Ixopo: some brief memories

The rolling hills

Alan Paton put it better than I can. At the start of his book Cry the Beloved Country: “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.”

Mushrooming in spring

Especially during the first few warm days after the spring rains began, mushrooms galore, growing wild in the fields. They were delicious with eggs and bacon for breakfast. mushroomThese wild mushrooms had an intensity of flavour that makes the cultivated mushrooms one buys in the shops seem almost tasteless. Occasionally we had the treat of an i’kowe – a large, thick mushroom that can grow as big as a dinner plate.

 

The super long earthworms

Wormcasts, tens of thousands of them were to be found all over the farm. The lumps of soil were at times as big as a small fist. Generally, they kept to themselves, underground, doing their burrowing thing.

Giant South African earthworm, Kwandwe Game Reserve, South Africa

But sometimes in summer, after prolonged heavy rain, they were to be found ‘crawling’ slowly through the mud. Our theory was that their underground burrows had become flooded and they had come above ground to avoid drowning, They really were super long. Hold a worm by one hand, hold your arm straight above your head, and the other endof the worm would touch the ground.

The antbear burrows

Hundreds and hundreds of antbear (aardvark) burrows spread across the farm – big enough for a young child to fall into and easily deep enough for a terrier to disappear into. Yet we never saw one antbear – nocturnal creatures, very shy. Later, I realised how we kids put our lives and our horses at risk when we galloped across the fields. The leg of a horse caught in such a hole could lead to terrible damage to the horse and risk to the rider. Yet we spent many teenage holidays taking such risks.

 

The thick, thick mist

The mist belt of KwaZulu-Natal (of which the farm was very much part) is not called the mist belt for nothing!  In summer, sometimes days of mist in a row become quite claustrophobic. Trees, in particular, thrive as the mist turns into water drops on the leaves and drips down to the roots. The sunny, often warm, sometimes chilly, winter days are spectacular.

Driving at night in the mist

Driving at night is hell. Headlights are almost useless and lights on bright are worse. As mad as it may sound, we sometimes had to drive on the wrong side of the road, to find our way home. The roads were brown and dusty with no cats-eyes or even white lines to follow. Best bet was for the driver to stick his head out of the window and drive parallel to the dusty grass verge. Fortunately, there were not many cars on the road back then, especially after dark, and if there were any, they too were driving very slowly.

The snowstorm

It rarely snowed on the farm, and when it did, it seldom settled on the ground. But one winter evening (in the ’80s, I think) it snowed really hard. We only realised how hard, later. Out of the silence that is snow, came a crack, like a rifle shot in the distance. Half an hour later another crack, closer this time. Then another, and another. By midnight it sounded as if there was a fierce battle going on in the distance. At times it sounded like machine gun fire. Pine trees are designed to bend and allow snow to slide off their branches. Others, especially gum trees (Eucalypts), are not. The snow accumulates on their leaves and branches until their trunks snap – tens of them, then hundreds, then thousands.

The storm cut our electricity for days. The roads were impassable, blocked by fallen trees. We carted snow into the cheese cold rooms to keep them cool. Meanwhile, the soot in the lounge chimney had caught fire – we had put so much wood on the fire!

The ginger cat

The ginger cat was seldom forgotten by any visitor to the farm. ‘Ginger Cat’ as she was ‘affectionately’ known, frequently lay on top of the back of the sofa near the entrance to the lounge, looking eminently strokable. catWhen we forgot to warn a visitor or chose not to if he or she was unwelcome, the visitor would try and stroke her. Ginger Cat would appear to be loving the petting and would roll onto her back. Then, as quick as lightning she would dig the claws of all four feet, and sink her teeth, into the visitor’s hand. The attacks were serious enough to break the skin in several places and hurt like hell. Once clawed and bitten by Ginger Cat, more than once shy.

Ginger Cat had the unusual habit of lying under a car during a thunderstorm, looking furious as the water flowed underneath the car. But she never ran inside when the heavens opened.

 

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