11 November 2019

Shepherds Hut

Shepherd's Hut (ex Cowboy Cottage)
Martyrsford. #BigSkyCountry
In the big backyard of a working Angora farm lies Cowboy Cottage. It is dry country with vast skies. The vegetation and rich animal life seeking out the oases of water are well adapted to the sun and wind. This Karoo gem is an ideal place to reconnect, and create good habits; good habits are hard to break.

On a flight toward a recent running race I read the in-flight magazine. It had an article about Japan, host country to the then impending Rugby World Cup. The author referenced the special stature given to aged companies over 100 years trading. Tradition. Creativity. Longevity. Deference for purpose-oriented integrity and relationship was prime. And of course, the final of that World Cup was due to be played on a dusty and windy Karoo morning where we had no signal.

#LancasterLight, our effervescent and inquisitive 4-year old had been looking forward to Cowboy Cottage for weeks. We’d been hearing about Buzz, Woody, tractors, and all the things he was going to do out in the big-skied Karoo country. We think he managed 25 minutes of sleep on the 150 minute journey. And we could breathe…

Cowboy Cottage is not star rated, nor does it need to be. It has a colossal Karoo sky full of constellations! There is no electricity and no GSM signal. It is clean and well appointed in terms of utensils, crockery and cutlery; the kind that you would expect in your grandparent’s place. Everything invites you to slow down, reflect, and connect. Stories lay in the comforting items used to furnish the cottage and invite you to listen and share your own, giving essence and value.

We arrived late afternoon, quickly unpacked and settled in. I lit a small fire. Resources are precious and even wood should be used sparingly. I disappeared for the first of 3 runs of the weekend… but I’ll give another blog post to that. By the time I got back 20 minutes later, now de-stressed from the drive, the smells and sounds from the fire and the cottage immediately reinforced my smiles and early impressions.

Tracy and #LancasterLight were talking and laughing, the salads were nearly ready, the liquid refreshment was ready, and the fire had settled nicely. Time to braai (barbeque) the sausages and eat as the sun slowly sunk behind the clouds secreting the stars to the susurrus of the wind in the trees. And so we slept.

Saturday dawned, and with the early sun streaming through the windows a 4-year old is ready to face the day with questions and energy… Karoo, are you ready?
  • Coffee? Check.
  • Food? Check.
  • Running pack with water and snacks? Check.
  • Camera? Check.
  • Adults ready? No check, but let’s do this anyway!
And off we went exploring. For those with their senses primed, there is much to perceive. For those with open minds and hearts, there is much to learn. The Karoo, if you’re on foot, is primal in a way only more basic in the desert. The ground is hard underfoot, and dusty. If it rains, it pours and then its muddy… and best you don’t find yourself in a kloof/wadi/valley… flash floods are possibilities!

Signs of life and death were common: from birds chasing gnats to bones; from lizards stalking moths to karoo flowers and sun-bleached twigs. It is not often that you find color in full force here. Perhaps the aloes flaming red would closest. If you really want color here, you have to look up… blue. Big blue. We went exploring roads, paths, fences and clusters of trees. It was a fun hour, but it was starting to get hot.

I joined the family again another hour later and we talked about some of our life this past year, some of our dreams for next year, and definitely about Christmas! There will be more family and an 80th birthday in the mix. Talk about longevity…

As happens in hot climates a mid day nap is inevitable: except for an excited 4-year old. We did manage to keep him quiet and lying down for an hour or so. But then it was back to the questions and the learnings. I taught him snap. And he caught me cheating! I would always look at the bottom card, and if a match came up, I’d pull that card and pretend to beat him to saying, “snap”. 3 times out of 4 I’d let him win with a shouted, “SNAP!” That was followed by a guttural laugh and an evil giggle: so much happiness escaping, perhaps drawn out by the big sky country!

We had made a cursory effort to find out the rugby score, for the South African team was playing in the final at 11am SA Standard Time… but did it really matter?

We read books and watched the wind wander past as it danced with the dust. We ate and we drank… and then #LancasterLight and I disappeared onto the hill opposite Cowboy Cottage. What could be up there? Treasure? Of a kind, treasure there was: mohair. This wool has brought profitability to this climate. And of course, this natural fibre forms part of the Blister Resist socks by Balega. They, too, are a company with heart. Diamonds here are more likely to start a fire than bring wealth. These white-coated creatures flitted through the rocks and filtered through the bushes of this koppie (hill). 

And we loudly stalked two of them over the hill; one of us with his camera and the other with a stick-gun (that’s the four-year old’s technical term). It was fun seeing if we could find the hoof prints (only once found in the rocks and stony ground).

Martyrsford is into its 6th generation as a family farm. It qualifies for the kudos given those old Japanese firms. The valor and commitment shown to the purpose, cause and relationship with the people, animals, plants and Earth of the Karoo is an important story to tell, even briefly. For there isn’t much to tell, other than that… It is a relationship where integrity runs deep, and simply.

Another mealtime approached and a braai was ordered. The wind was as strong as in the windy city so eating outside wasn’t planned. We shared another talkative, connecting meal at the table. And with no TV in the house it wasn’t suggested that “we” might be happier if we sat and watched something while we ate.

If you didn’t have a kid or kids of your own, you may be forgiven for thinking that no afternoon naps with all that running around would bring an early night for #LancasterLight. Clearly it did not. There were more questions about midges and sheep and animals and people and all kinds of things… and stars! Tonight there were visible stars and a moon. What fun it is to see things so clearly, whether there is understanding accompanying the wonder or not. Life is an experience, a journey to connect with nature, with each other, and with our selves.

The parents pushed through to a normal bedtime… and then played the usual musical beds with a little human. All the beds were welcoming, so sleep there after wrapped us up.

Sunday morning arrived with time for another cup of coffee before a last exploration of the local fauna and flora. Every experience and every part of the journey is an opportunity to relate more closely to the knowledge being shared around us; and while a child is often more open to expressing this inquisition; we all have the opportunity if we do open our minds and our hearts.

A quick clean up, and slowly (as we were invited to be by our gracious host, the Karoo), we meandered back home.

PS: the Springboks did win the rugby and my wife was happy!

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