An Mpofana Anecdote by Pandora Long
“Is this the heritage we are leaving behind? Is there anything to inherit?” Preven bemoaned the state of the river as we picked our way along the banks of the Mpofana through yet another pine forest.
Abruptly the dull brown pine gave way to the brilliant greens and crispy deep ochre leaf litter of a Saw Tooth Oak forest.
Morag said “I love these English trees in the Midlands, I love their colours in Autumn.” Penny replied “We need to remember that not all exotic trees are invasive.” She started to list the invasive ones. Morag continued their conversation, “I have an avenue of Saw Tooth Oaks leading to my home. They are not invasive, the saplings only grow in the vicinity of their mother tree.”
As I listened to their banter I noted Saw Tooth Oak saplings waltzing all the way down the river and right into the stream margins. I wondered at the depth of our ancestral roots and of our inherent call to defend them. For both Penny and Morag these lay in Scottish soil.
Ahead Penny altered her stance, her usual swinging, upright form now hunch backed, her stick, deep set on the ground; a solid support. “Jeeves”… she called in voice that made us all smile. It trembled with age. “Jeeves,” she called again with more urgency, beckoning to Prev. “The going is getting rough, bring me my wheelchair!” Prev, always up for a joke moved closer to Penny’s side and made some sweeping arm movements in response.
I smiled at Penny’s tenacity. This was no day-tripper stuff. We were in it for the long haul. Penny was, at any rate, and I wondered what kind of wheel chair would carry her aged and wiry frame onwards and over these boulders, up and down banks and along the rapids as she walked the rivers into the future? Her stick pointing firmly at the horizon, and swinging, ever so often, between a point from whence the river had come, to where it was going.
As we walked on, out of the English Saw Oak forest and along the remaining remnants of a wild African berg stream, I was sure that somehow this river walk journey was part of all our collective futures too. Past and future held on one branch, like the Ziziphus mucronata that we now passed, and the rivers and streams that are our collective South African heritage.