“…the yearning for the
Great Outdoors of this Country.”
There’s an old saying that you can take a man out of Africa, but it’s difficult to take Africa out of a man, and we were reminded of this on the weekend. Just a few kilometres from Summerhill, on the newly re-surfaced Giant’s Castle road (what a joy!) we were startled by a unique sight. Thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the Drakensberg (uKhahlamba) World Heritage Mountains every year, in search of the ubiquitous Lammergeier, the bearded vulture whose origins go back to Tibet. Because of its scarcity, many are disappointed at not seeing this grand bird, but they nonetheless return year after year, charmed by the other marvels of this magnificent park.
When we were last at Giant’s Castle, my son, Nicholas and I were fortunate enough to find a Lammergeier soaring just outside the main Giant’s camp. Their habit is to appear for a few moments, and then those great wings whisk them away on the back of a distant thermal, and consign them to our memory banks. It wasn’t unlike that on Sunday, but in this case, we found two of them hovering not far from the crest of a hill, right in front of us. Again, they allowed us just long enough to identify them, and then gracefully, but almost torturously they spiralled off into the blue, winging it back to their mountain lair.
Not long ago, the Lammergeier (so named because they see lambs as prey,) was the scourge of sheep farmers, looked upon as the enemy and treated as fair game. Thanks to the work of the body of our conservationists, today it is seen for what it is, a magnificent bird on the edge of extinction.
But this is Africa, and we are not only about Lammergeiers. This weekend alone, we saw Fish Eagle on our lakeside banks, Reedbuck in abundance, Oribi and Blesbok and countless Jackal, which keep us awake at night with their haunting calls. There were traces of Lynx Rufus (Rooikat, Bobcat) in the vicinity of the old Up The Creek Barn, while the celebrated ceramicist, Michael Haigh of Cafe Bloom, reported a leopard sighting on the Giant’s Castle road.
What a privilege to live side by side with these creatures, and to share it with some of the continent’s finest Thoroughbreds. It is a rare harmony, quite unique in the world, and one of the many charms of our existences.
Ask any South African emigrant living abroad, how he feels about his adoptive country, and you’ll hardly ever get mixed signals. But the one thing most of them have in common, is the yearning for the great outdoors of this country, and what they hold. There just isn’t another place quite like it.