Baboons + dogs + drought = not good

It was Saturday afternoon.  Hot, but we cooled off with a dip in the pool.  We read a bit, then laid down for a nap, minds relaxed because it was Saturday – we knew we didn’t have to get up for work, no farm staff until Monday.

Yet, our eyes weren’t closed long, when I felt Jay climb out of bed.  I didn’t concern myself at first, sometimes he gets ideas and gets up, and it was a quick thing – he’s one of those people who can get up in a flash.  I’m one of those who has to flop around for ten minutes then force my eyes open and drag myself out.  I began this process when I realized he wasn’t coming back.  Something was up.  I had managed to roll over, not yet gotten my eyes open, when a gun shot rang out.

And with that, I was on my feet.

A random shot in the afternoon usually means one of two things: rabid kudu at the gate or baboon in the garden.  In the case of a kudu, it’s meant to kill.  For baboons, it’s meant to scare away.  This afternoon, I knew it was for baboons because they’d been after our fruit trees for a while now.

A rainy season that doesn’t rain is hard on everyone, for many reasons, but at least we humans still manage to eat.  The wildlife, after the long dry season, depends on rain – no rain means no food and no food means visiting the humans, even if they have to dodge a bullet on the way.

But that’s usually all it is, a bullet.  Singular.  So, I got dressed, but not in any particular hurry.  Not until I heard Jay’s voice, “Sniiiffffeeeelllll!”, followed by our little dog’s incessant barking disappearing into the distance, and then another gun shot.

And then the stomach dropped.

Our doofy little dog, Sniffel, rarely deems something worthy of barking at.  He’s a pretty live-and-let-live kind of guy.  But something in his terrier brain snaps when he hears a gun shot.  He must, under any circumstance, be a part of the hunt.  He doesn’t know what the prey is, he doesn’t know where it is, but no matter, he’s off at top speed to find it.  Which is exactly what he did on this Saturday afternoon.

SniffdogThere were two things wrong with this.  One: baboons can be dangerous if provoked, say by doofy little barking dogs.  They are big, strong, and have some serious teeth.  Two: one baboon might not take on a doofy little dog, but a whole troop might just tear it apart.  Especially if they’re all hungry.  And as Sniffel ran after the one baboon that took off up the hill, Jay watched as it stopped, turned around, and ran back in the direction of the dog, with its whole troop behind him.

babsThis is when Jay yelled, fired the second shot, and I got my pants on and my ass out the door.

I ran in the direction of the barking, both dog and baboon – out the front gate, toward the main road.  I couldn’t see Jay or Sniff, but a second later he fired a third shot and cloud of smoke rose from half way up the hill.  What it meant, I didn’t know, but then all was quiet.

I think I would’ve kept running, oblivious to the whizzing bullets or hungry, pissed off baboons, but then Jay popped out of the brush, rifle in one hand, little dog in the other.  Sniff was panting wildly, tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, enormous grin on his face.  He was obviously very proud of himself.

Jay spilled the whole story once down from the hill, explaining how Sniffel hadn’t originally followed him outside, he must’ve slipped through the gate after the first shot.  All he saw was a bolt of white tearing up the hill and he couldn’t stop it.  And we had both been afraid that we’d lost our dog.

The drought continues, as does the battle with the baboons.  There is a degree of sympathy for hungry wildlife, but wildlife that can eat your dog is not something to welcome onto the yard.

We wonder what the rest of the year will be like, when the chance of rain disappears for another six months and the animals still haven’t eaten.  All we can do is now though is watch the sky and keep the gun nearby.

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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

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.

The unexpected harvests

Jay always says “Namibia is full of surprises”.  While it’s true, they tend not to be surprises one would appreciate (like this).  Now and then, though, this country comes through with something pretty cool.

It started with the oranges; a significant happening for us because last year we got to eat exactly zero oranges, thanks to one of Namibia’s plagues that it periodically inflicts upon people.  Some sort of citrus fruit fly stung each and every fruit on our ten trees, causing them to rot from the inside out before they ripened.  So this year fly traps were constructed out of old two liter soda bottles collected from the dump.  These were then filled with cow poop, spoiled milk, moldy meat, and other smelly things and hung amongst the baby fruits.  I never found many bugs inside them but there were lots of maggots.  Don’t know whose maggots, but certainly it was better to have them in there than anywhere out here.  And it seemed to have worked.  Though a few fruits are still lost, many more hang on the branches awaiting our stomachs.  We eat armfuls everyday which I plan to continue until we, or something else, have consumed them all.

Then there’s the honey, which is a small chunk of miracle.  The drought this year didn’t do great things for our bees’ pollen supply.  Every time we checked on them the combs were nearly empty.  As a result, we’ve been safeguarding our last bucket of honey, expecting no more until November when things begin to bloom again.  The bees, however, have defied the lack of rain and suddenly found a mysterious yet plentiful source of food and filled their boxes up anyway.  Leaving a bit behind for their winter reserves, we’ve harvested over 100kg from our 13 swarms.  Everything in the kitchen- the floor, the counters, the stove, all the silverware, the refrigerator, the dog- was covered in honey for about a week, but it was worth it.  And only one sting in the entire operation, on my foot, when I stepped on a little guy roaming the floor for spillages.

Strangely, the last harvest came at the same time as the other two, and though it was more of my own doing, it contributed greatly to my bewilderment.  For a while now I’ve been trying to wrangle mycelium, the parent organism of fungus, into growing oyster mushrooms for me.  I took a class at the University of Namibia back in November and have been bumbling through the process ever since with very little success.  Until this week, we’ve reaped a total of 5 mushrooms from my efforts.  Somehow, my temperature, humidity, water, nutrients, light, oxygen, hairdo, or facial expression just wasn’t right.  Eventually, the mushrooms got tired of waiting for me to figure it out and just went ahead and grew without me.  Normally, I would need to open the bag of mycelium and the surge of light, water and air would stimulate the oysters to sprout.  Mine, however, sprouted inside the closed bag which I didn’t know was possible.  When I finally caught up and got them opened and watered, they provided Jay and I with three scrumptious meals with more still on the way.

It’s been a crazy week with not a small amount of work, but well rewarded.  And delicious.  It seems Namibia either took pity on us after the past few months she put us through and thought we deserved it, or she’s busy plaguing someone else at the moment and will be back with us at her earliest convenience.

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.