Mother Nature’s bizarre and beautiful creations translated into Silk 

Mother Nature’s bizarre and beautiful creations translated into silk 

Trees are often an inspiration for my silk scarf designs and it was in Namibia where I found some of the most wonderful trees nature has to offer. 

A few years ago I had the opportunity to join an overland jeep safari across Africa. Capetown to Kenya. Eight thousand kilometres, seven countries in eight weeks. A trip of a lifetime. Part of the itinerary in Namibia was to visit the giant sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the petrified forest of Dead Vlei. 

I was so excited to see Africa by land but I had no idea what was in store for us. Something that would leave my jaw dropping and breathless with excitement.

We set off early about 4 am. Apparently it was imperative to reach the dunes before the breaking sun, not just to avoid the midday heat but also to catch the dunes at sunrise. Driving through the desert, I held on tight as we were tossed about in the back of the jeep. Crossing the inhospitable landscape, traversing rugged terrain of the salt pans and incredible red sand mountains in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

As we neared the location the dunes looked as if they were rising majestically out of the land. Their enormity was overwhelming. I do remember gasping a gulp of sheer terror at the thought of ascending this beast. Our guide for the day with this wonderfully enthusiastic lady who reminded me so much of Yoko Ono, with her long sleek black hair and barefoot. She wore green pocketed combat trousers and loose khaki safari shirt, “perfectly styled for the occasion" I thought ( always saluting a well put together fashion ensemble when I see one.)

One by one we followed each other like a trail of ants making our way up the beginning of the dune. It was certainly not for the faint hearted, yet I seemed to be the only one apprehensive about the journey ahead of us. If one person had turned back I would have happily followed in suit. Tip toeing one foot in front of the other, we hiked along the narrow point of sand, where the two sides of the sand dune meet in the middle. Higher and higher, the sides of the dunes became more sheer and the drop became more evident. As I climbed I felt if I put one foot wrong I would roll endlessly uncontrollably down the side of the enormous dune.

What may have only taken half an hour seemed like eternity to me. My concentration was so intense and intent on reaching the top in one piece, I became dizzy staring at the narrow vile of sand for so long. Finally we all reached the summit of Big Daddy... 325 metres high. I remember hugging the top, letting out an enormous sigh of relief. In the distance you could see the father of all dunes named “Dune 7” 388m high, one of the tallest dunes in the world. 

As the sun rose beyond the dunes, the magic of the valley was revealed and the enormity of our adventure became all the more worthwhile. The view revealed a fabulous myriad of dessert colours - intense reds, vivid pinks and oranges (the colour variations caused by the concentration of iron in the sand) . 

We were able to sit and absorb the colour saturated views for about an hour and then it was time to descend. It was certainly  more nerve wrecking going down but closer to the bottom I seized the challenge to run the final descent of the dune, filling my boots, pants, hair and clothes with sand…not my most finest moment !

The next part of there trip was to see the the petrified forest of Dead Vlei. We gathered our day packs and followed Yoko, who had already headed out on her adventure, running barefoot across the desert sand. It must have been baking but she seemed unperturbed. We followed excited to see where she was taking us. We stumbled along through the deep sand for about a quarter mile and then.... her hand went up in the air as if to stand us to a halt!

Yoko dropped to the ground on her knees, holding her head close to the ground, her hair gently sweeping the sand. She asked us all to huddle close. Then gently she blew an area of sand to reveal a tiny circle about 1 inch in diameter. Gently moving the sand again with a small twig in front of this circle, we watched puzzled. Suddenly a small sand trapdoor was lifted up and a spider peeped out. Just as quick as it appeared it disappeared back into its trapdoor burrow. “The trapdoor spider”  she revealed to us, in an animated voice as if she hadn't seen one in ages. How she knew to find him there in all the vast sand, I marvelled at her expertise. 

We followed on like children following the pied piper, seeing nothing on the horizon but then in front of us appeared the vast white clay pan of the Dead Vlei. As we walked closer and closer it resembled a dried up oasis littered with unfamiliar blackened shapes. We quickened our pace, totally in awe. It was absolutely extraordinary ….a forest of black trees, dried and petrified. Stark and eyry. Surreal and bizarre.

We stepped foot onto the white clay pan. It was like walking onto another planet. The Dead Vlei used to be an oasis full of Acacia trees, fed and watered by a river. But over time the river changed course as giant masses of sand would shift and block its way. The pan then dried out and was left punctuated with blackened dead acacia trees. The trees stand in stark contrast against the shiny white salty floor of the pan and the intense orange of the dunes. This creates a particularly fascinating and surreal landscape. The trees are said to be over 900 years old, now stand scorched by the deadening heat of the sun. Technically the forest is not petrified but rather the wood does not decompose because it is so dry. 

Another interesting part of the trip was when we camped over night in the Namib Kalahari desert. On route from Fish River Canyon north to Sossusvlei, we stopped at Quiver Tree Forest. I just loved it here. These Quiver trees are fabulously intriguing, with shimmering glistening bark, flaky gold in appearance with forked branches of green Aloe rosettes. The bark is actually covered in a white powder which reflects the sunshine, keeping the trunk cool underneath. 

This tree was inspiration for the silk scarf below named “Quiver Tree” and teamed with some wonderfully playful cheetahs and other tree formations I saw that day.

Debbie Millington