Saturday, 27 July 2013

Living Dangerously

It had truly been a dark and stormy night but today it was balmy and brisk – the calm after the storm. And today we were off to the farm. Yorick was left in charge of the house – well nominally – who has ever heard of a cat being left in charge of a house for gods sake?
Cat left in charge of the house. Yorick on look-out duty

We piled into the car, three dogs and I, and in front of us lay an afternoon of buggering around aimlessly on the rocks and around the river. Blissful prospect and we were all very excited when we arrived, yapping and barking and running from one interesting smell to the next, stopping only to lick our itchy bottoms – well some of us did, those that can.

The previous night, dark and stormy as it had been, had resulted in a serious increase in the flow of the river. And here I must give a little local geography.

The river running through the farm (the Nkoyoyo) divides into two streams. One flows into a partially natural swimming pool and the other flows photogenically over rocks in a little arboreal glen. The two streams – still separate – then spill majestically over an escarpment and re-join splashily some 15m below. All terribly dramatic and a tad vertiginous if you are that way afflicted.
On the left, the river runs through an arboreal glen, and on the right it is retained in a semi-natural swimming pool,
occasionally populated with water snakes

In the dry season the river is a babbling pussy cat (sorry) of a stream, but in the wet season it roars like a lion. In flood this river is awesome. The last major flood event saw it rise some two meters, take out trees with half meter trunks and move loose boulders the size of wheelbarrows.

Well, we all crossed the first stream with ease, but at the narrowest point of the second the two Collies bounded over, but Tyke the little fat staffie-cross managed only to bound into.

A moment of brief concern but she seemed to be making her way across an admittedly very narrow piece of strongly flowing water - “pumping” we would say in this part of the world.
The location of Tyke's mysterious disappearance 

 “Tyke,” I advised, “come this way, upstream, and get out of the water.” As usual, master of the moment, I expect immediate compliance.

With a dreadful slow motion feeling it was obvious that the idiot dog had lost her footing – not difficult possessed as she is of very short legs - and was being swept towards the precipice. The water took on the consistency of larva as the frames of my mind slowed and, back end first, she was dragged towards the edge, and the last thing I saw was two pleading eyes as she was carried by the gelatine water over the rocks.

Many thoughts cross ones mind in such stressful moments. “Oh Fuck” is usually fairly explanatory. Broad as it is long as it were.

I ran to the edge. The stream – the torrent – bifurcates at this point. 10% hits the rocks and cascades over the edge, 90% disappears to the right down a vertical rock chimney with horrible ferocity.

There was no dog.

I leapt. I walked in tight circles. I cursed and put my head between my knees and clasped the back of my head. I howled aloud. I did all the things that they do in the movies in similar circumstances and was thoroughly ashamed at myself for being so predictable.

What could I do?  I was paralyzed with indecision. Seth and Hamlet sat patiently and waited with open interest for my next move.

The way down to the base of the waterfall normally takes a good 5 minutes scrambling on greasy rocks and through thick vegetation; but I did it in three. The two Collies thought this great sport.
General view of the waterfall as the Nkoyoyo River plunges
over the escarpment just before it joins the Mbuluzi River

I got to the base of the waterfall which is a gentle pool that gathers the water from above before ushering it over the next set of rapids. I looked for a floating portly cadaver – but there was none. She could not have gone down-stream so she must be up. Up the waterfall.

I had no alternative – I had to go up. Up rocks that were greasy from last night’s rain and today’s flood waters. Up rocks that were continually sprayed from above. Up rocks from which a fall would at best result in a broken limb and at worst a fatal head injury. Madness! But I had to find my dog; and so did Hamlet who was right behind me, all four legs akimbo and tail erect as a counterbalance as he struggled to keep a footing.

In our house the command “Kitchen” usually means get out of the lounge, dining area, TV room, study, bedroom, wherever. It generally does for all of the animals (except of course Susan and Jaws, the goldfish who are fairly static). It is regarded as a universal “get the hell out of here” sort of phrase. In the current circumstances a brief word of command seemed more appropriate than “get off these rocks you stupid dog”, and lets face it I had not been particularly succinct with instructions to Tyke earlier on.

Picture it. I’m spread eagled against a wall of greasy rock, eyelashes, fingers and toes gripping every available crack and bulge, and Hamlet is similarly poised.

“Kitchen” I snarled, “Kitchen”.

I swear he looked up at me with rare canine insight. His eyes said “What the hell is this guy on about?”

“Kitchen” I yelled, and he retreated to base camp with frankly more dignity than I was showing.
Hamlet contemplates life from the "kitchen"

I climbed up as far as I could under the rock chimney. I was dreading the potential sight of a tan coloured body jammed on the rocks out of reach until the waters had subsided. I dreaded even more the discovery of a small rotund dog caught between the jaws of two rocks with back broken, conscious, with the same two pleading eyes that I had last seen disappearing over the rocks. If that were the case I knew that the only choice was to drown the creature there and then.
Hamlet poses at the base of the "chimney"
Mercifully the choice did not arise because - there was no sign of anything.

I clung precariously to the rocks, distraught and empty. Hamlet sat quizzically below “in the kitchen”, and Seth just sat.

I was pondering what to say to wife and youngest daughter who were that very evening saying fond and doubtless tearful farewells at O.R Tambo Airport in Jo’Burg prior to the latter flying back to London – and concluded that, for the moment, to lie by omission was the only answer.

As I gingerly descended the rocks I was already choosing the flowers and the hymns. The eulogy was formulating itself and would have a decidedly cat/dog ubuntu theme. I had selected the second hymn and settled on yellow Arum lilies as the signature flower and raised my tear stained face to the top of the cliff that I could never again regard in the same light. At which point I caught sight of a shivering rotund tan coloured creature that was certainly not a Dassie against the horizon, at the edge of a water greased 15m vertical precipice.

As relief washed over me like the waterfall I had just started to hate, I shouted commandingly and with supreme stupidity, “Tyke. Stay”. And for the second time that day a dog looked me contemptuously in the eye (only this time admittedly from some distance) as if to say “You utter Prat. Do you think I am sitting here for my health, or to admire the view?”
Somewhere here at the top of the chimney
Tyke has managed to wedge herself . . . but

Back across the base of the waterfall I slipped and slid. Through the sharp knob thorn undergrowth I rushed, and fought my way through dense Strelitzia trunks. Up the smooth rock I scrambled, led and followed, by the two Collies.

“Thank god I’m out of the kitchen again” panted Hamlet, leaping ahead.

Back to the top of the waterfall, down the side of the water filled rock chimney, stretching across glassy slime covered rocks to grab Tyke and clasp her to my bosom. Three lifts to safety. Each time I set her down and say “Stay”. A redundant command because she is too cold and scared to move but lets face it far less stupid than saying “Kitchen”, and I have to say something to her.

The mystery remains. Where on earth did she go between disappearing over the edge and magically re-appearing in the same place 20 minutes later? We shall never know because Tyke remained strangely silent on the subject.

The Heroine of the hour - in slightly calmer
The evening's phone call to Jo’Burg was masterfully reticent.

“No . . . . . fine  . . . . no, . . . didn’t do much. Yea . . . . went out to the Farm. Oh . . . .nothing really  . . . . generally messed about. Oh, and Tyke fell into the river, . . ha ha . . .!. We’re back home now – chilling. Lynds get off all right?” 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! This has all the drama of a "made for TV" movie. You had my heart racing and my palms sweating. I was rooting for Tyke - glad to hear the happy ending.


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