I start this post with a snapshot I have shared before – taken by my father in the early 50s and showing our valley. It seems there are still ploughed lands – the potato crops were failing fast due to eelworm in the soil and soon the valley returned to grassland and more pine was planted. The big house with its twin gables today lies to the left of the range of buildings near the middle. The pine trees marching down the foreground slope would partially obscure it. It is my father’s dream house, and today it is my home. As his life approaches its end I find myself assessing my relationship with him, and the farm looms large in our relationship.
It is early in 1981 here and my mom, a few years younger than I am now, seems to be holding onto some sort of measuring device whilst helping my father to plot the position of The Plett, our first home on the farm. But it started long before… my father took the picture below of my mother swimming in the river on their honeymoon in the early 50s, only three or four years after my grandfather bought the farm. It was at this time that she claimed the big bluegum as HER tree.
I was born with the farm in my blood. My first memory, aged 2 1/2 , is on the farm. The day I got my driver’s licence my cousin and I came to camp out at the very spot my mom was photographed. In 1979 I spent my summer holiday cleaning out invader trees on the farm. And by 1980 my father took over one half of the farm from my grandfather, and the family agreed with him to call our portion ‘Sequoia’ after the unusual trees planted there. His sister, who received the remaining half, inherited the house, over on the right of the first picture. It was many years later, only after my gardening persona had matured, that I realised how the three terraces in front of this house had influenced my development. The picture below was taken from the middle terrace – the little creature on the right is me.
As I write this, my cousin and his wife are retiring from their careers in Johannesburg and preparing to come to live permanently in this house. But back to those earliest days when it became OUR farm… My dad and I did some clearing – there was a fair amount of neglect – and we started planting temperate deciduous trees: eight, I believe, before we started preparing for the erection of The Plett. From the earliest days of owning the farm my father was dreaming of trees, and I along with him. The (recent) picture below shows not only the original stand of Sequoias to the right, but also an avenue of Liquidambars, all of which were germinated by him.
When we first put up The Plett our valley was mainly grasslands with a few self-sown pine trees, escapees from the plantations. You get some idea from the next photo, with the bulldozer preparing the site for The Plett. With a little imagination you can make out the Makou Dam between the trunks of the pines. As happens so often on the farm, rain was complicating matters. What followed was six weeks of sunshine.
Six weeks of sunshine, that is, which ended the day before The Plett came slithering down our hill to an anxious reception…
There was no way the low-loader would be able to turn off the narrow road and into our narrow entrance, make its way up the steepish grassed slope of the two-track and onto the newly graded ‘drive’ to where it would deposit The Plett on its prepared site, then continue on a loop through the valley (past where today The House that Jack Built stands), and back up to the ‘main’ road… In fact the driver was terrified of sliding down the steep wet road, let alone leaving it, and turned the front of his truck into my aunt’s entrance.
Not for the last time Steven’s Lumber Mill – who’ve had the contract on the farm now for 35 odd years – and their trusty tractor drivers came to the rescue. Even the winch on the low-loader could not be used to lower The Plett because of the steepness of the road. The details of how the poor driver of the low-loader first did his best for a proper on-site handover whilst a tractor trundled his precious cargo through the mud, and then had to get his vehicle back to the tar, I leave to your imagination; the following pictures tell some of the story…
Although The Plett arrived with a tow-bar, to in theory enable manoeuvring on site, the tractor could not hook it, as its ball was too high. And so chains were used… at times long ones when working around corners, then shorter ones. Luckily moving huge tree trunks into position for loading had prepared our tractor-man for this challenge!
My mother, wearing a most bizarre improvised rain bonnet, watches in trepidation as her precious new home is literally manhandled on its journey. And traffic on the road simply comes to a halt…
Heave-ho… and off we go!
Ironically this is one of the best photos I have of the building which nearly 30 years later became Croft Cottage.
Another scary moment as the tractor leaves the road and pulls The Plett onto the temporary drive to its final standing. We think this is the moment when sufficient flex occurred to prevent the large windows of the living area from ever opening fully – the only damage during the entire nerve-wracking process. Where the tractor is, there is today a gable.
We are on site! There were times during the morning we thought this would never happen! The block in the middle marks the point where the right rear jack must stand. And that in itself shows you how much fine tuning must still happen in the mud. My father, a control freak, calmly directs proceedings. My brother, laid back as ever, (a much more subtle control freak) has his hands in his pockets. I run around frantically with the camera.
My mother (think The Princess and the Pea) finally has her new home in position. Oh. Have you noticed the sun has come out, even though the tractor is still on site?
It is the next day. We have water on site. Me, my mother and my father, and my cousin’s vintage Chevy with which we fetched the water tank. We did not yet have a farm bakkie (truck or ute) of our own.
The Plett in place, the sun in the heavens, we start erecting the veranda, connecting the gas and the sewerage and all those things. Today the roses of Trudie’s Garden are in the foreground.
My folks go home after the Easter long weekend and I – on varsity holiday – stay on to finish the veranda and try to create order in the mud of a building site.
The next weekend the family returns, and there is time to relax in the shade over a pre-lunch drink, as we start to enjoy our new holiday home. In the background – grass and self-sown pines.