A beautiful design

Since reading Philip Hoare’s The Sea Inside I look at oystercatchers differently. He writes that the Eurasian oystercatcher:

…eats mostly mussels and cockles teased from the shore, using its greatest asset: a bone strengthened bill, part hammer, part chisel, able to prise open the biggest bivalves. Delicately coloured carrot-red to toucan-yellow – it might be made of porcelain – it a surprisingly sensitive probe. At its tip are specialised Herbst corposcules that allow the bird to sense its prey by touch as well as sight; an oystercatcher can forage as well by night as by day. Perpetually prospecting the beach, it stabs and pecks or ‘sows’ and ‘ploughs’, altering it methods to suit its prey.

what stayed with me is this:

It can even change the shape of its bill – the fastest-growing of any bird – morphing from blunt mussel-blade to fine worm-teaser in a matter of days.

Walking on the beach after a storm I picked up the body of an African oystercatcher that didn’t make it. Getting to see an oystercatcher up close is rare – and special – considering its wildness, holding it in my hands feels wrong somehow. They live on the edge always looking towards the sea – quick to fly when they sense people’s attention on them. They are not concerned with our world.

Recalling Philip Hoare’s words I studied the bill closely. It appears deceptively delicate, but considering that it is designed to withstand foraging abrasive mussel beds, the efficiency of its design is complete, allowing nature room to indulge in pure beauty.

More on African oystercatchers

According to the The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species there are an estimated 6000 African oystercatchers on earth.

The scientific name is Haematopus moquini. It means blood-foot (Haema: blood, topus: feet), named by Alfred Moquin-Tandon. Moquini’s blood-foot.

They are monogamous and can live for up to 35 years. Pairs have been observed to remain together for 18 years.

Afrikaans name: Swarttobie.

I live by the sea

*A lone person walking on Scarborough beach.*

I live by the sea.

It’s not just any sea – I live at the edge of a wild sea.

When in a rage she’ll rip a kelp forest from the sea floor and heave it onto the beach in layers as deep as a tall man’s waist. Then, when the fly eggs hatch in the rotting blades and stipes, she’ll come at night and take it all back for a feeding frenzy of fish and crabs and abalone.

It’s a sea that tempts you to lean into her week-long gusts with nothing in your head but fears and doubts. It is a sea that calls you to her. You see this when drivers park their cars on the narrow shoulders of the winding roads that snake along her shoreline. And they sit and stare into, what can only be, themselves.

It is the sea where I walked when my father passed away – and then my mother too, suddenly – staring into the waves, hoping for a voice, comforting and profound, to emerge from the roar, but nothing. Only a sense, both dreadful and inviting, that I had to turn around, face the mountains, and go on.

I live by the sea. It is a sea that gives no answers but is somehow the answer itself.

Mister Sengi’s Very Big Friend wins award

Mister Sengi’s Very Big Friend wins a Bookchat Award for 2013.

Which is a pleasant surprise, but also an honour as there are some big names on the list.

Fiction

  • MISTER SENGI’S VERY BIG FRIEND by David du Plessis & Charles de Villiers (Struik Nature 2013)
  • MONDAY EVENING, THURSDAY AFTERNOON by Jenny Robson (Tafelberg 2013)
  • SHARP EDGES by S A Partridge (Human & Rousseau 2013)
  • SISI GOES TO SCHOOL and other stories by Wendy Hartmann, illustrated by Joan Rankin (Human & Rousseau 2013)
  • STORYTIME : 10 South African stories for children by various authors (Sunday Times/Nal’ibali 2013)
  • THE NAME OF THE TREE IS BOJABI by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Piet Grobler (Human & Rousseau 2013)

Non-fiction

  • FIRST FACT FINDER by Helen Lewis (Metz Press 2013)
  • SAM, The Toad in the Hole by Lulu & Tee (African Penguin 2013)
  • MISTER SENGI’S VERY BIG FRIEND by David du Plessis & Charles de Villiers (Struik Nature 2013)
  • MONDAY EVENING, THURSDAY AFTERNOON by Jenny Robson (Tafelberg 2013)
  • SHARP EDGES by S A Partridge (Human & Rousseau 2013)
  • SISI GOES TO SCHOOL and other stories by Wendy Hartmann, illustrated by Joan Rankin (Human & Rousseau 2013)
  • STORYTIME : 10 South African stories for children by various authors (Sunday Times/Nal’ibali 2013)
  • THE NAME OF THE TREE IS BOJABI by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Piet Grobler (Human & Rousseau 2013)

Non-fiction

  • FIRST FACT FINDER by Helen Lewis (Metz Press 2013)
  • SAM, The Toad in the Hole by Lulu & Tee (African Penguin 2013)