As a child the drive to our home on Karna Block seemed to take forever. The dry dusty road was punctuated by wire gates that Pierre and I had to take turns in opening, a task we especially dreaded at night. One of the gates was near the remains of an old cattle kraal and there was a story of herdsmen that had been terrorized by a pride of lion and after that night had never returned to Karna again. Another gate was home to the legendary Karna Hook Cow- a story passed down from older siblings and cousins of a viscous wild cow that used to hang out in that area! A third was near a patch of quick sand that was haunted by the ghost of a herdsman that died while trying to rescue one of his charges. In short my childhood recollections of returning to home at the very end of that road, were magical ones of rumbling down the dirt road with the nightjars flitting in the Land Rover headlights interspersed by moments of shear terror when it was my turn to open a gate!
As farmers we lived by the seasons , the winter months started with the tawny colors of the bush and the wild Aloes in flower. By October the Mopane were reduced silent grey sentinels surrounded by a parched landscape where the earth was cracked open and crying out for rain. This was the time of brush fires that lit up the night and peppered the air with the acrid smell of wood smoke. The men in the family were often called out to fight these wildfires and the flames could seen from our homestead at night as the smoke turned the sunsets blood red.
We used to sit on the step outside the kitchen door in the evening listening for the haunting cry of the crowned cranes, as they swooped in to roost for the night in one of the giant acacia trees that lined the riverbank. Sundays were spent fishing for Giant Catfish and Bream while keeping a sharp eye out for lurking crocodiles in the deep green pools in the Shangani River . Over the years we lost three dogs to these guardians of the river, that lurked in the large pool in front of our home.
The rising full moon in October would usually bring the scent of the first rains, overnight the Mopane Forests would flush green with their waxy leaves and the Cicadas would begin their shrill song which carried on until Christmas. The Shangani River rose flowing swiftly and silently down stream past the front of our home and the roads became slippery and very tricky to negotiate. If the Mangkwank was in flood we would be cut off from the outside world until the water subsided and the road became passable again.
With the rains came spiders in all shapes in sizes – from the golden orb with giant sticky webs that would span the road just high enough to catch you in the face on the back of the Land Rover to large hairy Baboon Spiders which were always bound to make Mum scream. We went to bed at night, tucked in under our crisp white mosquito nets to what sounded like an orchestra of mosquitoes and relied on our bitter tablets taken once a week to keep the Malaria at bay. After the first rains the rhythmic drumming would start at the nearby villages of Lubumbi, communicating that there was help needed to till the fields and free beer for anyone that would come and lend a hand. This was a time when all the men who worked on the farm went home to help with the planting of their maize and sorghum crops , enjoying time with their families and friends.
Dad was not one to ever get involved in matters of the kitchen … unless there was a Braai, however after the first rains we would always treat us all to cinnamon pancakes served with sliced lemon.