South Africa
Blackout Blackmail

by Yvonne Taylor

[Note from Maya: During my Capetown visit last October, Yvonne was amazed that I hadn't seen weaver birds. I told her I knew them only from National Geographic photos years ago, and that as a little girl they were completely exotic and fascinating to me. I never then expected to see them.

"We have lots of them around here," she said, "Come, I'll show you some."

So on a misty, cloudy spring day, with the countryside green and blossoming, we wound our way through a new suburb on the flanks of a mountain. (It's difficult not to be on the flanks of a mountain in Capetown.) Soon we came to a tree-shaded glen where the reserve began.

Behind the enclosing fence was a duck pond, with a mother mallard and her bevy of babies. She was wonderfully alert and attentive in caring for them, and the little ducks were most appealing. It was a special miracle, and we just stood and watched them and talked to them for a good amount of time.

Later, up the path, came the big pond and the geese strutting and honking. In the following letter Yvonne writes about sitting with the geese in the hot summer, with her daughter, Michelle.

(Further up the hill, in a thicket area, we did see the weaver birds and their wonderful nests, precariously swinging from the branches.)]

Hello Maya,

Just had to share this little story with you. Last Sunday Michelle and I went to the nearby nature reserve (the tick-free one!), where you and I went on that cool misty day. That's where you saw the weaver birds making their nests. It was hellish hot on Sunday, we left home late morning, absolutely crazy to walk in that heat. When we got to the gate, the geese and ducks hurried over to meet us and shout greetings, what loud voices those little ducks have. A few guinea fowl also tottered over to see what was going on. We walked up the hill a little way, and were amazed at how dead and dry everything was, such a big contrast to last October when everything was fresh and green. Michelle has been in there dozens of times because she and Ian use it for hill-training—they RUN up to the top! She said she's never seen it so dry, very sad. We didn't go very far, it was too hot, so turned back and sat on a shady bench at the big pond.

The pond had lost an enormous amount of water too, hardly recognisable. The geese and ducks had seen us, went into the water and swam towards us, then walked up to stand in front of us. I'm wary of those geese, apparently they bite badly and I don't like it when they hiss, they were quite aggressive. We had a grandstand view of other water-birds swimming and fishing and two beautiful Egyptian geese flew around for a while, seemingly having an enjoyable cruise.

We sat there, not feeding the ducks and geese because it's not allowed, and munched on crisps etc. They very obviously know what a crinkly plastic packet means and I wished I'd brought some lettuce leaves. Eventually they gave up begging and went to sleep in front of us—five white geese, seven white ducks and two brown ducks—all in a semi-circle at our feet. There were no other people in the reserve, and not a breath of breeze, absolutely still and quiet, and sooooo peaceful. And there we sat for over an hour, with these 14 animals arranged at our feet, totally relaxed and peaceful. I wish we'd had a camera to record this because it seemed so unusual, I'd have thought they'd go back to the water when we had no food for them. The geese slept standing on one leg; all had their heads tucked into their back-feathers. It was the strangest sensation, to be sitting there with these untamed creatures giving us their presence, I felt it was an amazing privilege. We didn't want to leave, but time eventually ran out, and I thanked them for the gift they'd given us.

It still seems unreal to me, and yet there's a feeling of absolute wonder that they changed from confrontational to totally submissive—what an honor we had that day. I'm still wondering what that day was all about, somehow I think there was a message, but I'm not sure what. Love, Yvonne.

Back to top