Start in the Middle

Many intriguing books or movies start the story in the middle. This allows the reader or viewer to ponder what came before. Why are the characters doing this? How did they get there? What will they do next? Does the past have a significant impact on their next move?

I’m here in the middle, making a new start. What came before is what brought me here. What brought me here is what affected me before. Life and endless circles. And endless running around.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve been slack. Four months of blog silence.

Why?

Because, winter. Oh, dear gawd, winter. Why did I arrive in the Garden Route during one of its coldest winters in memory? I brought my Joziburg™ assumption with me – that the Garden Route has one of the world’s most moderate climates (on average). Alas, I forgot about El Niño, which decided to turn the lovely southern Cape coast into North Antarctica this year.

Staying in furnished, rented accommodation that had a view second-to-none did not compensate for the icy howling gales that razored across the hillside where I lived. Luckily for me – and my teenage offspring – we found a house to buy, in George, closer to school and Things That Matter.

And so we have moved – to a home with a view to the mountains that soar almost 1500m to the sky.

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A gentle garden, mixing an English eccentricity with African forest. Birds that chirp and shriek and serenade, whilst stuffing their beaks with bounty from the feeder, or ending up as morning tea for the resident leopard-cat-tiger. Little thug! I had to dispose of the bloody remains of two fledglings, which were being butchered on the carpet in the passage. Two! He must have felt like a shopper who’d scored a two-for-one bargain in the bin nearest the checkout.

Right now, the house is an obstacle course of flattened boxes, half-unpacked boxes, toppling-over boxes, lurking boxes, boxes for charity, boxes with re-assigned contents, and STUFF spread out all over the place. I’ve made great progress in reducing the box population from almost 100 containers to roughly a dozen. Furniture that had specific uses back in Joziburg™ has been repurposed – the hall table is now in my bedroom because it simply looks better there. A lamp that lurked in the library is now spotlighting my desk. The whole process is almost a rite or a festival of new choices. Christmas with a twist?

My very astute daughter said to me recently that our Joziburg™ home was the cocoon and that we are now the butterflies in a new garden. It’s an interesting analogy. And if you knew my old home you would see the parallels. Dimly-illuminated corners (albeit interesting ones) are now replaced by air and sunlight. A sense of space and openness. Big blue skies, grumbling folds of mountains, forested dells with delicate ferns and shy orchids, and dust roads that unravel through farms that slumber in the heat. Beaches that glow like amber at sunset, waves lacing their way through rocks, with sea birds standing sentinel as they contemplate dinner.

Start as you mean to go. From the middle.

 

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Postcards at Dawn

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   They march across the dimly-lit horizon, massive worn-down teeth of a sleeping dragon – the Outeniqua mountains, just before sunrise. Ragged edges. Smooth slopes. Shadowed ravines. A purple haze that looms out of the gloom. Fields and forests and valleys coating the lower slopes and flatlands.

 

 

I’m doing the morning school run, driving parallel to this moving, shifting masterpiece. The sun is still well below the horizon, the clouds splay out above, catching fire from beneath because the sun is still so low.

Every turn in the road, every dip of a valley, reveals new things that make me happy I made this move.

Farm dams that mirror the sky, and the cows strolling like grey ghosts to drink, their reflections as perfect as upside-down twins. Sometimes I can tell that the cows have already been milked, other times I can see their bulging udders – relief is probably an hour or two away.

On a slope, a cluster of sacred ibis shake out their feathers as they preen momentarily. They could be preparing to leave for a new Garden-Route ‘larder’ or else they may have just landed and are gearing up for a day of intense foraging.

Closer to town, the horses in the paddocks at the showground continue grazing – their meals have no set time. Eating is about living to eat some more.

During the past few months, the roadworks in town have snarled up what there is of a rush hour. Traffic cops in safety vests glow green in the half-light as they direct cars, trucks, and buses across unmarked intersections.

The return journey shows the other side of the palette. The sun is behind me, poking long rays across the land and dabbing peachy washes of watercolour on the dragon’s teeth. It’s as if I am being pursued by a paintbrush loaded with light.

White egrets, in rough v-formations, stitch their way above me in my car on the road below. At sunrise and sunset I see dozens of these egret flocks – back in Joziburg™ I was fortunate if I saw two or three in a group. Here, they feast in the hundreds on the insect life thrown up by the farmers’ ploughs, and on the bug life kicked around by flocks of sheep and cows.

As I wind my way steadily westwards, the road twists and begins its descent to the shoreline. This is where I like to open my window a bit and grab a noseful of the coastal bush. It’s a smell like no other – I picture it as deep olive green, heavy, damp, dense. Imagine if I could bottle it?

On the last straight run to ‘my’ village I cross the river. The water is as smooth as polished glass, a mirror of the world above it. On the rusty old supports of the old rail bridge, the resident cormorant ignores me completely. He has better fish to find.

A Recipe for Laughter

There’s nothing I like more than seeing something that makes me laugh or really think about what took place…and sometimes I stare in amazement! My arrival in the Garden Route has been punctuated by a series of these moments.

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On the second or third day here, we were confronted by a donkiekar trundling the streets of George’s suburbs, sifting through residents’ rubbish bins and garbage. In Joziburg™ there are waste pickers too, but the guys on those operations pilot ricketty trolleys that look like they’ve been salvaged from a warehouse yard. Self-drive and potentially lethal when they steer them down steep hills, fully loaded. Meanwhile, George operates at a more gentle pace.

Then there were the two gentlemen, in York Street the other day, who had stripped off their shirts and were engaged in a serious bout of fisticuffs in the parking lot of a small shopping centre. Security guards looked on, benignly. I have no idea what prompted it, but they were quite clearly frustrated with each other.

At the Pacaltsdorp offramp from the N2, two tractors in the middle of peak traffic. No one blinked.

A Friday afternoon, in the village, a young man strolls along the pavement, strumming a guitar and serenading no one in particular. Further down the road, three girls swoop around and across the street on their bikes. Traffic? What’s that? One is dressed in her best frock and shoes. Clearly, cycling with friends is a proper occasion.

Outside Pick ‘n Pay, friends exchange news, asking about someone whose baby is a tad overdue. It’s easy to park, just pull into the slot right outside the door of said Pick ‘n Pay. Across the road in the neat and green park, some people have fishing lines in the river. Dinner, or maybe just a way of kuiering for a bit.

Oh, and it is true. Awê [ah-weh] really is a valid greeting if you’re conducting a conversation across the main street. Joziburgers™ tend to make a joke about Cape slang, implying it’s an affectation or a mockery. It isn’t. Awê.

On the road out of Blanco, there is a berry farm. Yes, a real farm where you can go pick your own real berries of all kinds. The only berries I’ve ever picked have been from the fruit section at Woolies!

Last week, we saw a whole field of mielies being harvested – indeed, they do not come clad in cling wrap, or from the trolley of a mielie lady. The following day, that same field was being ploughed under.

The pair of donkeys, creating another generation of donkeys, right next to the fence alongside the road. A black cow, on the farm in the village, that seems to stay in one place in the field, day after day. “There’s that cow again!”

And then: Manners. Politeness. People here will always greet you, even if you’re at the stop street with your window wound down, waiting your turn to go. The pedestrian who is crossing will say hello. The checkout lady will say hello and “wannabeg” [do you want a bag]. Mind you, even when your car window is closed, you will be greeted by a small wave or a tip of the head from a passerby. At first, I kept looking back to see who the recipient was…until I realised it was me.

Farmers, in their bakkies, parked either side of the road, having a chat across the sleepy R102 from George to Great Brak. They’re in shorts and big boots-with-socks, wearing tracksuit tops, and mashed hats on their heads. I wave. They do too.

People want to talk. To chat. To natter. I have found my home! Haha. I know I am notorious for simply yakking to anyone who seems to be a likely target; well, now I am a target too. It’s really nice!

Something else, George is a city of schools and colleges. So many kids walking to and fro at starting and finishing times, passing by each other, depending if they’re from the English school, the Afrikaans schools, the high schools, or the primary schools. Government schools, private schools, technical schools, special schools. Schools. Schools. Schools.

Finally, the wild life…

Guinea fowl in our little enclave. Kê-kê-kê-kê whenever they get skrikked and take off like feathered rugby balls. Vast flocks of cattle egrets that fly over at random times. Forktail drongos with a sweet call that belies their clumsy name. Francolins pecking alongside the road. The cheeky robins and wagtails that tease our cats. The waterfowl in the dams on the way to town. Sacred ibis digging in the marshy bits. Hadedas everywhere. Grey herons stalking grandly amongst the reeds. The odd raptor glaring from the top of a tree [note to self: start looking hard at Robert’s Bird Book].

On the beach: seagulls shitting everywhere. Terns (I think), crying across the lagoon, then freaking out when we get too close. In the shallows: barely visible, tiny fish darting in and out the shallows – instant fish pedicure if you have the patience to sit motionlessly and wait for them to find out if you’re edible… Hermit crabs fighting over who has the right to the bigger shell. I never see the end of that because something always disrupts the altercation.

In the house: oh my…the blackest, shiniest scorpion I’ve ever seen. He’d been clinging to my camera bag (or sheltering under it) and got dumped on the chair. I thought he was plastic at first. Not. Mild panic, fetch a glass and some cardboard, send him on his way over the wall.

Ants. Ants. AntsAntsAnts. To the point where our pets won’t even touch their food because the ants are capable of building ant bridges over the water that is supposed to protect the food. I surrendered to buying an ant trap. Either the ants die or my pets starve. No contest.

Shongololos. I love them. These are small buggers, though. But you have to jump a bit if you look like you’ll squish one. I prefer them whole, not mashed. They can be found everywhere in the house.

Ticks. Farksakes. Ticks. The worst of the lot. The dog went a-wandering last week and obviously visited the tick maternity ward on the hill. Unbeknownst to us, he brought several dozen little ‘pets’ back, and left them all over the duvets. Small dots of ‘black pepper’ all over the cotton. Yack. Yack. Yack. We brushed the dog until he was rather angry at the excessive attention. We washed the bedding. We vacuumed like demons. Tea tree oil has been spritzed everywhere, and flea-and-tick drops administered.

Oh, and then there’s the golden orb spider. But she knows her place. Outside. Strung between the potato bush and the abelia. She’s wise…stay out of our house and we’ll stay out of hers.

Six million other trees

 

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In August last year, I started this blog. I was in a pensive mood, caught up in my own thoughts about being a Joziburger™. A love/hate relationship that was part of what I had been and what I wanted to be…an editorial graphic designer vs a free-agent-who-will-do-anything-that-makes-life-interesting.

Some 220-plus applications for jobs, only five-or-so interviews, and only two replies………..that hurts. I have a CV that I am proud of, achievements that are singular, places I’ve been and seen, projects that wouldn’t have worked if I hadn’t thrown myself wholeheartedly into them.

That’s when you look in the mirror and wonder if your career was all just smoke….and mirrors.

 

…yes, hurts…

 

And not long after the blog launched, I decided I was quitting Joziburg™. Time to follow the dream I’d had since I was a pre-teen – go to the Garden Route, or live in the Klein Karoo.

I’ve done it. The house is sold. The transfer has been signed. The high school for The Empress has been chosen. In 48 days I am on my way.

To another place that has countless trees!

So, Joziburg’s™ Six Million Trees are about to morph into the Garden Route’s Six Million Trees! I am not leaving in order to never return – Joziburg™ is MY town….but I am following my heart.

Dream on.