So what happens in the middle of nowhere in Boesmanland on a Karoo Farm? The Northern Cape Province of South Africa is home to the Karoo, a semi-desert area with wide open spaces and profoundly loud silences
The silence, the goats & sheep, the walk and climb up that ancient hill with the singing rocks, the camping, the rock hyrax piss tea and the medicine bush...
published on 1 June 2016
Karoo Farm Ruin
This travelling lifestyle takes it's toll, I tell you. Everywhere you go it's new surroundings to adapt to, new people to meet and have conversations with and the inevitable party and boisterous socializing. All things I enjoy tremendously. But from time to time I develop a desperate craving for some silence and solitude, and I was pretty much ready for that when Kobus Swart invited me for a visit on the farm him and his father; Johan, owns and manages in the Boesmanland (a particularly harsh section of the Karoo).
"They say if you want to still your mind you have to look at the surface of the water and imagine the reflection of a bird." Kobus expresses this thought in a pensive mood.
Johan Swart is an unassuming and quiet man, a man of solitude and books, a man of wide open spaces and the sun that clings like a fiery magnet to the pale, metallic sky. The Boesmanland is a harsh place and it takes conviction and determination to farm in this area. Not many folks can cope with the isolation this lifestyle requires. “Some people have had enough after a day or two and they need to get back to the city.”
Johan came here in 2001, escaping a 25 year stint of getting up early every day to attend to the milking of his cows on his previous farm at Koster in the North West Province of South Africa. He tells me that life was allot different when he managed the dairy. The farming community in that area was allot more social and people gathered regularly at each other's homes or at farm shows. Life is more isolated here. He talks about a time when he would only leave the farm to go to town once a month and when he had to drive 18 kilometers to get a signal at a beacon in the farthest camp so that he can stay in touch with friend's and family. I ask him if the solitude bothers him and he replies in the negative. He seems to be at ease with this existence. As we drive back home after taking out feed to his livestock we muse on how many people just talk about things because they wan't to be heard without being able to listen, and we both agree on the excess of trivial conversation and the power of silence.
Farmer, father and a man of true grit
Kobus (his son) came to the farm in 2009 after his agricultural studies at the University of Stellenbosch where he specialized in cattle production and aquaculture. For a while he worked as a development technician for the department of Agriculture but he was not cut out for the busy lifestyle where most of the day was taken up by routine and administrative tasks, so he opted for a life that would give him more freedom on the farm. Taking into account his gentle nature and sensitivity, I can see why this move to the countryside would suit his temperament. Kobus has imagination and ideas and I listened to him talk about his views on what could be done in a space like this. I'm kind of hoping to go back there some day and see some of them fulfilled. They all sounded great to me.
A gentle soul and a man with new ideas
Omry is a relatively small farm compared to many others in the region. It's 5 675 hectares is home to a healthy heard of Nguni's, a number of sheep, a few goats and also some chickens, a cat family in the barn and a swarm of bee's that pestered me and my sweet sherry in the little room I happily occupied. The evenings are deathly quiet with the sound of the wind generator humming an airy tune in the background. On some nights the call of a lonely jackal can be heard in the distance. Peace and quiet reigns supreme.
A harsh, but beautiful area where cowboys don't cry
Boesmanland is a region within the greater Karoo and it's name (land of the Khoisan) refers to the people who inhabited this area in the past. It is a particularly harsh region with warm summers and cold winters. The only trees you are likely to find are the prosopis tree (also know as the mosquito tree) which was introduced from the dry southwesterly parts of the USA, Mexico and Chili as a source of cattle fodder. Unsurprisingly it did not take long for it to become a pest and a menace. The fact that it makes rather good firewood is some sort of consolation at least, and then there is the shade this 'shady' tree provides. I'm sure the livestock are very much thankful for this in the heat of summer! These extremes in temperatures is one of the reasons why this part of the Karoo is relatively disease free which makes it good place to farm with livestock.
Kobus farms with three types of goat which he milks in order to produce a limited amount of cheese. At the moment it's on an experimental and small scale only, but he talks about developing this venture further in the future. He also farms with what is colloquially known as cancer bush. Sutherlandia frutescens is a plant well respected for it's medicinal properties. It is purported to have powerful immune boosting properties. It's leaves are bitter and aromatic and is used to make a herbal tea. It even has a reputation as a cure for cancer!
Sought after before it became a pest
The Boesmanland has it's own unique variety of shrubs that the mixture of Dorper and Meat Master sheep feed on. Names like the Boesmanland Driedoring, Jakkalspis, Krubos, Kapokbos, Kinderpieletjie and Boesmansgras attests to the imaginary use of the Afrikaans language to describe these hardy plants. The Katbos (Cat's Bush) produces a pleasantly fragrant flower, but because of it's many thorns it is useless as a feed to livestock. There you go, poetry even grows around these parts.
Mixing goat feed
I spent a week on the farm before departing for the Augrabies Backpackers where I am sitting now, writing this blog. I relished every moment of the peace and quiet and am tremendously thankful to Johan and Kobus Swart for their hospitality, sharing what they had with me and making me feel welcome and relaxed. On the second last night we went camping on a hill. We sat next to the fire while exchanging silence and idle banter until the moon came up which blew me away completely. I remember remarking to Kobus that the moon has an aura, and that it was the first time I have become aware of this phenomena. It was an amazing experience for me and I watched the moon floating across the sky from my tent until I was overcome by sleep. I made a mental note of the colours of this aura so I could google if it was real or only my imagination, only to have it confirmed by someone at my next destination. Yes man, this is my reward for doing this crazy journey. I'm chasing magic, and it's everywhere!
published on 2 June 2016
Karoo Farm Images