It was a chance view of a Google Map of the farm where I grew up that set me on this course. From the initially high elevation I could see the poignantly familiar thread of the road as it curved around the corner of our farm – it was years after we moved there that my father showed me on an aerial photograph that we actually owned a tiny section of the land across the road too. In my time that consisted of bush and had basically been absorbed into our neighbour’s property.
Looking at the familiar pattern of the road reminded me of so many things:
Learning to ride a bicycle that was way too large for me – a man’s bicycle complete with cross bar so I had to put my leg through the gap to reach the pedals (a fearful situation to be in when I skidded on the dirt road). I often returned home with skinned knees, elbows and hands.
Coming across Giant Eagle Owls sitting in the middle of the road at night. I would watch them in the farm garden and be awed by the silence of their wings.
Sitting on our farmhouse veranda some weekend evenings, listening to the cut of the engine of a vehicle that had stopped along the straight stretch of road running parallel to the maize land. In the silence that followed we would see bobbing lights as would-be poachers climbed through the barbed wire fence and crossed the land in the hope of bagging a kudu, a duiker or an impala – any meat would do. Occasionally my father would discharge a shotgun from the veranda – way above the heads of anything alive – the roar echoing across the veld and, to our delight, we would see the lights bobbing ever more quickly back the way they had come and hear the vehicle roaring off in the direction it had come from.
The silver farm gate that was nearly always left open to welcome visitors and make it easier for everyone to drive in and out.
Bright purple bougainvilleas that grew in a mass as one entered the driveway which turned one to the lands one way or directed one to the farm house the other. They always seemed to be in bloom.
The closely clipped hedge of spekboom that separated the front lawn from the rest of the garden and the farm itself.
The view of that achingly familiar road brought a throat-catching memory of my father sitting atop his tractor as he ploughed in a field of sun hemp as ‘green fertiliser’ for the next crop of mealies.
In my mind’s eye I can still see my mother walking across the veld to take him tea when he was working down at the dam or fixing fences. The tea would be in a glass lime juice bottle that may or may not have had a lid on it.
That road reminded me of the comfort I drew from it when I was at boarding school. Even though my parents were not living there full-time yet, I could see that stretch of road with the familiar curve in it from my hostel window. It stood out clearly in the valley and there was always the silver roof of the farmhouse to remind me of the warmth and love of my family at times when I felt I needed them most.
Why dwell on the road then when so many of my farm memories are obviously about the farm, including the large grape vine outside the kitchen, the silky oaks outside the house, the tractors parked in the back yard, family braais on a Saturday night … why dwell on the road then?
Well, the road is all that is left. I could feel the palpitation of my pulses as I pressed the zoom-in button. I shouldn’t have done it. My brothers had told me a long time ago that our wood and iron farm house – built in 1910 with materials brought by ox-wagon from Delagoa Bay – had burned to the ground. They have told me before that it has been transformed into a pecan orchard. They did. I listened to them and dismissed what they said.
I zoomed ever closer until I could almost see the leaves on those uniform rows upon rows of trees that marched relentlessly across the land, blotting out every vestige of our home, of the dam, the mango orchard, the lands, the camps where the cattle grazed, and my childhood.