mounds of upturned sand that we should thank the mole rat for. Aerated soil is healthy soil. Of course, at the same time we talked about the mole snake which feeds on them. As well as the many venomous snakes found on the reserve. Important to have eyes wide open.
We gazed up at the tall trees and saw the Beard Lichen, or ‘Old Man’s Beard’ growing from the branches.
We talked about interdependency between species and the phenomenon that no living organism in this world can live by itself. We are all dependent on each other for survival and in this way a delicate equilibrium is maintained in nature. I like that.
I was shown the difference between a thorn found on a rose bush or acacia tree and a spine, which is a modified part of a leave. It took me a while to grasp this, but now I do.
Then there was the beautiful moss growing on the trees, I now know that moss only grows on the Southern side of a tree.
All this in less than an hour. I need days with Chumani in order to learn more about our natural world, how grateful I am to him.
And how true that an indicator like the one below should not be passed by. There’s a world to be discovered, one which I’ve managed to learn much about on a simple walk at Grootbos.