Farm baby pictures

It’s something like spring here on the farm.  The weather is nothing to judge it by, it does whatever it wants to; cloud poofs or clear blue sky, gale force wind or dead still.  But in between the meteorological absurdity, life is springing up around the farm.

Check out the new:

Donkey

Oranges

baby orangesPrickly pear cactus

baby cactusChickens

baby chickensPomegranates

baby pomegranatesFrogs

tadpolesAnd the cats abandoned by their mom on our yard

kittensOne died, but after a brief adjustment period, the other got the hang of life with humans.  This was the first time she purred.

purrAbout ten days old, she opened her eyes.  Soon she was creeping around.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’m still not sure what to do with a fourth cat, an African wild cat, nonetheless.  Even if she doesn’t act like one.

bottle timeMaybe she’ll grow up and follow her instincts into the bush.  Or maybe she’ll help with mouse duty on the yard.  All I know is that life on the farm is one day at a time.

That, and the weather better get its act together and bring us some rain.

Sun

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The mushroom bugs

I’m not a big fan of bugs.  It’s not because they’re creepy or gross (though they certainly can be), it’s mainly because they eat my vegetables and sting me all the live long day.   My mortal enemy, the mosquito, is a bug.  But some are good, like ladybugs, who eat other bugs.  And the honey bee is amazing and the bumblebee is adorable.  But termites, well, termites are in a class by themselves.

I wrote this other post over here about them, so I won’t go into all the helpful things they do.  Instead, this post is about the glory that is the omajowa (oh-ma-yo-va), the giant edible mushroom that these tiny termites grow this time of year.

“Omajowa” is Herero for “mushroom” and is the name most Namibians use for these things.  In Latin, it’sTermitomyces schimperi.  In German, Termitenpilz.  In English, extraordinary.  A termite mound will sprout only once a year, if at all, but often with legions of these fungi, enough to feed the foraging folks who find them, and their family, all for free.  Only rain is needed.  And those crazy little termites.  They actually cultivate them, in an underground fungus garden from which they feed.  And for some reason, between December and February, the fungus gets out of control and shoots skyward.

So when a “weather expert” told us shortly after New Year’s that the rain was gone – what we got til then was all we were going to get – I wanted to punch him.  Instead, with memories of last year’s long days of drought and the realization that we hadn’t found a single omajowa this year, I cried.  No joke.  I take the rainy season just that seriously.  But someone took pity on us, and after three dry and depressing weeks the rain came back, and that is when I found this:

It may not look like much, but after a few years of rainy seasons in this country, I’ve learned to pick out white blobs at the bottom of termite mounds, no matter how obscure they might be.  If you want mushrooms, you learn.  And that wee white bit at the bottom left of the mound, turned out to be this little dude, not even open yet:

And around the back, these guys were pushing up through dirt so hard we needed a shovel to get them out:

All in all, we found 13 mushrooms on this mound.  I was so terribly excited that I ripped my shirt on the acacia trees while running back and forth from mound to car – first to get my camera, then to put it back and get a shovel, then back to get the camera again, then once more to load the booty.  Due to my bumbling, I’m afraid Jay ended up doing most of the work. He didn’t seem to mind though, omajowa are worth it.

Since we had more work to do on the farm, lunch had to wait, but still I searched for mushrooms.  The hunt is half the fun – your senses, along with your heartbeat, pick up a notch knowing that they could be lurking around any corner.  So about an hour later, when more were spotted, we scooped them up in triumph.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABut these aren’t just pick-and-run mushrooms; you have to carefully wiggle them out.  Beneath the ground is a chunky, yet fragile, stem that’s perfect for battering and frying.  And bonus points if you get the tail, too.  It’s too hard to be palatable, but it’s weird and, therefore, worthy of acknowledgement.

the tailAnd so with another 8 loaded onto the truck, enough for a feast for us and the entire farm staff, the world felt right again.

The rain has continued on and off since then, at least enough to keep the mushrooms growing.  When we found the record for this year, 25 on one mound, we had to lay some of them out to dry.  Two meals a day of mushrooms (incomprehensibly, Jay draws the line at breakfast) was not enough to eat them all before they expired.  The all-time record though, was a couple of years ago.  One mound, 36 mushrooms.

And here’s probably the biggest I’ve ever found:

So the termites have confirmed their spot on my acceptable bug list, and though they would improve their rating should they start eating mosquitoes, there they will remain as long as they keep making mushrooms.  Because without the omajowa, life in Namibia just wouldn’t be as much fun.

Use it or lose it: a novel concept

Rainwater harvesting.  One of those ingeniously simple ideas, probably soon- to-be new green-living fad, that should just be common sense.  I mean, how many zillions of times have I watched water run through the streets, or collect in ditches, or create little rivers in the sand?  Yet it never occurred to me to catch it and put it to use.  I think it was because I grew up in a place wealthy with water; we took it for granted.  It took desert-country living to get the idea through my ignorance shield that it is true wealth falling from the sky, not pretty little shiny things to watch disappear.  And even then, this discovery was an accident.

Somehow with my innate mixture of environmentalist and cheapskate (my desire to lighten our load on the earth and stop spending so much money on diesel to pump water), I began researching permaculture.  This is a practice of designing land systems that are sustainable and self-sufficient.  Yet even though the creator of this concept hails from fairly dry Australia, the bulk of permaculture information is for temperate climates.  And understandably so; it’s much easier to do there.  The one book I eventually found for dry climates was about rainwater harvesting and how the author, who lived in Tuscon, Arizona, one of the driest and hottest places on earth, turned his desert home into a green garden using not much more than rainwater.  Although Arizona gets rain throughout the year and not in one seasonal clump like Namibia, they often get less than our farm, so I figured this could work for us, too.  And naturally I recruited Jay, a native Namibian, a man famous for putting buckets under leaky gutters, a born rainwater harvester.   Also a guy with a bulldozer.

Our farm is big though, and long neglected in this department, so it’s going to take a while.  The good news is, we are at the foot of a huge hill so although we are now well-eroded, we also have a lot of runoff to work with.  We’ve started then, with the water which is always running straight through our yard and out the front gate.  It wasn’t complicated work, only about two days work in all, and Jay does not consider it “work” when he gets to use the bulldozer.

Here’s a before shot featuring the dozer and the huge hill in the background:

The water would always come down the dirt paths, one of which is visible in the picture, and continue left, flowing right out the front gate.  Our plan was then to rather have it head straight down past the gate and into these citrus fruit trees:So employing one of my newly learned rain-harvesting strategies (berms) and a channel Jay plowed in front of the gate, we turned this:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAinto this:

2013 1003And a month later, without watering, this:

For lack of a more sophisticated expression: it’s awesome.  In the meantime, another gutter has gone up on an old shed with a big roof.  An abandoned diesel tank is waiting dutifully underneath ready to catch, and later pass into our veggie garden, what falls.  I am now eager to launch more transformations and curious if we’ll see even a glimpse of the current farm ten years down the road.

So thanks, big momma nature, for giving us rain.  And thanks for the plants that grow food.  And also for the intelligent people, to help the rest of us figure out what to do with the first two.

Winter with a bang

That line sure is fine sometimes.  Summer, winter.  Warm, cold.  Life, death.  One day, we’re wearing shorts and all is well.  The next we’re sheltering sick and struggling animals from near-freezing temperatures, as if Namibia was looking for a snack in the fridge and then someone shoved it in from behind and slammed the door.  It’s been a roller coaster week here on the farm.

The cats and Sniffel are unfazed.  They’ve been packing on extra hair for a while and the cold hasn’t interrupted their schedule of sleeping.  But four newly hatched chickens got a rough welcome to the world.  At least they have a fat and fluffy mom who takes pride in sitting on them.  The other six eggs were worse off – abandoned when they took too long to hatch.  Jay and I went in and rescued the two that were still alive, keeping them warm with a hot water bottle.  Only one chick survived the first night and though she’s wobbly, she seems eager to get going with life.  At first, I’d hoped her mom would take her in but her little legs don’t work too well (earning her the name Rollie, as in she rolls more than walks).  She couldn’t keep up with her siblings and would end up sleeping in the cold.  Now she’s living with us and eating infant bird food from a syringe multiple times a day.  Without a mom to teach her, she took the plate of corn meal mush I gave her as a new, very wet, napping spot.

Rollie, the one in the middle, hanging with her family.  Her mom accepted her at first then began pecking her on the head.  She stays in the living room now. 

The cows are giving birth as well and like every year, we’ve lost one or two or six newborn calves to predators.  The worst though is when they’re only bitten and not killed.  That means we have a calf on the yard, weak with infection from a leopard bite, like this week.  The holes in his neck made just breathing a struggle.  So to drink milk from the bottle I offered we’d have to stop often so he could haul in some more oxygen.  The rest of his body was rather helpless as well, he even needed help pooping (don’t ask).  But when he saw me coming with a bottle of milk, his ears, the only part he could move on his own, perked right up, as if ready to take flight.  But the little bit of food in his belly and the blanket over top of him wasn’t enough when the cold came.  Although I greeted him yesterday morning, rubbed his head and told him I’d bring him some milk, he left us before I returned.  The next calf has already taken his place.  Not because of a leopard; he’s just too weak to stand.  He’s now inside in the laundry room and sleeps with two blankets.  Luckily, he’s still a champ at drinking milk and hopefully we’ll get him out in the corral with the others in due time.

Calf number two enjoying the waning afternoon sun – assuming that’s a face of enjoyment.

Amongst the chaos, however, was an unprecedented event on the farm.  Jay’s cattleman flagged us down as we drove by the corral the other day.  He and Jay then commenced a conversation in Herero about something obviously exciting; the old, reserved cattleman was smiling.  A little later, Jay translated for me saying, “he’s never seen anything like it in all his years.”  With only that to work with, I was left hanging while they continued on for a few more minutes.  Finally I got another word and it was all I needed: twins.  One of the cows plunked down two heads, two hearts and eight legs, a lot to get out of a little hole.  Lucky for us they’re doing well.  Reading up on twin calves taught me that often one of them is neglected by the mom and has to be bottle-fed or one or both are underdeveloped and weak, also requiring a bottle, or a load of medicine when they get sick.  These guys though, both male, seem to be ok, relieving us of overtime bottle duty.

As the mom was not available for the photo, readers will have to take my word that these are in fact twins and not just two calves sitting next to each other.

I’m hoping from here on out we’ll all stay on the right side of the line, the warm and alive side, the all is well side.  But that’s a lot to ask of life, no matter where you are in the world.  At least we know Namibia will warm up again someday, returning to her blazing-hot ways.  And someday, surely, little Rollie will discover that the plate I give her is food, not a bed, and I will once again have that elusive thing on a farm called spare time.

Rain or death: in pictures

The rainy season in Namibia, roughly November through March, is by far the best time of the whole year.  The otherwise dead and dry land, with just a bit of water, suddenly turns into a lush, green (almost) rainforest.  When the clouds hang low over the hills, I half expect to meet a mountain gorilla out there.

waterberg

When it rains, work out on the farm becomes something to look forward to.  Not only do the clouds give us a break from the heat, but once out of the front gate, life turns into one big treasure hunt.  For the rainy season is omajova season – the termite mushrooms are out.

omajovas

I could write a short book about the joy that is the omajova, one of the most peculiar yet fantastic things about this country.  And I might.  But for now it will have to suffice to say that searching for omajovas makes every day more interesting and finding them, spotting that bit of white through the green, is like Christmas; a feast is sure to follow.

truly namibian feast

Once infected with omajova fever, you are always on the lookout.  Trips into the bush become devoid of conversation; everyone is far too busy looking for mushrooms.  And with this heightened awareness, you see much more than termite mounds.  You fall into a trance of the life that rain created.

rain road

You’ll see the oryx, hartebeest, and eland have given birth to fuzzy and awkward calves.  The warthogs too, have their wartlets at their side, all of them covered in a fresh layer of mud.  And with newborns come predators.

leopard!

The flowers are out; fire lilies creeping through the bush, their charm belying their fatal poison.

Fire lily

For me, it’s as if all the plants and animals are saying exactly what I am thinking, it’s a great time to be alive in Namibia.

Or it was.  Before the rain disappeared.

At first, I thought it was maybe my fault, that I had pissed old mama Namibia off with my recent post about the garden.  But we were actually the lucky ones.  Most parts of the country look as though they skipped the summer entirely and went straight back into winter.

crispy namibia

With the new year, the sun that Namibia is famous for, so characteristic that it’s on the nation’s flag, that ball of fire insistent on baking us all to raisins, came back.  For days, and days, and days, only sun.

SUN

With time, the clouds began to pop up again and there was hope.  We’d talk about very little except the latest development in the sky.

“The clouds are pretty fluffy today.”

“Yeah, but it’s a west wind.  No good.”

“It’s almost new moon, maybe that’ll bring rain.”

But it didn’t.

moon 'n clouds

Then came the army worms.  Appropriately named, these inch-or-so-long worms moved through the fields like soldiers, systematically eating each blade of grass down to the nub as they went.  Thousands of them filling their ever-hungry stomachs.  All the grass we watched so happily spring up after the rain, the thick, green grass we were saving for the winter, turned into a horde of worms.

worms, worms everywhere

Word on the street said the only way to get rid of them was rain.  Buckets of rain to wash them away.  The one thing we didn’t have.  And so we regressed into the dead brown phase just like everyone else, reminded of it with every step.

goo shoes

But the clouds kept coming.  Every afternoon we watched with utmost anticipation as they grew thicker and darker.  A few droplets, prayers that they wouldn’t stop, but they always did and the sun returned and the worms ate on.  Eventually, hope conceded to the sun.

dark vs. light

Yesterday brought blue skies and the same old story.  By late afternoon, the same puffy clouds.  As they grew bigger and bigger, hope bubbled up again, but I did my best to ignore it.  And then just before sunset, this:

rain art

Not just water, but a painting.  As if to reward our patience, and remind us all is not lost.

No one can say if it’ll stick around, relieve us of worms, return us to green, but I do know one thing: whoever wrote that “rain, rain go away” song never lived in Namibia.

I return to Namibia, Namibia returns to life (two unrelated events)

Springtime in Namibia.  I used to be under the impression that it didn’t exist.  Coming from a region of the world with summer thunderstorms, fall colors, winter blizzards, and spring bursting to life, I could not distinguish truly separate seasonal entities in this country.

Sure, one was a little colder or a little warmer than the previous.  A little windier or wetter.  But when someone would mention what a typical spring day it was, I’d look around, look at them, look around again and then nod my head and smile, totally confused.

Now I’ve got a couple years of Namibia under my belt, and upon my recent return from the States, I could actually see this mysterious springtime taking shape.

First of all, as I mentioned earlier, it is slightly warmer than “winter”.  We’re dressed in the usual Namibian attire of shorts and a t-shirt.  The jeans are in the closet and jackets are needed only occasionally.

Then there’s the trees.  Theoretically, it’s the rise in temperatures that triggers their blooming, and rumor has it that they have a mega-root that pulls water up from deep underground, but when everything else around is parched to utter crispiness, these acacias and their poof-blooms deserve a medal of valor.

A yellow life boat in a sea of brown.

They provide pollen for the bees, and so, honey for us.

The white variety.

The wildlife is sharing the little water there is to be found i.e. the cattle troughs:

And the acacias are making ludicrous numbers of poofs out of secret, underground sources.  Wacky.

With everything else as dry as earthly possible, tis’ the season of fires.  They break out randomly and unexpectedly, dotting the landscape with flames and towers of smoke.  The sky has a near constant haze.  Sometimes, if it’s close enough, it even rains ash.

If any of you have stuck with me so long, you may have read about last year’s fire.  Thankfully, the one that visited us this year wasn’t so bad and I’m hoping we’ll only have the one (knock on wood).  As before, it was due to someone playing with fire in the bush and carelessly letting it free, bringing us the late-night-tortoise-rescuing-smoke-inhalation-racing-to-beat-the-fire-at-its-own-game fun once again.

Standing by with the hose lest the fire break should wander.

Sniffel rode with me in the firefighting car. He had no idea what we were doing but he liked it.

A tortoise huddled on the spare tire as we shuttled him to a safer spot. Notice the ash everywhere.

And the tortoises aren’t the only ones resurfacing these days.  Frogs pop out of the garden beds as I plant cucumbers

and serenade us from the swimming pool at night.

The snakes are out, too, and lucky for us, they feel it necessary to come visit.  Yesterday, lunchtime, I ran into this guy.

What in the name of Steve Irwin is a snake the size of Manitoba doing in our cactus patch?  Does the bush not have enough birds, rodents, elephants for this thing to eat?  Funnily, the snake book said this estimated 2.5 meter (8 ft.) dude wasn’t even maximum python size.  No, no.  6 meters (nearly 20 ft.) is full grown.  Those are the ones that eat crocodiles.  I suppose someone should, but crikey.  Please, just satisfy my morbid curiosity from afar.  Thank you.

So, snakes and all, I’ll admit it.  I can see the signs of a spring, the land returning to life after a winter, even here in Namibia.  The good news is that after any spring that I’ve ever heard of, comes a summer, summer brings rain, and that is when life damn near explodes out of this place.

If it’s anything like the spring, it should be quite a ride.

An ode to rain

Rain is a precious thing in Namibia.  It’s precious in a lot of places.  But I grew up surrounded by water; every season was a rainy one.  Sunny days were the golden nuggets in the world of the perma-cloud.  However, here it is the sun, the sun after sun after sunny day that makes one depressed.

Crap

In case it’s not obvious, we’ve been stuck in a dry spell.  It gets hot early, before we’ve even had breakfast.  The plants wilt although I water them everyday and Jay’s horde of chocolate turns to goo, that is if it even had the chance overnight to solidify.

It becomes the first question folks ask in greeting: “Hi, had any rain?  How’s the wife?”

Then, they compare measurements: “Yeah, we’ve had 100 mms so far.”  They COUNT.  They have little books in which they record and date each precipitation, no matter how small.  I saw such a book not one time in my American years.

We always wished for a white Christmas back then, now it’s a wet one.  But we didn’t get a wet one.  We got a scorching hot, dry one.  It made for good swimming but with the whole farm staff on vacation, our thirsty orchard of citrus, papaya, and olive trees ensured ours was not a restful and relaxing holiday season.

But no matter how merciless the sun may be in its spotless blue sky, I never give up hope.  I check, maybe too often, for those cumulus clouds and whether they are up to something.  I look for other clues like a bullfrog chorus at night or if the flowers don’t open in the morning.  Maybe if the sugar pot has declumped or if the moon is near full or if the tortoises are on the move.  But nothing is a promise and it seems more like luck than anything if yours is the sky to fall.  The neighbor can be flooded and you can still be Farm Death.

Please, please, please, please…

So, I calm my heart when the thunder in the distance turns out to be an old truck lumbering by.  Or that first raindrop on my head was only a bird with a lame sense of humor.  I wait patiently(ish) for the temps to fall, the plants to perk up, and the wild mushroom scavenger hunt.  I look forward to the coziness when the cats huddle around or hide under the blankets when the thunder is overhead.  And the feeling of being small, which is unusual for me, and the comfort that nature is taking care of things for a while.

The rain never lasts long here and you never know when it’ll be back so I always try not to piss it off.  I don’t turn my back on it, but rather watch the land drink.  I hold in my sarcastic remarks and try not to curse the laundry I left on the line.  I even try to accept the consequential mosquitoes.  Which does not mean I cannot still squish them, it just means I accept them as nature’s worst idea ever.  I also try not to get too excited, as if I were gloating.  I wouldn’t want to be rude.

So when the drops finally graced our parched life today, I simply joined the lumps under the blankets, watched it fall, and hoped this year will be a wet one.