I know this farm in Africa (not to be mixed up with Karen Blixen although we share the same name), but a farm in South Africa. A family farm, which I may never see again, but one I grew to love.
It takes time to get there. Big gates on arrival and a grid to stop the wildlife from searching a different road, perched on the top of the world. Too see forever and further. Below lies the farm, down a treacherous cliff, called ‘Lai lai se pas’ where the valley below is home.
The farmhouse typical of the sandstone buildings, ghosts of previous owners embedded in the rock. Grand sheds for carriages, barn dances and now silent but still standing. For years I was guarded in my affection – it was no urban luxury, no internet, no stores close by. I was the city type, routine bound and going there was a little like going camping for a city gal like me.
When the children grew and my panic at being so isolated waned, we became families on the farm. There was a new chapter as they ran free, climbed the mountain and swam without a panicking mother, in the dam, sweeping up mud and algae before the ‘kwaai lat’ fights. Nights around the boma, huge fire, wine and games of ‘Nommertijies’ and game drives to chase the spring hares, never to kill, only to feel the thrill of the chase. No longer afraid for my offspring, they would disappear to discover, or climb the mountain to see the sun rise. It was a freedom they could not experience elsewhere, and a freedom they hold close today.
John loved the farm. His tragic death gripped us all and small though it may be, we decided to plant a tree in his honour on the farm. The zebra thought ‘ah a nice treat’ so a fence was erected and one day, John’s tree will offer them shelter from the Free State storms and summer heat. I will find John’s spirit there and my children will remember him.
Halcyon days of friendship and shutting out the world. And breathing space. Christmas lunches prepared in the cavernous kitchen, Easter services with the folk, nights of endless stars. Life stopped on the farm, space took over. Breathing space, thinking space. Teenagers discovered love on that farm. Children played without boundaries. Adults formed forever bonds. Africa does this in the space places.
I can still smell the smoke in my clothes back then. The waking to views uninhibited by man, with nature’s gift before me. Walks through forgotten orchards, driving past the wildebeest, the Zebra, the Eland and Ostriches. The good part of being with the Mother of life, of grassland, of a view. A legacy left to the sons of the father. To my children.
When life changed and people passed, others moved and my city life took over, it was only then, in the hindsight, that I realised the gifts of space, of simple, of Africa were what I craved the most. The ghosts are there, but they are happy ghosts, forever ghosts in the plains, in the dams, in the animals and on the cliff, where ashes lie.
What I would give for the farm in Africa. Content in the knowledge that my children have experienced the space, and the breathing, the discovery and the memories of our farm in South Africa. To return … they will. To return … I may.