Nothing punctures self-esteem like discovering how ignorant you are – especially when the puncturing is by a bunch of insouciant animals.
After years of living in the bush I thought I was thoroughly familiar with wildlife and knew it all. I sneered at city dwellers with supercilious conceit – novices who wouldn’t survive a day in the milieu of elephants, lions, antelopes and safari ants.
When a twist of fate forced my wife and I reluctantly back into the urb we resigned ourselves to all the things we had fled from: crammed suburbs, snarling traffic, trains, crowds, ghastly shopping malls like garish prisons, rates, beggars, garbage, squabbling politics. That’s it, we gloomed, goodbye nature.
We were so wrong.
Our new home is at a far end of a small sleepy Victorian village on the Cape Peninsula. It is in an unusual place, some fifteen metres from a stretch of seashore covered in heavy rocks and closed at each end by gigantic granite and sandstone boulders. At the high-water mark is a very old freshwater well filled by underground streams. Between house and surf is a blend of bush and grass. Behind us, above a road and suburbia, are the craggy Peninsula mountains.
Nature caught us by surprise the first time we walked through the gate into the garden: an army of rabbit-size animals was voraciously chomping our lawn, flowers and even the leaves of trees.
I recognised them easily enough. They were dassies, animals that in the wilderness one rarely sees for more than an instant as they streak at Formula One speed into the holes and crevices of the rocky koppies they inhabit. As a boy I had tried hunting them to collect enough skins for a kaross but it was nigh impossible: they have sentries everywhere. One hoarse bark and they vanish like magic.
Not this lot. They were all over the garden as if they owned the place and we were the trespassers. Some sidled a few cautious steps away. Most turned to fix beady eyes on us, jaws still grinding from side to side in their typical chewing style. If the nearest could have spoken he would have demanded “And who may you be?”
We stopped in astonishment. Then I roared “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!” in a drill sergeant bellow so loud my neighbours jumped.
In seconds the garden was empty. They shot through open gates, leaped over dilapidated fences, skinned up trees, dived into bushes and scuttled through holes. The last we saw was the tail-enders bouncing across the grass towards their rock shelters like furry beach balls.
To be continued next Friday 25 July ….
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