I am sad for the loss of trees on table mountain, more than sad, I have observed something that strikes fear in my heart and a chill down my spine. These is an emptiness in my heart that echos the empty spaces where these beautiful giants used to be.
When my kids were growing up and budgets were tight, we would head up to the forests, following the streams up the mountain. After we were well and truly tired out, our picnic lunch of sandwiches and crunchy, sweet, apples would be enjoyed from a high point over looking Cape Town. We would drink from the mountain steams that were icy cold and any time there was a pool, the kids would be in, splashing and squealing with joy. It was a way to share with them my own childhood growing up on the mountains of Gordon’s Bay.
Even at the height of summer, these steams trickled their life saving juice and in the surrounding forests you could breath in the dank aroma of wet earth. There was always a welcome coolness and a gentle breeze. The air was moist and soft – like a mother’s gentle touch – it would sooth your soul – green rain, is what the Chinese call it.
When you drove from Kirstenbosch around to Hout Bay you could smell the damp from your car, you could feel the cool deep shadow of the trees and you could see the water seepage along the curved banks of the road. When you drove up Ou Kaapseweg, the sides of the mountains always had points were water oozed out. All the dampness and oozing water has disappeared with the forests they have cut down. So I ask again – DO THEY REALLY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING? The mountain streams might never go completely but do we know this. There is so much evidence of deserts advancing when forests are cut down.
They say there were never forests on the Mountain because they found some old paintings that don’t show them. Not very scientific evidence to base such a huge decision on, especially one that will have far reaching consequences.
Its been my observation that there are a number of old buildings in Cape Town that have huge beams in them, massive lintels and wide floor boards that could only have come from really big trees. They are Yellowwoods so did not come from foreign ships and they come from a time before exploration up the coast. The only conclusion we can draw from this is that there must have been giant Yellowwoods in the immediate vicinity. I am sure that they did not cover the mountains – winds like our South Easter are not generally enjoyed by trees. However in all the valleys with a bit of protection and constant water streams these trees would have thrived and the mountain is full of these valleys.
I am not against removing aliens that don’t support our bird and insect life, I recognise that many of them tend to be wildly invasive, not to mention burning at a temperature hotter than can be tolerated by our delicate echo system, when the mountain fires do their inevitable sweep, BUT I do think the process should be done slowly with the introduction of indigenous trees in all the places it would be possible for them to grow. Only once they had reached a suitable and sustainable height and number should the area be cleared of aliens.
Like humans, trees tend to grow better in groups. They protect and feed each other, big trees shade little trees – forcing them ever upward to grab the sun. They shade the ground, keeping it from drying out, the leaves and branches fall, creating a thick soft matting of organic mulch that all the little forest insects burrow in. Their massive roots hold onto the soil to stop soil erosion and reach down deep, to bring up water to the surface, which they slowly release into the atmosphere. The dampness in a forest is because of the water that trees release around them and then work hard to keep it there.
When you strip the mountain of trees and lay waste all that is a forest echo system – you destroy much. Much of which you may never be able to restore. But when the water dries up in an already water short area – everyone should be concerned.
Plant a tree, better still plant a group of trees – in memory of the once great forests on our beautiful Table Mountain.