Saturday, August 25, 2012


The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.
                                                 Society & Solitude.
                                                   Emerson. 1870.

I’m missing my ornaments!

Oh for the pitter-patter of little gerbil feet; the sonorous yap of geckos brawling over my mealworms; the reproachful glower of an almost-stepped-upon toad!

Where have all my wild friends gone, you’re wondering?
Taken to the hills in a spine-tingling, pre-tsunami exodus? Marched off by the porcupines to mount a decisive strike on Hoedspruit? Driven away by my heinous BO?

No (well I can’t be totally sure about the BO).
The disappearance is not of the wildlife, but of me!

You see I had to MOVE OUT of my lovely house.
Alright, maybe the house itself wasn’t exactly lovely (rather more of a dilapidated garden shed really). But the location – on the pilgrim-route for a billion thirsty beasts – was wonderful.
This, of course, explains why my landlord wants to demolish the place (gasp!) and replace it with a spiffy upmarket unit.

My dear old ISOLATED hovel. Photo by Amy Hill.

But after four years cohabiting with birds and beasts of every kind, I’ve built up many special relationships. I miss the vervet monkeys peering in the windows, the waterbucks napping in the garden and the baby baboons enjoying roof-top gumboot races.

I thought CSI was on on Tuesdays...

A paisley shirt with a striped pull-over? Oh come on.
Photo by Amy Hill.

Home alone. Once they munch their way through the two-week supply of apples and sweet potatoes I hid under the stove (oh yes, I’m the tenant from Hell), my bushveld gerbils will be back on bush tucker.

Now considering that I’ve only moved 1 km/0.6 miles away (as the crocodile paddles), and I’m still malingering by the Oliphants River, you might think I’m being melodramatic.

But I’m now on the OTHER SIDE.

No, no, I don’t mean dead (well not literally anyway). I’m referring to the dark side: the FAR bank of the river.
You see this is the posh side.
This is the side of resorts and lodges, manicured lawns and private airstrips (so you can pop in for Sunday brunch). Behind every shrub lurks a gardener toting nail-scissors, and brightly-garbed cleaning ladies bellow the latest gossip up and down the road. There’s even an occasional passing car!

For a deeply committed recluse, with years of anchoritic experience, this is a nightmare!

Here I’m met with aghast stares if I fail to change into non-holey clothes or brush my hair before walking my dogs, and I have to hide my rubbish bin so the local garbage wallah wont sniff it out (metaphorically speaking, I’m sure) and whisk it off to be emptied (hey, they charge for this service!).

How - you might ask - have I sunken to such depths?

Well after months begging and cajoling every landowner within a 15 km radius of my study site, and struggling vainly to portray my blood-thirsty hounds as innocuous and loveable tenants, I finally stumbled upon a place that would allow dogs.

But if I was dwelling in a semi-derelict house before, I’m now living in a total ruin.

My new home as viewed from the road (derelict car included for additional authenticity).

Burnt to the ground after being zapped by lightning, the house is a mere husk of its former self, but the owners have built a small bedsit underneath the ruin. Unfortunately, since this little concrete bunker is tucked below the old house, it’s perilously close to the river. In fact, based on water levels over the last 7 years, I figure I’ve got a 50% chance of surviving summer uninundated.

My hobbit-hole viewed from the wild side (of the river). The creamy bit is my bedsit with the burnt-out ruin above.
Lightning never strikes in the same place twice, right...
Photo by Amy Hill.

Now before you start feeling too much sympathy, let me mention that I do have an utterly breathtaking view of the river.

Oh and I’m not totally bereft of all my house ornaments.
Two of my old friends inadvertently accompanied me on my trans-river crossing, stowed away discretely in their hidey-hole behind the fridge. Already obscenely fat, these two are now enjoying uncontested mealworm rights and have become morbidly obese. Fortunately Wobbly Cat executed emergency liposuction (or something similar) and the two, no longer encumbered by their grossly bloated tails, are now acting like ‘new geckos’. I should probably sell their 'before and after' photos to a weight-loss program.

I actually prefer to think of myself as chubby. Turner’s geckos (Pachydactylus turnerii) are highly prone to self deception.

The view downriver from my patio. (Yes, I know the fence posts aren’t straight but I was cradle-cursed to transform into Mr Bean at the merest whiff of DIY.)

The view upriver. The strip of tiny pinky-grey slugs (near the centre of the photo) are sunbathing hippos.

Perhaps the worst aspect of living over here is that the food scraps I toss out on the compost heap just sit there... and, well, turn into compost!
I did wonder about floating little food parcels across the water, and I’ve been watching for surreptitious raft-building activities by the wildlife on the far bank, but so far there’s been nothing. I hope they’re all doing OK.

NEWS FLASH: My first ‘posh-side’ porcupine (a weedy, undernourished creature) showed up at my compost heap last night. Of course, Magic immediately scrambled over my homespun fence and chased it off, but tomorrow’s a new day night...

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