A place in the country

2015-05-04 10:50

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I HAVE, as a general rule, always tried to avoid retracing my steps as I don’t really think it’s a good idea to return to a place where you were once exceptionally happy or where events have taken place that cannot be repeated.
Circumstances, however, compelled me to return to Pietermaritzburg even though I had thought that chapter of my life had officially closed when I graduated from university. I had just spent six months rambling around Europe and was broke and in need of a job. After months of fruitless searching,The Witness made me my first decent offer of employment. At the time I felt it would have been both churlish and stupid of me to turn it down.
For the most part I have had no regrets about this decision. The Witness has given me a career in my first love, cartooning, and also brought me a certain amount of local notoriety which I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed.
For a man who loves open vistas and easily succumbs to bouts of claustrophobia, though, my choice of accommodation was, to say the least, strange — a tiny little cottage at the back of a surgery in the middle of the CBD, surrounded on all sides by high walls with razor wire running along the top. For two decades I lived in this enclosed box, enduring the sound of noisy parties at the copier company next door, burglar alarms going off at all hours of the night, as well as the occasional shoot-out in the street outside.
Stuck in this urban wasteland, I never quite gave up on the idea of one day going to live in the country. As stale and dry as I sometimes got, its after image continued to lodge obstinately in the back of my mind and kept me going through my darkest periods.
Finally, with the prospect of retirement looming before me like a scary beast, my opportunity to escape presented itself. Some very good friends of mine offered to lease me a cottage on their farm in the KZN Midlands. I accepted with alacrity and at the beginning of April this year I moved into my new home.
So far, the omens have been good. On my first morning, while I was working at my desk, a Jacobin Cuckoo landed in the tree outside my studio window which was the last bird I expected to see here as I normally associate them with dry bushveld country. Even more exciting, it was the rare black form, which I had not seen before, and, at this time of the year, I was surprised that it had not migrated back to whatever dark parts it had come from.
And then there is the view. From my high hillock, the prospect stretches away over the mielie lands, fir plantations, lush pastures full of dairy cows and vleis inhabited by croaking frogs and regal cranes — with each field laid out like an architects’ pattern — until it reaches the slopes of the Karkloof hills.
At this time of the year, even with the poor rains, the dominant colour is still green but already I can feel that change is in the air. The sky has turned a pearly blue and there is the faintest breath of coolness, stirring across the pine trees and ruffling them. In places, the veld has begun to take on its winter ochre tones.
Each day I try to get up as near to sunrise as possible in order to verify the appositeness of the adjective “rosy-fingered” dawn.
Sitting on the veranda with my cup of coffee, luxuriating in the sense of space and solitude, I have come to realise that Homer’s simple yet elegant description of this daily miracle has never been bettered.
As the new Laird of the Manor I have also made it my duty to exercise the hounds, an activity I derive as much pleasure from as they do.
Together we explore the landscape under sun or cloud, in various weathers, at sun-up and sunset and any time in between. For them, the rich earth and grassy hillsides contain a mass of intriguing scents, each one to be thoroughly investigated, while, for my part, I am just content to soak up the beauty of it all.
As my two canine companions would no doubt be only too willing to testify, if only someone bothered to ask, it is a good life. I feel I am where I am supposed to be. I’ve never been much good at being one of the crowd and I know I shall be content to live here, a part-time hermit, through summer and winter, beyond the limited range of town amusements and gossip.
• Anthony Stidolph is The Witness cartoonist

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