Woodgate January 2, 2020
I’ve been on this farm for twelve months and what have I done?
I’ve found rhythm.
I know which phase the moon is in. I see the stars.
One night sitting by the fire we looked up and saw a string of satellites in formation, one following the other at equal distances, like a pulse.
So many that they arced along the sky from horizon to horizon.
I wasn’t alone, or I would have thought I was hallucinating.
This is it, my friend said, they’ve finally come.
The next day I had forgotten about it, because … feeding dogs and horses and letting out chickens.*
Henny Penny is roosting. It’s day 16 today, and she hasn’t budged.
Slip that mama a dish of water, Hannah said, over Whatsapp from a farm in Botswana where, on New Years Eve some unidentified predator – baboon, or maybe python – killed all her chickens.
She also lost her mother this year.
FUCK 2019! she texted close to midnight.
FUCK 2019! I agreed. Play nice 2020.
So far so good. The dam beckons on hot days so I can defy both temperature and gravity, in between planting trees and vegetables and tending seedlings and picking beans and building a cabin to live in.
Which means repairing the windows the baboons break – two in the last fortnight – and making it more like a fortress than I intended.
It means planning irrigation and laying water pipes and filling tanks and cursing the Vervet monkeys who sever the heads of my perfectly ripe cabbages with guillotine precision.
It means that seeds will sprout but so will weeds, and take over while you aren’t looking.
It means navigating countless hiccups that happen along the way because life is, and the cycles are moving whether you like it or not.
Best get into the rhythm.
The rhythm is walking and tending.
It is being aware of the many things around you, and the potential in them, and the so many things to be done that you can’t do them all at once.
So you channel your energies – you go with the flow.
And you learn to plant rooting vegetables by the waning moon because it feels right (most everything else wants to be planted on the wax).
Things are being tugged and held into place, and when I’m not planting, I walk.
At nine months Stella comes on heat, for the same three weeks that Henny Penny sets in to brood.
I walk through the house mopping droplets of blood, the bitch stuck to my side like a shadow, not even trying to chase horses.
Which means I can play with Shakira, my golden girl, grown fat and dappled on the land. I’m not allowed to ride her yet, because of my new knee, but we can dance she and I, without ropes or ties, our steps in sync until she gets bored and moves on to the greener pasture of her choice.
I’ve learned how to reset a pump.
Pumps are the beating heart of a farm. They keep everything going.
My long-term intention is to have a solar pump, to replace the electric one that moves water from the dam to the tank which will eventually be up on a tower – that has finally been delivered after a four-month delay (another story), but is in pieces for me to Meccano into being, just one of the many, many things that need to be done that can overwhelm if you don’t channel.
When the water is in the tank at the top of the tower, having got there with the energy of the sun, it will gravity flow to everywhere else.
That’s the plan.
Gravity is your friend. Except when you are recovering from a total knee replacement. Then so much walking can take a toll on your body.
Christmas day I step funny on a stick and my left knee (the one they didn’t operate on) slipped out and swelled up. It’s the old story. The world can be unsteady.
So now the other leg, the one I’m still rehabilitating, has to take over. Time to prove your worth, I tell it. I’ve been doing my exercises like a diligent dog. (Downward dog among them.) My hip is so stiff at night I can’t sleep, and so sore from bearing the brunt for so long that I worry, while I walk and walk and walk, that I will have to have THAT replaced also.
I can do without more medical this year.
And then a funny thing happens. I start to trust this new knee. I get a new ease in my step.
Dare I say a bounce?
A muscle in my thigh, one of those all-important quads, wakes up. An old friend I haven’t spoken to for a very long time.
Oh, it says, this feels good.
Thank you, I say. Welcome back.
I swim in my dam on a hot day to un-kink all the knots in the joints and everywhere else, gravity-less, but still held by the moon.
Yoga stretches out the rest; both sides coming into balance.
I got hot water last week, after six months of no water or electric power here. So now I have a happy warm shower (solar powered), a compost toilet, and a forest to the east of that, fed on humanure, ormus, ems and love.
‘Pooh forest’ stretches from the Bird Hide out along the furrow to meet the other patches of indigenous that are coming up where the wattle have been cleared. Planting in the gaps, shaping corridors for wildlife and watching the land respond with what feels like thanks.
The baboons are another story.
I would like to live and let live, be content with watching them use the far wall of the dam as a pathway to whatever fields they’re foraging for the day.
Instead they declared war.
The dogs chase them off too enthusiastically – the alpha male is huge, grown fat on my bread and bananas and avocado pears, on the fresh eggs I’ve hoarded from Matilda and Heather Feather, who are not roosting and each lay me one a day if the dogs or the bushes don’t get them first.
But just when I’ve accumulated enough for an omelette, the baboons strike.
They watch me. They know my routine. They’re reading my patterns, and they have this rhythm thing down to a fine art.
They wait until I leave the cabin with the dogs to feed horses or feed chickens or tend to an elderly in the main house with an emergency. (Usually: ‘Which button do I press to turn the TV on?’)
Then they strike. Twice they’ve broken windows to get in, because they know now that inside is the chance of apples bananas eggs bread tomatoes … a refrigerator full of goodies to test and discard.
The eggs never leave the kitchen. He scoffs them right there, leaving shells and yellow streaks on the still-unpainted cement board walls.
Doors are not a hindrance. He lets himself in quietly while I’m having my morning cup of tea in bed, watching ducks on the dam, two dogs by my side.
I hear the door handle turn. The three of us look at each other like – hello, we didn’t hear a knock? – and walk into the galley to see the baboon’s fleeing backside, lush grey-brown and furry (the avocado oil is doing wonders). Under his arm is the fourth loaf of farm-stall health bread I’ve bought this week, to replace the ones he already took.
I don’t even eat much bread. A loaf would usually last me more than a week.
So all the fruit and veg are hidden now, in a box, with a clasp, and the cupboards are held together by elastic bands (just a deterrent before he inevitably figures that out) and the broken windows have been replaced with shatterproof glass.
And I’ve managed to talk down kind people who offered to come shoot the alpha, either with bullets or pellets – one easily fatal, the other a slow painful death.
It’s the only way, they say. You’ve got to teach them a lesson.
But I’d rather not.
I’ve listened to counsel on paintball guns and pepper spray, about leaving a radio on in the house (a man’s voice, ideally – I think it’s baboon sexism that bothers me most). I’ve taken advice on electric fences, placing lion shit on my boarders or CDs in trees because they don’t like the sparkle. I’ve been told to get in animal communicators and been put in touch with PhD candidates studying baboon behavior.
My 89-year-old father has been invigorated by the challenge. A few days ago he walked in to his kitchen to find two baboons on his table, peeling bananas like something out of the morning funny pages. He regularly wakes up to find they’ve been through the trash in the kitchen courtyard, leaving scatterings for the chickens to pick through with equal enthusiasm. I have banned him from using his pellet gun, so now he emerges from the kitchen brandishing an old military sword. If baboons know how to laugh, they do it discreetly. Let’s be grateful for small blessings.
At least the snakes don’t come through there anymore. Thanks also to the chickens, I believe.
They are big glossy Australorpes – from Australia, apparently. Bred, back in the 1920s, to lay. That could be their tagline: ‘laying for a hundred years’.
This generation is pecking and scratching and seem to be deterring puffadders from sleeping in border beds – there were six puffies in the kitchen courtyard the summer I arrived here, just one year ago.
I’ve learned how to catch a puffadder, and how far away you should take it to ensure it doesn’t come back again. (Although opinions differ on that count.)
I have been to natural medicine courses and seed swops where bounty is set out for all to share. Bring what you can, and don’t forget containers because there will be so much you will want to take home.
I carried a Moringa seed in my belt pouch for weeks, then planted it in a pot. It sprouted, and waves green fronds at me now on my cabin kitchen deck, along with two keurboom trees I grew from seed that I got from Anton’s farm. The trick, he told me, is to steep them in hot water overnight to kick off germination.
There are loofah gourd vines sprouting too – grow your own sponge!– and Tulsi holy basil and Ashwaganda and cinnamon basil and regular basil.
The keurboom I planted less than a year ago, in February, is taller than me.
I overtook my 2019 tree-a day target sometime in August, when I reached 400 planted. Every one since then a bonus.
I ended the year with eleven more: two forest elders, two Cape Ashes, a Cape Chestnut and a Cape Beach (Boekenhout), three buddlejas, a wild plum and a waterberry.
Just because the moon was right.
I am so happy.
*Weeks later we found out they were probably Elon Musk’s satellites, being set out in sparkling cluster chains into our atmosphere to bring 5G and who knows what else to those who didn’t ask for it …