Malthusian juncture in the history of our planet

Kavin Senapathy in Forbes Magazine: Note To Neil Young: Monsanto Isn’t Evil, And GMOs Are Harmless. My reply (edited):

Ms Senapathy … I wonder whether you have listened to ‘The Monsanto Years’ appropriately. In other words, not only in your head.

Surely art’s role is to enable a deeper understanding of the way things are, by going to and articulating the heart of things, as Neil Young’s ‘The Monsanto Years’ album does, by pointing out the danger inherent in commoditizing and corporatizing every facet of life, which, with respect to nature, is being driven by giant multinational biotech/agricultural corporations (Big Ag), symbolised by Monsanto. Surely you too experience a sense of unease when considering the farming practises promoted by Big Ag: GMOs/herbicides/chemical fertilisers/pesticides/mono-cropping, which Neil Young believes ‘thoughtlessly plunder’ the earth (Wolf Moon).

It is against this truth that you might need to weigh the import of your boldly unambiguous title ‘Note To Neil Young: Monsanto Isn’t Evil, And GMOs Are Harmless’. Because not you, Ms Senapathy, or any of your readers know where this will end – think, for instance, gene drives.

Maybe at this Malthusian juncture in the history of our species and our planet, we all require humility. Maybe we also need to heed Neil Young’s ominous warning: ‘You never know what the future holds in the shallow soil of Monsanto, Monsanto’ (Monsanto Years).

The featured image above was shot early morning in a field in Suurbraak, which was to be sprayed with Roundup or 2,4-Dinitrophenol herbicide. Thankfully the farmers agreed not to poison the soil. Thus the Suurbraak poison-free initiative was born.

I share this follow-up from Glenn Ashton, who also kindly provided the above link to gene drives:

Is Neil Young rehashing myths about Monsanto?

In a post to his LinkedIn account, entitled: Neil Young: We’re More Like You than You Think, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer, Robb Fraley, says of Neil Young’s The Monsanto Years album: ‘If you listen to the new album, you’ll hear a rehash of many of the myths we’ve long heard about our company’.

I listened to the album to try to discover what myths Fraley claims Neil Young is rehashing. Are these perhaps they?

If you click on the indented text below each ‘myth’, you will be taken to the song’s lyrics (sourced from AZLyrics) and if you click on the title in brackets, you will be taken to a video or to a streamed audio of the track in question.

  • Monsanto hasn’t sued farmers?

We’re from Monsanto we own the seeds || (Workin’ Man)

  • Monsanto hasn’t played a part in the Grocery Manufacturers of America’s putsch to block the state of Vermont from passing their law requiring GMO foods to be labelled?

When the people of Vermont wanted to label food with GMOs
So that they could find out what was in what the farmer grows
Monsanto and Starbucks through the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance
They sued the state of Vermont to overturn the people’s will
 || (A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop)

  • Monsanto hasn’t corporatized nature?

Seeds have floated, birds have flown
Seeds have travelled far from home
Seeds are life it can’t be owned
Not even by Monsanto
 || (Rules Of Change)

  • By corporatizing nature Monsanto hasn’t highjacked farmers’ rights to re-use seeds, as farmers have done for generations?

Every year he buys the patented seeds
Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto
 || (Monsanto Years)

  • Farming practices advocated by big multinational biotech/agricultural corporations (Big Ag) like Monsanto (GMOs/herbicides/chemical fertilisers/pesticides/mono-cropping) haven’t plundered the soil?

Wolf moon thank you for risin’
Big sky I’m grateful for your parting clouds
Seeds of life your glowing fields of wheat
Windy fields of barley at your feet
While you endure the thoughtless plundering
 || (Wolf Moon)

  • Farming practices advocated by Big Ag haven’t displaced indigenous people, small-scale farmers and/or farm workers?

It’s a bad day to do nothin’
With so many people needin’ our help
To keep their lands away from the greedy
Who only plunder for themselves
 || (A New Day For Love).

  • Ordinary people don’t need to take back the power ceded to corporations?

How can we regain our freedom
Lost by our own laws we must abide
When will we take back our freedom
To choose the way we live and die
 || (Big Box)

After following the links above do you agree with Robb Fraley’s criticism that Neil Young is rehashing many of the myths we’ve long heard about Monsanto? Either way, please add your perspective to the comment section below.

Finally, this is vintage Neil Young: raw, melodious, passionate, angry, driving, understated, and compassionate. All the tracks work. On a personal note it’s a relief to discover that the sixties protest tradition still lives. So do yourself a favour: buy the album, which comes with an immediate download, so you can enjoy the album in advance of the CD arriving in the post. By the way, Neil Young’s backing group The Promise of the Real is a worthy complement

Acknowledgement: This is an edited version of my reply to Fraley’s LinkedIn post.

Image: Heirloom Red Inca maize/corn/mealie

Factory farming

You should be prepared to pay up to twice the going price for the cheese I make from Daisy’s milk so that it’s not necessary for me to be cruel to her – or go without,

Factory farming is farming that has moved from the land to the factory/barn/cage/sow stall (Free Ranger)

Some days ago, I participated in a conversation on Twitter about factory farming between Free Ranger, GrassConsumerAction and The Farmer’s Weekly; which I afterwards shared with Patsy when she delivered a basket of organic vegetables from her garden, and who also asked what factory farming is? I repeated Free Ranger’s definition quoted above

“But that’s what my brother used to do, with chickens. He says how else can we feed everybody?”

And this was my reply to Patsy hopefully, this time round, without ranting.

Where are funders putting the big money? Into resources: water, land and food. Why? Because they are finite and when we run out the prices will rise. At the moment food is incredibly cheap. Why? Because, like fracking, we are exploiting every single avenue, which, in the case of food, includes factory farming, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and GM seeds all of which are wreaking havoc on the animal kingdom, our oceans, the soil, insects and seeds – much of which has falling under the control of mega corporations whose purpose in the name of feeding the multitudes is power and ROI.

I, as a small, off-grid farmer, do not recoup my costs – let alone make a living selling milk and cheese at the going rate. So must I, like Patsy’s brother and countless others, become more ‘efficient’, by increasing my herd and stuffing them into smaller and smaller cubicles where they are fed ‘scientific’ gruel from offal?

Senseless kindness

No. We cannot allow this madness to continue for the sake of the few at the expense of the planet. Animals shouldn’t have to suffer so that we can eat cheap pies. Like Free Ranger and @GrassConsumerAction  we have to ask the difficult questions. This means that you should be prepared to pay up to twice the going price for the cheese I make from Daisy’s milk so that it’s not necessary for me to be cruel to her, Kashka and the others– or go without, because, as Vasily Grossman sees it:

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. | Grossman, V. (2011:394) Life and Fate. Vintage. London.

In the end, therefore, it’s not about science, logic, efficiencies, profit, or power, it’s about what Grossman calls ‘senseless kindness’, otherwise we’re lost, and the planet with us.

Why I shall continue eating meat

My intention is to clarifying for myself why I eat meat.

The question was shaped by a discussion I had via Twitter with Jo Lister,  BentoGrassConsumerAction,  Free Ranger and @EGalgut (account closed and apparently subsumed into Bento), and via  The Daily Pitchfork with James McWilliams, Janet Schultz and Charlie Talbert.

The vegan position as I understand it

Jo Lister and Bento, both vegans, believe that because humans as a species know right from wrong, we have a moral obligation not to inflict suffering on animals because, like us, animals are sentient. Consequently, they refuse to participate in any exploitation of animals be it by eating meat, wearing animal products or using animals for entertainment in zoos and circuses. Humans who do mistreat animals are, as James McWilliams observes, guilty of speciesism. Bento and McWilliams reject as illogical the argument that eating meat is natural by invoking the naturalistic fallacy. A call to veganism is compellingly and movingly articulated in the movie Earthlings.

GrassConsumerAction & Free Ranger are non-vegan activists promoting ethical farming practices.

I am wary of bringing morals into the question

I don’t know about you, but I have a kneejerk reaction to anyone telling me that for moral reasons I should not eat meat. It’s not just that I’m obstinate. It’s that I’m suspicious of anyone playing the moral card, because in my view any injunction, rule, practice or belief that is at heart an ‘ought’ instead of an ‘is’ doesn’t gel with me, as being too easy, pat and/or empty. To be anything other than who I am, cuts me off from my true nature which, let’s face it, is seldom if ever moral, let alone compassionate. Instead, I believe it is necessary to enter and live what is real. By ‘real’ I include my shadow, suppressed self. It also requires me to open myself to what is on the other side of my thought bubble. This means participating in a world which is immediate, fluid, complex, fraught, and with no easy answers. (I expand on this position in, Enter).

For me, the speciesism argument is patronising and coercive

Speciesism is what happens when one species (human) assumes for itself power over another (animal) thus resulting in exploitation. It’s a thought-provoking take on what is happening on earth. Nevertheless I am concerned and suspicious when – like with many –isms: speciesism starts being used as a stick to beat others as in: ‘There’s a lot of confusing unique behaviors and speciesism in this comment thread.’ (McWilliams). This bears out my sense that –isms polarise and stratify into us (the enlightened) and them (the speciesists), and in the process demand specific behaviours which, ironically, are subtly demeaning. For instance speciesism assumes human-animal interaction in terms of omnipotence and powerlessness, which then legislates specific human behaviours such as compassion, whereas in my experience the interaction between human and animal seldom operates within such narrow confines. In fact I have been in awe when in the presence of animals and at other times, comforted. I have felt loved. I have learnt to show respect. I have shared with animals and have received two, three, four-fold in return. I have experienced intimacy. And I have felt afraid. This is why Janet Shultz’s sense of ‘coexistent presence’ speaks to me so powerfully, by re-defining the relationship in a way that promotes dialogue and understanding.

I concede that my stated reason for eating meat was illogical (naturalistic fallacy)

When I justified eating meat ‘… because it is natural’:

Bento corrected me for being illogical, by invoking the naturalistic fallacy.

I had never before encountered the naturalistic fallacy until Bento mentioned it. McWilliams further elucidated the concept for me in his post, When It Comes To The Morality Of Meat, Nature Is No Guide’. As I understand the naturalistic fallacy, I cannot claim something is good on the strength that it happens in nature, for example claiming that humping in public is acceptable because animals do it. So if it’s illogical to say I eat meat because it is natural, and as my decision to eat meat results in alarm, fear, pain and/or grief for a member of another species why do I eat meat? Otherwise, Jo Lister’s observation to me holds:

Why I eat meat (hopefully, without resorting to the naturalistic fallacy)

It’s a long story. My mother turned to nature cure in my 14th year. Since then for much of my long life I have been vegetarian. Now occasionally I eat meat. The reason I now eat meat is because during my years as a vegetarian I felt much like the walking dead or catatonic. I lacked vitality. I was light-headed. I bordered on being perniciously anaemic. Therefore, I resorted to drinking pots of Keemun tea and, later in my life, double espressos and chocolate, all of which, because it was caffeine-induced, provided a false energy.

Now when I eat a small portion of meat my body immediately says thank you, I feel grounded and connected, and I have the strength to carry on. This dramatic contrast tells me that I had been vegetarian (and I’m not even talking veganism!) at the expense of my health.

There’s another reason. I manage a small agroecology farm in Suurbraak, South Africa on behalf of Matt (my son) and Sasha (my daughter-in-law). The farm is situated between mountain and a perennial river and bordered by wilderness. Because I do not see myself as separate from my context, I cannot avoid – nor do I wish to avoid, taking my cue from nature. Here my lived reality is an ecology in which life (baboon, rooikat or lynx, buck, otter, water mongoose, porcupine, horse, goat, cow, mouse, snake, owl, ibis, frog, wasp, spider, scorpion) is forever attacking or protecting turf in an attempt to stay alive for as long as possible in order to procreate. In what way am I so different? That I’m moral?

But I am also trapped in another context, human. I said ‘trapped’ because humans increasingly live almost entirely in their heads as if what is beyond their thought bubbles doesn’t exist, thus leading lifestyles that cause incalculable harm to the fabric of the whole of which humans form part. Take, for instance: CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), fracking and nuclear waste. Therefore I believe you and I should find ways to re-connect with what is beyond thought. This includes not only connecting with wilderness but also our feelings, and the past, which we often try to fudge or forget. One way to connect with wilderness, the past and/or our feelings is to take absolute responsibility for every decision I make, including slaughtering for food.

It follows therefore that slaughtering must be personal. By personal I mean that I live my involvement in or my responsible for this animal’s death. And to make it personal I too must be prepared to slaughter at least once in my life so that I experience first-hand what is entailed for the animal and the person doing the slaughtering (see my post Eating Meat).

If this is not possible then the act of buying, preparing and eating meat must happen in full consciousness, relatively speaking, in so doing acknowledging the death of the animal I am eating.

I believe my responsibility also extends to ensuring that the animal I’m eating led a natural life as in free-range, grass-fed, horned and suckled. This will of necessity push up the price of meat. That is as it should be, see: ‘Our responsibility towards the animals I farm’. This requires that I check the label before buying my meat. But because labels also lie or fudge the truth (See James McWilliams’ article in Harpers: Nature’s perfect package, Labeling our way to a clear conscience (paywall)) we need food activists such as GrassConsumerAction and Free Ranger to help us hold retailers accountable.

Ideally the animal I eat should have been slaughtered with the minimum of trauma. Unless I am a farmer or know a farmer who slaughters and whom I can trust, the killing side in modern society will remain problematic. As one farmer put it – reported, I think, in ‘National Geographic’: ‘My animals lead a good life with one bad day’. This I must accept.

My beef with vegans for being pie in the sky

I didn’t set out to be confrontational as I have the utmost respect for the manner in which vegans live their beliefs. But at the same time vegans, like meat-eaters, should be answerable.

If vegans had their way, the question then follows: would we have farm animals? And if the answer is no then surely their noble quest to prevent the slaughtering of farm animals would mean that they wouldn’t have been born in the first place, thus depriving them of life.

In addition to food, the animals we farm help build quality soil via their droppings. My sense is that without farm animals we would be another step closer to ceding control to the fertiliser, herbicide, GM corporations to create an artificial environment, which they then control.  Apropos, is this TED address by Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change.

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Thirdly, on the question of epistemology: it appears that vegans assume a dualistic world comprising 2 discrete contexts/realities/worlds but equal – to avoid speciesism: wilderness and human. If so we have the classical dilemma of explaining how these two worlds interact without falling into what Gilbert Ryle called a category error, which in this case might be the anthropocentric assumption that compassion and abstinence from killing are more appropriate than, for instance, contentment from being nourished.

Fourthly, is the naïve, lopsided belief that given the right circumstances, tools and/or attitudes we should and could rid the world of pain – without realising that it is often through pain, terror, grief (all the supposed negatives) that we connect with life.

In conclusion

Matt, my son, who reviewed the first draft, pointed out that I might run into problems having promoted an argument based on anti-thought and pro-feeling, and then tackling vegans at the end in a very logical fashion thus not identifying the complexity and feeling of living the vegan way. This, I concede is a valid criticism. To Matt’s critique I add that of my friend and co-reviewer, Louis de Villiers, who observed that everyone has to decide for him or herself.

So let me conclude by saying that I was a vegetarian for years at the expense of my health. Now I eat meat at the expense of my peace of mind. I believe that’s what it comes down to, namely, a decision on which alternative to sacrifice.

Our responsibility towards the animals we farm

The message I glean from our goats: is it necessary also to disrespect us?

Early morning I looked at Daisy (matriarch of a herd of 4 adult and 6 baby goats) standing at the entrance to the enclosure, and asked her please to let Kashka through, whose turn it was to be milked. Daisy stepped aside, and Kashka slipped in.

Surprised, I gratefully responded, “Thank you mama. Thank you.”

Daisy looked back at me with those clear, yellow glass eyes of hers and flashed, “No problem”, turned aside to meditate in the sun.


It’s been 6 exasperating months during which I have tried to deal with Daisy’s ongoing bitchiness towards the entire herd – particularly towards Kashka, until about 3 weeks ago I read somewhere an author lamenting that we no longer groom one another. A week or so later Matt, whose farm, with Sasha I’m looking after in their absence, commented: “Look at Billy’s beard. Do you polish it?” And I laughed, but then the word ‘groom’ popped back into my mind.

One or two mornings later I thought that now the tick season has passed and I have more time on my hands between milking each goat, why not rub each one down?

I started with Daisy. I scratched behind and around her horns and then worked my way down and up her spine and flanks. The moment my nails dug firmly into her hair, she stopped munching her oats and barley and stood quietly – as if in a trance. Then I used my palms to smooth her hair. After I had finished, Daisy resumed feeding. A while later I lowered the stable barrier and the grande dame of goats slow-marched down to join the herd, as if saying, “Respect! What took you so long?”

I now groom every goat daily – even Billy. The herd glistens in the Overberg sun.

Maybe it’s because I live alone but I’ve also taken to talking to them. Not in goat language – but in English, adult to adult. For instance, today I told Daisy she mustn’t try to slip back to feed from the kids’ lucerne once I’ve indicated it’s over. She looked at me with those clear yellow eyes of hers. OK.

Last night when I untethered Daisy after feeding time, she didn’t immediately push aside Pegasus to get to what was left of her lucerne, instead she continued lying on the fresh straw, chewing the cud sleepily.

The message I glean from the goats: we share our milk, we accept that in the great scheme of things you’ll take and slaughter our kids, therefore is it necessary also to disrespect us?

On Eating Meat

“Dad, there’s never a good time,” Matt explained, “because they trust you right to the end.”

I am looking after my son and daughter-in-law’s small, off-grid farming operation in Suurbraak. Since taking over the operation, their 3 mother goats have each given birth to 2 kids. The other day Sasha (my daughter-in-law) returned for a few days. On one of these she slaughtered one of the male kids.

Some years earlier, Matt (my son) woke me in my tent, pitched on their then, newly purchased Suurbraak plot with the question, “Dad, whose turn is it to slaughter the goose?”

I did the deed as I realised that it was hypocritical of me to share their meals without playing my part. Ever since I have been glad I accepted Matt’s challenge, because it meant I had paid my dues with respect to eating meat. Additionally it confirmed for me that, done properly, animals accept their death in a way that we also need to do.

How I did it was to catch the bird, carry it in my arms to the fence nearest the river where I told it what I intended to do. Initially the bird protested but afterwards it grew quiet and the trees, river, mountain, bird and I merged. I then knew it was time. Sasha held the bird’s neck on top of the chopping block where it lay without moving until — several attempts later — I severed the head with an axe.

I was moved and humbled as my actions had been true to my philosophy, which is not to shy away but to enter every situation which presents itself. Based on my most recent experience, however, I now realise that that event, although epiphanic at the time, was betrayed the moment I dishonoured it by neatening and packaging it into my philosophy thus becoming slick, complacent and arrogant.

This time round was different. I had been present when Kashka, the mother-goat, gave birth. Over the months I had dealt with diarrhoea among the newly-born, waves of ticks and goat politics. We all knew one another’s measure. We had a routine. They all trusted me. We were a team.

Sasha and Matt have a policy that when either slaughters, the other is not present. “It’s easier, that way,” Sasha explained. Consequently, I heard and didn’t see what happened. It was early morning. The mother kept calling.

“Dad, there’s never a good time,” Matt explained, “because they trust you right to the end.”

Before she stepped out to do it, I looked carefully at how Sasha was handling the situation. Her face was set like porcelain. She appeared a million miles away, locked into her own moment. She took a last gulp of her espresso.

I don’t think it was my imagination that after the killing the barnyard was in shock. All the goats had turned their backs on me. They chewed the cud and gazed into middle distance. Later Kashka came to me to ask. For days she kept looking. She kept calling.

“Of course,” Sasha confirmed, “but she will accept.”

And she has. The gash that rent the whole has closed as if nothing happened. But at times I still feel the incompleteness.

A few days after, Matt, Sasha and Enzo (their not yet one-year-old son) travelled to their smallholding on the other side of Sedgefield to spend a few days camping. Matt wanted to catch a fish for Enzo, which, he managed to do, just before nightfall.

“I walked back with it in my pack,” Matt shared. “It didn’t want to die. It must have listened to my footsteps. When I got to the tent, I gashed its brains with a knife. Killing is never easy, Dad. We cooked it on the coals. It was good.”

This post also uploaded to Medium.

What to do if a venomous snake comes into your home

The other day Shire, Kofi (our bull mastiffs) and I were shocked to see a more than metre long puff-adder in the lounge of my son (Matt) and daughter-in-law’s (Sasha) cob cottage in Suurbraak, where I was looking after their small off-grid farming operation. The puff-adder was equally shocked as it hissed, slithered and struck warningly at us. Terrified, I ordered the dogs out of the house; phoned Kria who lives nearby and, when there was no answer, her partner, Tristan, for the contact details of the local snake catcher who was unfortunately in Cape Town. Tristan, however, sent me the phone number of an alternative snake catcher, Nita Wessels, who, unfortunately, had moved to Riversdale, but who gave me the name of François Plaaitjies, who worked for the Swellendam SPCA, and who told me what to do, followed by a cautionary from Nita.

What to do, according to François

According to François puff adders are languid by nature so, using a long pole or stick, gently coax her towards the entrance to a box lined with newspaper and she will go inside. Then shut the lid.

Cautionary from Nita

According to Nita, although puff-adders appear sluggish and lethargic, they have one of the fastest strikes in South Africa and are the cause of most snake bites in the Western Cape. Nita suggests, therefore, that the old wives’ tale of a snake striking backwards stems from the speed of this ‘sluggish’ reptile. Also to remember that for every action there is a reaction. So if you jump around, the reptile will be just as agitated. Always better to reverse slowly until there’s a 2 metre gap, then search for a container.

What happened in my situation

In my experience it’s vital that you keep your eyes glued to the snake’s whereabouts – which proved impossible in my case, being alone, because when I returned with the box (photographed, above), the snake that had originally retreated to the corner of my bedroom, was now gliding towards the front door, saw me, changed direction to under the built-in bench and vanished from view. Luckily I was able to attract the attention of a neighbour, Gari Crawford, who was driving past, and who later courageously joined me and showed me how to make a stick with which to loop the snake (photographed) in order to drop her into a suitable receptacle – a modus operandi that, in the end, we didn’t need to apply.

Unfortunately neither of us could find the snake and so Gari went home while I continued searching the house. In the end after poking around in a hole in the cob that I noticed under the bench: out plopped the snake, which, after initial confusion, proceeded to return up the wall and into the recess.

Garry answered my second call, I again poked in the hole, the snake dropped out and, with a little coaxing from Gari’s stick, slid into the tote box we had prepared. I shut the lid and on François’ advice released the snake on Tradouw’s pass on the way to Barrydale.

Box with snake on Tradouw's Pass
Box on Tradouw’s Pass, containing the puff-adder, waiting to be opened
  1. Be careful.
  2. Back off slowly.
  3. Don’t kill the snake. Snakes perform an important ecological function.
  4. Keep your eyes on the snake all the time because if it vanishes there’s a chance that you might not find it again and forever live in fear.
  5. Therefore there needs to be 2 of you, so if you’re alone, phone a neighbour who can keep an eye on the snake as you go off to find a suitable box with lid, lined with torn newspaper, and to find a long stick.
  6. Don’t panic. Take your time. The snake will most likely stay put.
  7. When it’s time, gently help the snake find the entrance to the box.
  8. Give it time to enter.
  9. When it’s inside, close the lid.
  10. François says that snakes return so drive beyond the village or city fringe to where the snake will find mates and release her.
  11. Feel proud of what you and your partner have done by not harming her.
Puff-adder emerges
The puff-adder’s new mountain home
Nita Wessels

This is the 4th snake I’ve seen since moving to Suurbraak. The other 3 are still out there. A long thin black snake that drank from the pets’ water bowl before returning to the thick scrub near the boundary of the plot, what I think (or hope) is a non-poisonous house snake, and a longer, fatter, puff adder just beyond the boundary fence. I’m very new to this game so if you have questions then please contact Nita Wessels who manages the Askop Reptile Raptor & Game Farm, whom, I’m sure, will be more than happy to give advice –


Somewhere out there, more than a metre long puff adder.

Yesterday Shire my bull-mastiff started barking in the direction of the thicket on the other side of the fence. She wouldn’t stop and as it’s difficult to see into it, and as I’ve learnt to trust her barking I took her the long way round to investigate. She was careful, but we found nothing. I thought that she might be going on heat and that it could be a brak (mongrel) from the village of Suurbraak across the river trying his luck and that I had better keep an eye on her.

Today she started up again. She was insistent. This time the cause appeared to be in the vicinity of the vegetable garden. Her hairs at the back her neck were up as she nosed forward, and then I saw it just beyond the perimeter: long, slow and carefully moving parallel to the fence and (hopefully) towards the thicket. I got a fright and immediately instructed Shire – who was awaiting guidance – to back off. She didn’t argue; I sense, relieved. I ran for the camera and took a series of shots, including the one featured above, as it flowed languidly deeper into the thicket and out of sight.

Early warning system

Now I know that Shire is aware of the snake and, hopefully, knows, from my response, to be wary. Now that I know it’s out there I am also glad that the farm has an early warning system and why Matt (my son) and his spouse, Sasha, have the dogs: Bundu, Shire’s brother and Kofi, their mother, sleeping outside at night to stand guard.

And there is danger. I know it because last night I decided that Kofi must return to her spot at the back of the house to sleep with and to guard the chickens, who get locked up at night and the ducks that sleep in the open, enclosed by their perimeter fence.

What led to the decision that Kofi must return to her usual spot was most likely a warning by Matt concerning a missed chicken I reported, “Expect stock losses, particularly as Bundu is now staying with us (in Cape Town) and the dogs sleep together in the front.”

What happens after trust is lost?

I noticed a hard cyst on Pegasus the goat (see above and the footnote). I was staying on Matt and Sasha’s plot in Suurbraak (footnote). The following day the cyst was oozing. Sasha explained via email how to treat it (footnote).

It took me x3 espressos and x4 blocks of whole nut chocolate to come round to accepting that I would have to deal with it that very day. It took almost as long to prepare for the operation, before I walked into the open field across from Matt and Sasha’s plot, took hold of and then lead Pegasus slowly and gently back to the plot, hooked her to the gate, locked away the dogs and started the procedure.

My mother had been a nurse so I knew all about getting in deep and thoroughly draining before applying the dressing.

While leading her from the field and throughout the procedure which, as Sasha predicted, was clearly painful, I spoke reassuringly to Pegasus. It therefore seemed to come as a surprise to her, when I indicated that the procedure was over. She then slowly ambled off to join the others.

As instructed, I discarded the puss and cloths and sterilised the receptacles and implements.

I am grateful to Pegasus for allowing me to drain the cyst down to the blood. I also feel privileged that she and the other goats allow me to milk them and to pluck ticks – even from their eyebrows.

The other day in their barn, while feeding barley to each goat in turn, it came to me that the heart of love is not passion but intimacy, whereby another allows you into her or his or its space. And then I think about dogs chained in back yards (see below), battery chickens with no beaks, livestock born into CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and mammals in laboratory cages, and I wonder how we as a species, very recently – in our lifetime, allowed it to happen, and what the implications for us all will be.

Maltreated dog
Maltreated dog

Matt and Sasha’s name for their middle she-goat is Pegasus.


Suurbraak is a mission village in the Western Cape of South Africa off the N2 highway just beyond Buffelsjagsrivier on the way to Barrydale

Sasha’s instructions

Yes it is unfortunately a little infection that is re-occurring. You basically need to wait until it is ‘ripe’ – that is when the ball is not so solid and softer to the touch – and then you need to pierce it and to thoroughly empty it. Best is to lance it with a scalpel, alternatively a very sharp knife; it is quite gross and gives off a foul smell. Sometimes she scratches it open on her own and you must then quickly (when you spot it!) empty it. We use lots of toilet paper to squeeze it out and then clean out the wound with an antiseptic to a soapy mix – there should be some near the basin in the barn. There you will also find green clay (in a powder or gel form) to then cover the wound with, and avoid fly or bacterial infection. Make sure to squeeze it out until you get to blood and to put all contaminated paper and tools in a plastic bag to throw away. Wash your hands thoroughly and do not touch other goats with ‘contaminated’ hands as we read that these types of cysts are innocuous but unfortunately contagious. It sucks. Emptying the cyst can be painful for the goat so you might ask Kria to come and help you handle the goat whilst you do it. If this turns you off I am sure you can ask Kria to handle it for you, she accepted to be our stand-in vet.

My goal is to take one or two iconic photographs of the Karoo and Overberg

I started a photographic club at almost every school at which I taught. At the end of my career, as a member of the Communication Directorate I became, by default, the unofficial official photographer for the Western Cape Education Department. Now retired, my goal is to spend a year in the Karoo learning how to take one or two iconic photographs of the Karoo as almost none of these representational Karoo shots speak to me. This blog is part of that aim.

Dissatisfaction 50 years down the line

Any serious photographer will doubtless ask him or herself what is a photograph, why am I taking photographs and/or what do I want this photograph to say? These questions are pertinent because, although I’ve been taking photographs for more than half a century, I’m still uncertain what I’m doing and why.

On a more primitive level what have also spurred me have been photographs that my erstwhile colleagues at Camps Bay High School and long-time friends, Ken Barris and Gregor Leigh, have shared that leave me envious.

I know it shouldn’t be the case but I sense that I’m also unsure of myself or where I’m going because I don’t have any art training so, for me, it’s largely hit ‘n miss – although, I might be making excuses for myself because neither Ken nor Gregor has a visual art background.

In this blog stream or theme I’m going to share what I’ve managed to distil for myself about what photography is, why I take photographs, and which photographs work for me. Hopefully Ken and Gregor (and others) will share some of their images – so you can see what I mean.

As I’ve also spent much of my life as a teacher and because teaching, for me, is about opening new paths of discovery I’m hoping that one or two of these posts might trigger something in you, the reader. If so, please share your favourite pics.