It is that time of year in KwaZulu-Natal that most rural landowners dread, the fire season. The grass is tinder-dry and any spark could cause a raging fire. A few years ago, not far from here, a devastating fire raged through the Kranskloof area, razing homes to the ground, killing livestock and ruining many farmers. This is also the time, after the first serious frost, when we have to, by law, burn firebreaks along our boundaries. Not only is the air choked up with smoke, soot and dust (causing havoc with the old sinuses) but there is also always the threat of a runaway fire ensuing. And our thatch roofed house is rather vulnerable. Adding to our stress levels is the fact that we border a pine plantation on one side and if a fire were to spread into it from our property, we could be liable for millions of rands worth of damage.
A few days before we were due to burn our firebreaks, I had a nightmare about an out of control fire bearing down on us from a neighbouring farm. I woke up in a cold sweat thinking that we should have an evacuation plan. The next morning I discussed with Peter what we should grab if we needed to leave in a hurry. We agreed that Peter would take my mum and Kho in the car, I would take the dogs in the van and we would grab my handbag, his cheque book, the computers and photo albums from the house. Unbeknown to Peter, I also intended to take my new “mother of the bride” dress.
On the day that we burnt our breaks, Remington, our next door neighbour’s induna, arrived with his team, equipped with two tractors trailing huge water tanks. For our part, we employed two casual workers to bring up the rear as beaters and Kho, who had a backpack with a pump action hose to make sure that all the remaining burning embers were put out. I was like a cat on a hot tin roof all day. The slightest breeze caused me to rush inside to make sure that car keys were hanging up where they should be in case we needed to make a hasty exit. But all went well and our firebreaks were burnt without incident. I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
A few days later, when Peter was away on business, Richard and Debbie stopped over for the night on their way to Jo’burg. At about 6 pm Richard came bounding in from visiting my mum. “Have you seen the fire?” he exclaimed. At first I though he was joking but when I realised he was serious, we all rushed outside to see huge flames leaping up above the trees on the boundary between us and my neighbour’s property (just like my dream). In the 10 years that he has owned the property our neighbour has never burnt a break on this side, so I was absolutely convinced that it was a runaway fire. I ran back to the house to get my phone to call Remington but he didn’t answer. Slowly my heart stopped pounding quite so loudly and I could then hear voices and the sound of tractors next door. On closer inspection I could also see that the fire was in fact under control. My shattered nerves – nothing though that a few glasses of very fine wine, courtesy of Richard, couldn’t fix. On reflection, if I were ever to be confronted by a fire coming straight at me, I doubt very much that I would bother with the albums, computers or dress.
On a lighter note, we have so many birds coming into the garden during the winter months. A Southern Bou Bou visits the garden frequently while keeping in constant noisy contact with his elusive mate, who has always remained hidden in the bush. Recently he has taken to visiting the bird-feeder and although I haven’t seen him be aggressive, the little seed-eaters stay well away whenever he is there. So a few days ago we put out some “sawings” which we collected from the butchery (leftovers from cleaning the butcher’s saw) on a different feeder and lo and behold this morning I spotted both Bou Bous together in the garden. At last he must have persuaded her to join him for a meal out.