Lidi de Waal, artist, poetess, muser and oft-savoured Facebook companion carries home little bits and pieces, and a Sea Bean, from her beach-browse. And some end up in (another) bowl somewhere on a shelf, or on a table, or tucked away in her mind, for later wistful caressing.
And some time later, Lidi muses about her browsing, and the Sea Bean, which is really the African Dream Bean, on Facebook and it takes me back to a sweltering hot afternoon on the banks of the Ruvuma River, on the very edge of Mozambique.
Back there, in the deep shadows of the riverine thickets, I picked up Lidi’s Dream Bean. When I weighed it in my hand and knew only the smooth hardness its skin, and its lightness, and the stories my African companions told me about it, I could not even imagine the many, many hundreds, possibly thousands of story-filled miles it would journey to Lidi’s beach. For that, I had to wait many years, until she wrote about her beach browsing in her beautiful poetic style.
But at the time I wrote the part I did know into my novel, Paths of the Tracker, and I have dropped that in below.
The story of the African Dream Bean (Entada Rheedii), is as romantic and rich as the Thousand and One Nights. In African traditional medicine it is know to produce “wild dreams.” And who could know the dreamy tales it could tell about its slow meander from that remote inland wilderness to a far-away Cape beach? Who could tell that Lidi would lovingly pick it up from the white sand and carry it home and treasure it in a special bowl? Who could tell if, when one day Lidi dies, it might somehow travel some more and find a generous patch of earth beneath a sausage tree, and after many months break out of its hard shell and feel its way to the light and to the tree trunk and then once again bury itself in darkness below its skin and start the cycle all over?
But, here is the bit I wrote, resting in the shade on the banks of the Ruvuma:
He had them hold out for their first rest till they reached the Ruvuma. They settled for breakfast on the lip of the river, looking out across the stretch of sand and water that separated them from the heat-melted tree line that was Tanzania. It was deeply peaceful in the dimness of the shadows thrown by the dense riverine bush. Every now and then a kingfisher’s “chit-chirrrr” quivered over the gently-rippled stream of chocolate in front of them. Once or twice a fish eagle’s high-pitched laugh drifted in. To their right two giant crocodiles lay sunning themselves on a sandbank, and while they were eating, a huge bull elephant crossed stately from the Tanzanian side, belly-deep in the brown churn, its trunk curved up and the tip pointed forward, like a giant inverted question mark. “At least sixty pounds a side,” Le Roux grunt-whispered into the drum of the cicadas. “And they’ll grow some more. He’s relatively young still.” It was almost like watching a movie.
“What tree is this Uncle Henry?” Craig asked as he relaxed back against the trunk. He nodded towards the huge sausage-like fruits hanging down by their stems like stuffed piglets.
“Oh it’s a sausage tree. Usually grows on river banks or near water. It’s called mkulumu in the local Yao. It’s a very valuable tree. Animals eat its leaves and flowers. Huge red flowers. Beautiful. The fruits have a very hard and tough skin, but when it gets rough in the dry season the game eat them too. Especially baboons and monkeys. They break them open with their sharp teeth and then other animals can also get to the content. Even antelope. But look at that interesting plant,” Le Roux said, pointing up into the foliage at the gargantuan seed pods hidden in the dense foliage above them.
Craig looked up. “Jeez Uncle Henry. Those pods are gigantic. They must be over a metre long! What are they?”
At least he sounds genuinely interested, Le Roux thought. “It’s the pods of a climber. It’s actually a parasite. The locals call it likulumu, because it only lives off the mkulumu tree. If you look closely you will see that it actually grows into the tree. Underneath its bark, like giant veins running along the trunk. And then it emerges and bears the pods. Those nodules in them that are like slightly flattened tennis balls hold the seeds. They are like pebbles. And as hard, almost. But light.”
Le Roux looked around him on the ground. “Look, here’s one,” and he handed Craig a flat brown object almost exactly like a good sized pebble from a river bed. “They fall into the water when the pods burst open, and they can float for months. Even out to sea and to another continent. And as long as it can find another mkulumu tree, it can germinate there, I guess.”
“Astonishing. Almost scary, the way it enters the tree and sneaks around under its skin and lives off it and comes out. Those veins are almost as thick as my wrist,” Craig said, grimacing
“Yep. The horror writer guys could come and take a few tips here. But isn’t it amazing that it only lives off the sausage tree? One would think its chances of survival would be better if had evolved to use other hosts, too. It reminds me of the complicated pollination behaviour of orchids. Some of the things I see in the bush sometimes stretch my capacity to fully buy into evolution theory,” Le Roux said as he rose and reached for his water bag from Vasco, leaving his remark about the orchids and evolution theory hanging unfinished in the air.