A short passage from my book.

Sorry this is probably a longer post than I have ever done, but does it grab your attention?

Lessons in Bush Craft

Dad was the type of person who never got lost. He could park the vehicle in the middle of nowhere, walk for hours in search of an impala to shoot and then walk straight back to the vehicle.

“You have to learn a sense of direction my boy,” he would say. When we walked about, he stopped often and asked me where the vehicle was. In the beginning I was seldom right, but he soon taught me how to always take note of the sun.

“Keep its position constantly in your mind, my boy. Then you will never get lost,” were his words of wisdom.

“Time for a lesson,” he’d say on a Saturday morning. It meant pack the blankets, we’re going for a walk. It would be just him and me. The women were left at home—not that my older sister ever had any ambitions of wanting to go with us. When his work for the day was finished, we packed a piece of steak, the maize meal, the shovel and one pan, beer for him, and water for me. Then we would be off to someone’s farm for a day and a night.

There were no special camping spots, but the farmer was advised we were on our way. When Dad found a spot he liked, it would become our camp. No tent, no overhead sheet, mosquito nets, or any other protection. It was newspaper wrapped in a blanket as your mattress and one rolled for your pillow. You slept in your clothes and if cold, you had a blanket to pull over you. First order of business, while he popped a beer, I had to gather dry wood for the fire. This of course was what we slept around, closer in winter than summer.

The ground for the fire had to be cleared of grass and anything that could start a bush fire.

“You don’t want to cause a bush fire. What the hell are the cattle going to eat?” Words of wisdom from Dad.

Next was to collect rocks big enough to surround the fire and some bigger than others for cooking the food. Then clear areas to sleep on, and don’t mess that up as a small rock in the wrong place could cause a bad night’s sleep. So special attention was paid to a comfortable bed foundation. The day would be nearing its end by then and it would be a folding chair for him and my arse on the ground. Would we talk? No, silence normally prevailed as we sat and listened to the bush around us change from day noises to night noises.

Rhodesia was known for phenomenal sunsets and I learned to appreciate these. As well, I took particular notice of where the sun went down as this could be my early morning orientation point before we went for a walk.

“Always know where south is, either by where the sun sets, or by the stars.” Now there was not much chance of me learning the stars in the beginning, so it was where the sun went down and finding a point of reference I could identify the following morning.

The pot half filled with water and salt would be set on the fire. Once it started to boil, the maize meal was added and it was my job to keep it stirred and to ensure it was properly cooked. I always succeeded in burning the meal, but that never worried Dad. It was tomorrow’s breakfast. The spade had to be well cleaned after its clearing work, as this was placed on the fire and acted as a pan for the steak. If you’ve never had a spade braai (barbeque), try it. Somehow that spade gives your steak a very special flavour when red hot. When the steak was done to perfection, it was removed and a sauce was created with the fat juices and a little mielie meal.

Timing was of the essence. The pap (maize meal) had to be ready when the sauce was made and the steak would be divided, leaving just enough for a breakfast in the morning. This was consumed by hand, no plate, knife, or fork, the pap was eaten from the pot, a handful taken, balled in the palm of your hand, dipped in the sauce and eaten. Mouthfuls of steak were bitten off and enjoyed between handfuls of pap. In those days Rhodesian beef was well known throughout the world, tender, flavourful, and just so easy to eat. No spices were added—none were needed—and it was like being in a first class restaurant.

The meal finished, the lesson would begin.

“What makes that noise?” was the normal question, followed by many a wrong guess from me. His patience never wavered and I was allowed as many guesses as I needed until I got it right. The stars followed; the Southern Cross, Scorpio and all the others he knew and used for walking at night. These I did not find as easy to master. Hell, I was just a kid and they all looked the same to me, but the lesson was always imparted. He knew I would know them in the end.

We kept a small fire burning all night. He only told me later that this was to ward off any hyena or jackal that might decide to steal our breakfast. I was more worried they might decide to take a chunk out of me. Sleep was never deep and many a time during the night I’d awaken and ask, “What’s that?”

There weren’t many lions walking around on these ranches as they didn’t mix well with cattle. Leopards were often encountered, but no one had ever been attacked and these did not worry Dad.

“Got too much to eat here. What would they want with your skinny body?” was his answer to my question.

An early morning start was the order of the day: a quick splash of water on the face, don’t waste, teeth were cleaned with a finger full of ash from the fire and a swill of water and this left a terrible taste in your mouth. Breakfast eaten cold, left over from the night before, a quickly packed up camp, dousing the fire, and then clean up the area, leaving it as near as possible to how we had found it. Then we’d be off on a walk.

We always started our walk when it was light enough to see.

“Got to get to the waterholes before the sun is too high.” Damn, I had no idea we were even near a watering hole, or for that matter how long it would take to get there. Walks were not for chats. If a hand was shown to me palm down, it meant crouch and stay still; if the hand was a stop, palm towards me, you stopped and made like a statue.

Dad always led in the beginning, and when we approached the waterhole, it was a crouched creep to get into a position to see what came down to drink. All this time I was supposed to remember that spot on the horizon where the sun had set. How I was supposed to do that while weaving through thick thorn bush, bent over like a half man, I do not know. I still, to this day, wonder how I ever managed to master it, yet now, I do it without consciously ever looking at that spot.

We would take up a position if nothing was there and watch to see what came down to drink. Here he taught me how to melt into your surroundings, to almost become invisible, to sit quietly and move your head slowly to see if there was anything about. Quite often I’d spoil the moment by slapping at a fly or bug that had decided that my ear looked like a perfect place for a nest. This would shorten the sit and a walk would follow. I soon learned the quicker the walk started the further we walked, so control became second nature. Yet Dad often shortened the wait by farting so loudly it would have frightened a lion away, if there were any in the area. Naturally he found this hilarious, but I’d be admonished if passing but the quietest of squeaks.

I soon learned his lessons, and on one occasion we even had a leopard come down to drink just before sun-up, followed by many different species of antelope, after they became confident the leopard was of no danger.

The walks covered many different animal and cattle paths which twist and turn. I often had to crouch to get below the thorns of an overhanging branch. But I could never let my guard down. Dad was going to stop and ask the dreaded question.

“What direction is the vehicle in, and how far away is it?” And if the answer was wrong, I would have to explain why I thought it was in the chosen position and he would pick up my error and correct me. These were hard lessons for a young boy. Not only was I having to keep my direction finder on, I was also expected to read and identify all the spoor that we found. Where was the GPS when I needed it most, and what of the cell phone with all these available apps that can tell you what animal it was, when it last passed there, and when it took its last meal? So easy for the young today.

These lessons went on for about a year, until he could no longer fool me with the odd circle walked just to confuse the issue. When these happened, I would ask if he was lost and I think he soon realised that I was now half bush savvy.

The Introduction to my Book… “Bulldogs Wild Adventures”

As I have had so many people say I should write about my experiences in the wild, I decided to continue with my book I started a few years ago. I am posting my opening to the book which I wrote nearly two years ago. Here goes, and don’t be shy to give honest critique…

It was an early morning and we had walked to below the Chilojo cliffs. Sitting on the river bank up above the Lundi River (now Runde River) we watched a herd of Elephant crossing to drink at the water, which was on our side of the river. Hoping the wind was right and not blowing from us towards them, we shifted to a huge Marula tree where we could sit with our backs against it. This should add to our camouflage and by sitting still we would experience these beasts from close proximity.

Elephants at Chilojo Cliffs

The river was almost dry and hardly flowing, but it was at least twenty metres wide where they were heading and that was not more than ten metres from where we sat. The bank being steep, we felt fairly safe, yet I still had a good look at the tree just in case a hasty retreat was necessary.

It was fascinating to watch how the Matriarch and her youngster were the first to approach, allowed by the others with due respect. As she neared the water she stopped, not a sound was heard and immediately the younger bulls and cows raised their trunks, spread their ears and looked more or less in our direction. I was ready to climb the tree, but as we had not made a sound and the breeze, although light, was from them to us, I could not believe that they had detected us.

There followed a bit of trumpeting by the younger elephant and even some mock charging towards the water. A closer look below we saw the crocodile slip off quickly into the water. Would this have frightened the Matriarch? I strongly doubted that fact, yet there seemed to still be a little consternation amid the herd. More noise and milling about and the elephants moved in to drink. I found it strange that the Matriarch held back, was she concerned for the safety of her young? There were too many elephant now drinking and some even moving into the deeper water to roll and play, for her to be concerned about the crocodile.

Chilojo-cliffs

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As some of the more senior cows stepped back from drinking and were now looking around, the Matriarch moved up and drank, she splashed water over her back and side also her underside as though she was washing the breasts that fed her young. It was such a privilege to be so close and witness these goings on, yet our excitement was controlled not wanting to disturb the herd.

It was interesting to watch the interaction between individuals within this herd, some that would just back away from a mere look from another and others that would quietly communicate. The communication taking the form of sniffing each other’s ears or just a gentle head rub with a trunk.

The herd stood around quietly having all slaked their thirst, then suddenly there was a general shuffle to get young back beside the mothers, or to within the herd. They had all again turned in our direction, trunks up and testing the air. We had heard nothing, in fact we hadn’t moved, yet there was something that was disturbing to them.

The Matriarch turned away from us and in some way communicated with the herd it was time to go. They almost took up a single file and trundled off towards the other side of the river, the younger bulls and cows being last to leave after making sure there was nothing to be afraid of. Trunks were raised and ears flapped listening for whatever it was that had disturbed them.

When they had moved far enough away for us to feel safe to move we stood, the adrenalin still pumping and now chatting away excitedly, we started to move back towards the Land Rover. We had hardly gone ten metres when we noticed an Impala carcass hanging in another tree. This is what the Elephant had smelt. This could only mean one thing, Leopard.

leopard.

Not known as the best cat to walk into, being so aggressive and fearless, our adrenalin now went up ten notches, standing still and looking around we hoped to see it before it saw us. Of course that was a stupid wish, ‘cause if it was nearby it would have known we were there long before we even got there.

You don’t run from a Leopard, most of the time you don’t have a clue where it is, and running into one would be a certain death. So we stood our ground not knowing which way to move off, all I was happy about, was the fact I knew I could out run my friend and hopefully the cat would be satisfied just taking him down. But, if I started to run in the wrong direction and he was behind me, then I would be the one to go.

It only took a couple of minutes to spot the leopard higher up the tree, legs apart as it lay along a thick branch, head resting on the one front paw and eyes wide open and looking directly at us. The bigger head told me it was a male, yet he seemed completely unconcerned about our presence. The carcass was still fresh and with the stomach opened and eaten as well as the one rear leg, the cat was obviously sated.

Now was the time to act nonchalant and saunter on down the animal path we had come along, with one eye still kept on him to make sure his interest had not been tweaked. We must have walked, at a fair pace I might add, for two hundred metres before we stopped and turn to check if he was still in the tree. Which damn tree was it? We could not see the carcass or the leopard, we couldn’t even decide which tree it was, for all we knew he was right behind us.

I decided it was now the time for exercise and said “let’s go”, it could just as well have been the starting gun for the Olympic 100 metre dash, my friend, that I could easily outrun, was gone, down that path like a flash, leaving me to eat his dust.

This happened in Gonarezhou National Park, before there were dirt roads to drive on. We had been sent down to do a Land Survey of the final Primary triangulation points the year before and had cut the roads ourselves. We had camped for four months on the banks of the Lundi River, and a further two and a half in the middle of the reserve, an experience I cover later in the book.

What do you think… please be honest with you comments….