Life in the African Bush

Call of the Ocean

An exceptional short story of an exceptional man

Max the super cat

Max – the Super African Bush Cat

Half African wild cat and half domestic cat … he arrived on the farm seemingly out of the blue, of monstrous size, as weak as a kitten, with a unique personality and uncanny intelligence … MAX was a super cat!

One balmy day my husband called me and said “quick, Trace, come look”. There sitting at the edge of our bushveld garden on the ornamental bridge was a large cat. The extra-ordinary thing about this, is that at the time we had 8 fox terriers as pets, they had not proved a deterrent to this animal!!

I grabbed each foxie and shoved them, one by one into the spare bedroom, closing the door each time, while praying that until I had managed to round all the foxies up, that none of them would discover the stranger. After this mammoth and energetic task, pink-faced and out of breath, I was able to turn my attention to the stranger who was still sitting there, and that had calmly observed the frantic activities that had just taken place.

I went to the kitchen and grabbed a bowl of milk, as well as some dog food, and then very cautiously approached the monster cat, which had still not moved.

Two Spot and Max asleep in each others arms

Two Spot and Max asleep in each others arms

He watched me coming, sitting quite still, blinking occasionally. I put the food and the milk down a little distance from him. He stood up, and as he did his back legs gave way and he fell sideways, I could see his hip bones, jutting up through his fur. He was as weak as a baby and half-starved.  He took another wobbly step forward and began to eat the dog pellets and drink the milk. I cautiously put out a hand and touched his head; he did not flinch or re-act badly to my touch. I then very slowly stroked him on his back he did not seem to mind. Un-sure and not quite certain what to do with this huge cat, I took a couple of steps back and let him finish the food and milk.

Back at the house, I could hear the frantic wailing, barking and howling of the dogs, all most indignant that they had been locked in a room, when, they were used to having the unlimited space of the farm at their disposal. I headed back for the house to try and calm them, while we tried to figure out what to do with this stranger. I glanced back at him and he was following me! OK, I decided, this called for some sort of extreme action.

I went to the room where the heaving mass of dogs were enclosed,  grabbed one and slammed the door shut again.

Max at the Dam

Max at the Dam

I then took the first of the dogs, which happened to be “Two Spot”, to the cat and introduced them to each other with great trepidation. The cat sat perfectly still, and the dog stopped  squirming in my arms as soon as he saw the cat, and started to shiver with excitement instead. I put the dog on the floor, holding him by his collar, and stroked both him and the cat to let them both know that they were accepted by me. It was amazing at how quickly they accepted each other. I did this another seven times with each of the dogs in turn. The cat sat there with supreme confidence and did not hiss, twitch a muscle, or give a bad reaction once to the never ending string introductions that he was being subjected to.

We decided to call this cat Maximillian … Max for short.

Max on his favourite perch a tree stumpMax, we discovered, did not arrive alone, the following day we met his smaller furry companion, but this is for my next story.

Max, soon took over, and became the boss animal on the farm, he strengthened, picked up weight and fitted in to our lives with amazing speed. He had the most beautiful eyes, a really pretty face and soft and luxuriant fur and was so large, my husband could not get his hand around his neck.

Max was given a basket, which he enjoyed and slept in during the day, he considered it his cat nap basket, but when evening came and we turned in for the night, Max slept at the end of the bed, at my feet.

We discovered that Max enjoyed toys, he had a favourite soft toy with which he would love playing fetch.

Max did not enjoy the dog fights that occasionally took place, especially between the male foxies; he would launch himself, fearless and screaming, straight into the middle of the fight, claws flying and usually managed to break up the fight!

He loved to lie or sit in my office at the entrance of the sliding door,  and as each dog came in or went out he would give them a resounding clout that would always result in a yip from the victim. The dogs, became more cautious when it came to galloping in and out of the house at will., especially when the door was half closed, as then with the narrower gap, Max never missed.

Max enjoyed the walks we went out on around the farm, normally to the dams, to fish or for a sun-downer or just for pure enjoyment. He would follow behind us, and sometimes cry piteoously for us to wait if he trailed too far behind, or he would gallop up and past us at great speed, and then sit and wait for us to catch up with him.

Max Fishing with Pete

Max Fishing with Pete

Max was unusual in that he enjoyed fishing, drank from the swimming pool and was not afraid of water.

On trips to the vet, he sat quite royally on the back seat and did not mind the car at all.

Very talkative, he would let you know just how he was feeling, when he purred, his purr was so loud the walls almost vibrated with it.

When it came to meals and tit bits, Max would line up with the dogs and wait for his share of the snack.

A few years later, we acquired a new member of the family, a 5 week old English Pointer, which we adopted when visiting friends for dinner.  Duke, as we called him, was initially a tiny and extremely active puppy, Max mothered him and allowed Duke to sleep in his basket with him but Max, would very quickly put Duke in his place when he got to boisterous. Duke loved to pull Max’s tail and try to jump on top of Max with the huge puppy paws of his. Max would decisively bring him under control by give him a sharp tap on the side of his face, which would result in a howl from Duke and instant good behaviour.

After a few years, I started noticing that Max was not able to jump up onto the counter as easily as he used to, and his appetite was not was it used to be.  This started a string of visits to the vet.
His health was up and down, on his last trip to the vet, the prognosis was dire, Max had extreme kidney failure and the sediment in his blood was exceptionally high.  The vet advised us that the kindest thing to do for Max was to have him put to sleep as he was really,really ill.

I spent a last, special day with my beautiful cat, before I let Alne, my assistant, take him back to the vet, to be put to sleep. I could not bring myself to do it.  Max came home, and heart broken, we buried him next to Two Spot, his favourite fox terrier.

Max, the Super Cat, I have never before known a cat like him and I don’t think I ever will again. He was unique and I loved him.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

 SHE .. landed next to me and watched me for the next two days with her bead like eyes as I typed away on the keyboard.  One of God‘s most unusual looking and deadly and skilled hunters, cruel… yes, in the way they hunt, but also so incredibly elegant in movement and very intelligent.

After two days of  her staring at me, she stirred some remote instincts in me, and I decided that I had to help her to secure some food, as she had gone two days without it, well for me anyway, it seemed like a lifetime !! 

I stalked out into the outdoors and after some searching found a “tick” secured to the top of a long grass stalk waiting for his next victim. I plucked him from his perch and took it into my office where she waited. I presented her with the tick … I dropped it to the side of her, the tick walked two steps and she pounced on it with lightening speed. She started to eat it with relish … caught and held tight in her pincers. unbelievably after about three mouthfuls … she dropped it and ignored it further !

I then procured a moth that had landed on the office window, it was to big and she jumped away from it.

A small beetle landed on my desk and she followed it around but did not attack it.

I gazed back to the tick and it was lying upside down but it’ legs were waiving in the air, it still lived !! I moved it closer to her and she picked it up again took one bite and amazingly threw it with incredible power and speed away from herself.  If she was human and had she been in the olympics she would have won the discus throw record with ease! 

I eventually could not stand the thought of the tick,  a creature, no matter how repulsive they are, in pain and suffering on my desk, so I did the right thing and put it out of its misery.

She pranced on and around my computer for the next day or two and then, suddenly she was gone. 

Over the four days she spent with me we had developed a kind of strange comeradie.  I miss her !

I witnessed a death today

Death is not pretty and I witnessed this one today.

Today, was a really hot day, just like it has been for the last week.

The dogs were snoozing limply in the coolest of spaces they could find. I had already had at least three swims in the swimming pool and it was only 11.00 am in the morning with the thermometer already registering a blistering 36 degrees in my office !

I glimpsed out of my window and I noticed on gazing out, a mother Warthog and her three babies grazing on my lawn, I was thankful the dogs were non compos-mentos otherwise they would have chased them off.

I enjoyed the little family scene playing out in front of me for a few minutes. I went back to work on my computer.

A terrible heart rending squeal then hit the air, it was from a baby warthog and with it in the next second came the terrible barking of a lone male baboon. I jumped up and ran outside. The mother Warthog was running toward me as the screaming of her little one and the terrible barking of the baboon continued. With this, the dogs, were also galvanised into action and sped past me and out of my office sliding door. In a total state now, I was worried for the mother warthog, and the dogs, as she would be really aggressive, I agonised over the baby warthog and was anxious as to where the male baboon could be. He was barking on a none stop basis from about 20 meters from my house.

I felt sick as I thought about the little warthogs demise and hoped his death had been quick and painless. The baboon carried on barking for at least another twenty minutes and I could hear he was moving around the house and was headed for the gorge. Heart pumping and home alone, I felt the trauma of death, the hunt, adrenalin, worry and the power, cruelty and beauty of nature all rolled into one.

As my father so often said to me “Africa is not for sissies” .

It’s a Pork !

South Africa is a colourful country, with many different people and has many official languages , 11 of them actually. Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Ndebele, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana and Venda.
South Africa also recognises 8 non-official languages – Fanagalo, Lobedu, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, Sign Language, Khoe, Nama and San.

This causes colourful expressions, interesting words and funny moments as the languages get a bit mixed.   

English and Afrikaans are the most commonly spoken in business by everybody and make it possible for everybody to communicate, otherwise we would have a  situation in this country that would closely resemble the famous bible story  “The Tower of Babel“.

Yesterday my husband Pete was working out on a large game reserve. They were servicing the fire fighting equipment in the different lodges and units within Mabula Game Lodge.  Santos, a new staff member, not used to working in game reserves was sitting in the front of the pick-up truck with Pete as they collected the fire extinguishers from the various units. 

Warthog

Santos suddenly pointed  and exclaimed “look, is that a pork?”   “No”, said Pete “it’s a warthog! ” a brief education on wild pigs and domestic pigs then followed.

Soooo funny and “only in Africa”

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Living on a farm which has a couple of large dams, our dogs enjoy a superb “doggie” lifestyle. They love to play in the water and one of our dogs in particular, Jade, has mastered the art of flying through the air. Here it is folks – DOGS FLIGHT SCHOOL!   There you have it a rare […]

English Pointer Dog

Duke our English Pointer

Duke – our beloved English Pointer was badly bitten by a REALLY large puff adder. His life hung in the balance as he was expertly hooked up to drips, anti-oxidant drugs and pain killers by our local vet in Bela Bela , Limpopo Province, South Africa. The first 48 hours are the real danger period. How do we know the snake was large? OK … here is the explanation and a bit of background history. .. Out here in the bush, Duke was trained from a puppy by his fellow “dog mates and peers” – namely “7 Fox Terriers” who are known for their ability to” Kill Snakes”.

A dog’s method of killing a snake is fascinating and almost uncanny to watch. They all surround the snake and distract it from all angles by moving in and retreating from various points… then one of them moves in normally the “alpha male or female”  bites the snake near the tail and shakes it hard and so quickly so that the snake’s back is broken which in turn also stun’s it. They also bite the snake there as this is where a snake’s heart lies situated, in the last third of their bodies actually.  Once the snake has been semi-incapacitated they all move in and rip it to shreds. Yes, literally shreds.

Duke being taught this method from a puppy and although a “bird dog” by nature learnt the art of killing snakes from our pack of Fox Terrier adults and used to join in the foray.  Sadly the last of the 7 fox terriers died and we were left with Duke and two young female pointers who grew up without the benefit of the Foxies and their tutoring. Duke as a result has taken over the role of “snake killer” and “protectorate” of Green Valley Farm.

Back to Duke … Lesley heard a large rumpus across the river from her house. I had been into town for my monthly shopping trip. Lesley called Duke who did not respond to her calls but Lesley could see he was fighting with something across the river and it was on the ground. The two female pointers were barking frantically and circling around Duke and his enemy but they were not getting involved. Duke eventually came back in to Lesley and she could see a scratch and what looked like a large egg-like, swelling, on his face. She called me on my cell and got me half way back from town to say she thought that Duke had been in a fight with a large lizard. Lesley told me she was going to take him into the house and bathe his wounds as blood was coming out from his mouth and he was sore.

To cut a long story short… the Puff Adder was too big for Duke a 35kg, a very fit and strong pointer to “shake” and hence Lesley’s thinking that it was a Large Lizard, what we call a “Rock Monitor”. On my arrival back at Green Valley, Duke was walking – not running in his usual style to meet me. He was whining and instead of the beautifully slim, square head of the pointer he looked like a bulldog! My adrenalin kicked in and I called Marius “our local vet”. As quickly as we could we loaded Duke in the Pajero and we headed off helter-skelter for town – 40 minutes away and a precarious drive on badly damaged dirt roads after all the rain we had just experienced.

Thank you to my husband, Pete – for breaking all land speed records on very bad dirt roads, thank you to our Pajero for being such a great 4 x 4 and thank you to Marius, our wonderful and caring vet, for coming in when he was not even on call to help Duke so quickly.  I am pleased to report that 7 days later although still swollen and sore, Duke was able to come home …… it was a really close call.
Yes, Duke still kills snakes and has now taught our female pointers “the ropes” as well.

A Small Fat Dog

The early fuzzy warmth was already showing the promise of the gut searing heat we experience on a typical African Summer’s day. The Lodge staff on having their morning tea break were sitting and lazing under the soothing shade of the leafy trees in the surrounds of the main lodge.     

On sipping her tea, Nellie one of the lodge staff members in a very casual and conversational tone turns to Antoinette, the lodge manageress and say’s  “Miss Antoinette, did you know you have a small fat dog that is living on the roof of your house!” 

Antoinette startled and puzzled by this comment, turned to Nellie and responded “Nellie, what kind of creature did you say is living on our roof?” thinking that she might have misheard or misinterpreted Nellie’s quiet comment. Nellie responded “Miss Antoinette, its s ‘true, I saw it with my eyes, it is a small but verrrrrrry fat dog!” Nellie making sure that she rolled her R’s in an exaggerated fashion and rolled her eyes at the same time to prove just HOW fat this little dog was. Antoinette is blown away by Nellie’s statement.

Tea time over, Antoinette settled back into the lodges daily management chores, but with an unsettled mind … a small fat dog … a small fat dog, what the hell could it be?

Antoinette could take it no more and decided to do “a stake out” that afternoon and drove the land rover down to her house on the reserve. She found a strategic place where she had the best view of her house’s roof and waited and watched for any signs of the “small fat dog”.  An hour or so later Antoinette’s patience was rewarded and she caught sight of “The Small Fat Dog”.

She started to laugh when she saw what it was, tears rolling from her eyes and hiccupping with laughter… she re-told the tale to me.   Nellie’s Small Fat Dog was in fact a “Rock Dassie” or Hyrax .. What a curious but also apt description of this beautiful little animal.

Rock Dassie

Nellie’s Small Fat Dog – A Rock Dassie

Foley a beautiful female ostrich was there ready to inspect us when we arrived to manage the game reserve in 1999.  Foley had huge black eyes and incredibly long lashes.  She looked us up and down and batted those big round baby blacks at us a couple of times as if to say ” Ok, you’ll do”.

Ostrich

Foley

Foley got her name, as we, being English, anglicised it from the name that the current lodge care couple had given her which was “Vollie” an abbreviation of  “Volstruis” the Afrikaans word for an Ostrich . It was not a very romantic name or even bordering on the imaginative .. her name however stuck and we loved her just the same.

There are many memorable moments that Foley created for us all. 

Foley was quite tame and felt totally at home surrounded by humans, in fact she really enjoyed our company and would make her presence felt as often as she could. 

As a game lodge and reserve we specialised in conference and team building. One of our very first conference groups decided they wanted to go out on a pre-lunch nature stroll without a game ranger to guide them. We obliged and provided the group with a map of the roads on the reserve and wished them a pleasant walk. 

Lunch time came and went and we started to get really concerned at the non-return of  the group. They had obviously got lost and needed help in finding their way back to the lodge and their lunch.  The groups lunch still safe in the bain-marie was now starting to curl at the edges !

Johan our game ranger set out to find them and came across the funniest of sights. Foley had settled herself  in the middle of the dust road and scattered in all directions were the conference delegates all precariously positioned at various levels in the surrounding indigenous bushveld trees.  Johan gave Foley a pat and ruffled her feathers while explaining  gently to the distressed group that whatever had happened earlier that  it was quite safe to come down now as there was no danger in sight.

The group climbed down from their respective trees and rather sheepishly gave their explanation.  They had walked along peaceably and two of the ladies deep in conversation had lagged behind the rest of the group, suddenly they noticed an ostrich following them. They sped up to catch up with the rest of the group and alerted them to the fact that an Ostrich was hot on their heels. The group upped their pace but so did the ostrich, panicked, they all started to run and Foley enjoying the walk sped up with  them. Spooked,  they all decided the safest place was up the nearest tree they could find. Foley, a bit confused by this sudden strange behaviour settled herself  down in the middle of the dirt road, as she was not able to climb trees, and waited for the group to resume their walk.

Safely back at the lodge the group tucked into their lunch which, although ever so slightly crisped, was eaten with gusto and animated conversation about the Ostrich.  There was much laughter and recounting how Foley had followed them back oh so very sedately to the lodge for their delayed lunch.

THE WAILING DUO

Dolphins in the surf

Dolphins in the surf in a normally tranquil paradise

There are times in your life when you have a few crazy, never forgotten or repeated special moments.

We have had a few of these with a very special couple that have now since relocated to the remote northern regions of Africa. We met on a bright and sunny day in 2006 when we were house hunting and a chord was immediately struck between us. On taking transfer and moving in to our new house we received an invitation to Ernie’s 50th birthday party.

This special event took place on an island where you caught a ferry to reach it. What made this even more interesting is that the island had been totally underwater in the floods a couple of months earlier. This was all still clear by the water level marks situated high above our heads towards the top of the buildings walls and a slightly damp aroma, which just actually added to the stunning atmosphere !
We boogied the night away and crawled back to the ferry in the very early hours of the morning, then scrambled into the waiting vehicles to hopefully arrive safely back home. It was a great, great 50th !!!

In yet another year and on another occasion we decided to frequent the local ski club situated on the ocean shores. We had agreed to meet for a supposedly sedate lunch. My sister and mother were with me as well, us five ladies sat at a table while Pete and Ernie had moved off to another to have other discussions.
Five ladies, great food and a glass or two of wine and believe me it didn’t take much to get us going. Oblivious to the world around us, we discussed, tales and recounts of things and experiences that ladies do not and should not talk about … especially in public. Heaped up in endless fits of laughter and hopeless giggles at yet another shocking story, I happened to raise my eyes just after we had collapsed into another fit of belly aching laughter and met the eyes of a gentlemen seated at a table directly opposite us … he was staring at us, tears running down his face and laughing hopelessly at our shocking tales of life and our misadventures.  His wife or lady friend was not to amused at our saucy stories and her partners obvious enjoyment of them and soon escorted her man from the premises lest he be corrupted forever.

One beautiful summer’s evening we went out to a well-known restaurant … which sadly is no more .. and had the most delectable sushi! It was a perfect, balmy evening and afterwards we wound our merry way back to our place for a small night-cap. On arrival,I well … I pulled out the old CD’s .. some good wine .. and the hours rolled on … and at I don’t know what time of the morning, with a full moon shining over the ocean and the small village fast asleep below us .. Claudia and I decided it was time to serenade the World. We put on some golden oldies, stood at the end of the patio, raised our faces and voices to the moonlit sky and at top volume ..serenaded the world :). Situated on a hill, with not a breath of wind and with many poor souls living below us I think we awakened the entire population!
Pete and Ernie swore they saw George Rex (illegitimate son of an English King that made his home here in South Africa in the 1700’s) awaken from his grave and put his hands over his ears in Knysna .. a good 35km away. What a memorable evening.
To our two special friends, thank you for such good times, as you may notice they have not been forgotten … they are cherished.

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