We marked the end of Autumn with a breakfast picnic on top of the mountain this morning. I can’t believe we haven’t done this before! It was such a lovely way to spend our last morning with our friends from Cape Town, Saul and San-Marie, who visited for the weekend. They haven’t been to Vastrap for over a decade and things have changed quite a bit in that time, including the building of the road up the mountain. It was a beautiful blue-sky day, but sadly too hazy to see the view of the Maluti mountains that we love so much. A lot of fires must be burning in Maseru and surrounds because there’s a big cloud of smog hanging over the mountains. I lit the Aga last week before our visitors arrived, but it was more to create atmosphere than a dire need for warmth. The days have actually been beautifully still and mild, but that will change soon when winter descends.
After the incredibly hot and harsh summer, the mellow autumn days are a real treat. We had a very cold snap a few weeks ago, but the days have been beautifully warm and golden of late. Last week I spent some time with the kids in the garden taking photos. Myles will be seven months next week and he is just too delicious for words! An early crawler with two little teeth already, it just seems like time is flying by too quickly. Sometimes I have to force myself to just stop all the busy-ness and savour the moment. Livia’s little friend Matseliso was also here for the day. She is 11 months older than Livia, but they are playing so nicely together and Livia gets so excited when she comes to visit. It’s lovely to see their little friendship develop. Such precious moments!
Livia absolutely loves going farming with her daddy. She might feel differently when she’s older, but for now it’s their thing. Their special bonding time. There’s going to be a big fight ahead when Myles decides he wants to go too! Last Sunday we all went as a family to check up on some cows that were close to calving and to kraal the sheep for the night. Livvi helped to chase the sheep into their enclosure and then spent some time watching cattle with Quent. They could do this for hours together! It’s like a meditation, especially on a mild and golden autumn afternoon. Myles and I hung back and tried to capture the moment. Too sweet how our babies are growing up!
I find myself with less and less time for blogging. It used to be so easy to document all the wonderful things I saw and did on the farm. My head was brimming with ideas and inspiration and my camera was constantly at hand. Not so these days with two little children in the house! That doesn’t mean things are happening here at Vastrap. We seem to be busier than ever, but it’s hard to steal moments at the computer between taking care of the kids and trying to get some real work/admin done. The drought has also been a drain on our spirits and it’s been hard to see beauty around us with our gaze permanently turned to the sky.
We are well and truly into autumn now. The evening temperatures have dropped sharply and the afternoon light is soft and golden. We face the coming winter with a sense of trepidation as there’s so little food for the cattle and our dams are still horribly low. We just have to take it one day at a time and hope for a few more hot days so that the grass can keep growing and a few more good showers to replenish our water levels. Everyone is hoping that the frost comes late so that the late blooming sunflowers can yield a crop.
We’ve had some wonderful visits from family and friends this year and those are really the times to cherish and remember. Easter was a quiet, but colourful affair with my sister and her family with us for a few days. The first thing my sister did when she arrived was go out in the garden and pick as many flowers as she could to fill the house. It wasn’t the usual bountiful haul, but she managed far more than I have this whole summer! We cooked delicious comforting meals, drank G&Ts, played with the kids and stole some afternoon naps. And chocolate. Oh there was lots of chocolate! And a huge decadent chocolate brownie ice cream cake that I made specially for my niece, Sophia. My parents-in-law celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary on Easter Sunday, which added even more significance to the day.
After everyone departed, Quentin and I took the kids for a walk down into the valley. As we walked we ended up surrounded by a mixed group of very old and very young cows, all curious to say hello, or maybe hoping we had some extra food for them. Livia absolutely loves cattle so this little moment of interaction was the perfect end to the perfect relaxing weekend.
We took a slow walk down into the valley earlier today with the dogs. The autumn days are sunny and beautiful, but there’s a definite chill in the air signalling winter is near. Far too quickly, the poplar trees have lost their golden sheen. Little Livia has finally found her feet at 16 months. She’s changing by the day and is totally ready to run and clamber about as she experiments with different sounds and actions. She had her lunch down in the vlei with the dogs mulling around and the sheep and cows grazing in the distance. Duma, our 4 month old boerboel puppy, is getting so big! But he is a very friendly brute and has adapted well to our pack. A bit of quiet family bonding with my loves was the perfect way to end off a relaxing long weekend!
I can’t believe my last blog was two months ago! Where has the time gone?? It certainly has been a hectic year so far and I find myself less and less able to indulge in time spent documenting happenings around the farm. I’ve also been spending a lot more time updating and writing for our official Vastrap Boran website and blog, which has left my personal blog lonely and neglected.
It’s pointless to even try to catch up on everything that’s been going on, but the main news I have to share is that we are expecting a baby boy at the end of September! I am just over 4 months pregnant and feeling great, but the first trimester was very draining and quite stressful waiting to see if we would get past the first three months. On top of that Livia was sick for quite a few weeks and teething badly which left us very sleep deprived, something that we’ll have to get used to!
Ashley is here this week for her holidays and Livia is absolutely loving having her big sister around. We had some fun in the garden this afternoon in our new outdoor seating area. The building was completed just in time for Easter when the whole de Bruyn family gathered at Vastrap to celebrate Bill and Karine’s 50th wedding anniversary. I got lots of ideas from Pinterest on how we could build something like this using the natural sandstone from the area. After showing all the photos to Quentin he made it happen using blocks that were carved decades ago by a stone mason who used to work on the mountain behind our house. I am so thrilled with the result, especially since it looks like it’s always been there. In summer it will be covered in shade from our beautiful tree and in winter it will be a lovely place to lap up the morning sun. The girls certainly approve!
My routine is not at all blogging friendly at the moment… all my energy is going into looking after Livia who is almost 5 months already! I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to get her into a more predictable routine, which will free me up to do more things away from her, but it’s hard to let go especially when one lives and works in the same place. Even when I think things will get done during her nap time other distractions occur that take me away from my to-do-list. Sadly, blogging is currently at the very bottom of the list especially since I’m not doing much in the garden or kitchen or getting out and about on the farm to take interesting photos. In addition, little Hope broke her leg the other day when she jumped off the bakkie while it was moving fast. So now I have a little patient in the house for 6 weeks until her leg heals. She needs lots of attention to keep her out of mischief and regular trips outside on a lead – almost like having another baby in the house!
Part of my routine with Liva is to go for a late afternoon walk with the dogs (unfortunately Hopey will have to stay home for a while). We walk down into the valley and back, which is about 2 kilometres. I used to take her in the pram, but it keeps getting flat tires from all the rocks and thorns on the way. She’s big enough to face forward in her sling now so we do that instead. Some days we come across lots of cows, other days it’s sheep coming home to kraal. Some days there’s nothing but guinea fowl, herons and ducks. The late-autumn light is soft and casts a gentle glow over the brown veld. We lap up the stillness as I sing songs to her and gently admonish Paris for stepping on my heels. These photos were taken on Mother’s Day when Quentin joined us for our walk. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep it up in winter, wrapped up in our warm jackets of course!
Autumn in the Eastern Free State is synonymous with poplar trees, which decorate the landscape with streaks of gold. Poplars, along with Blue Gums, Pine and Willows, are one of the few types of trees that thrive in the harsh Free State climate. Often planted in rows at farm entrances or in valleys along water courses, they put on the most magnificent display in the autumn with golden fingers reaching up to the blue sky. Most of the trees around Vastrap were planted by Quentin’s father, Bill and his grandfather, Tok. Bill is passionate about trees and has made it his life’s work to plant and nurture them through summer droughts and winter frost. At Vastrap we have the traditional line of poplars next to the house, a long line of blue gum trees alongside the road which passes the farm and a good number of willow trees in the valley. Thanks to Bill’s dedication and nurturing there are also some oak trees scattered around the farm, a rare sight on the Free State landscape, but equally beautiful in the autumn.
The days are still clear and warm but one can feel the chill of winter in the night air. The pace of work on the farm is slowing somewhat with the seasons, but there’s still lots to do with the harvesting of the sunflower and maize crops and preparing the lands to plant wheat. The veld is in good condition for winter grazing, but in the worst winter months the cattle will also eat the oats that has been planted for them (green feed) and the maize left over on the lands after the harvest (“maize rests”). In addition, hay has been baled to ensure there’s enough food for the animals until the first summer rains, which could come as late as November. That really does seem like a long time away, but no doubt we’ll be there in a flash. Just a small thing called winter to get through first! Let’s wrap up warmly and enjoy it.
Autumn has definitely arrived in the Free State. The morning air is crisp and cool and the sky is turning winter-blue. The summer crop lands are changing hue as the maize and sunflowers start to dry out. On my drive into town this morning I was once again struck by the beauty all around us. Along the 17km dirt road there are photo opportunities aplenty. Unfortunately I only had my iPhone camera with me, but I think you’ll get the picture. From the cosmos lined road to the gold-tipped poplar trees and the clear vistas over the Maluti mountains into Lesotho. It really was a beautiful sight!
We are heading off on a family holiday to Spain so I will be taking a break from blogging over the next few weeks. We were supposed to fly out tonight but our flight has been delayed by a day due to a Lufthansa strike tomorrow. When we finally get there, I’m very much looking forward to exploring and enjoying a new country (never been to Spain before) and spending time with family. We are meeting up with the whole de Bruyn clan including Quentin’s sister Deidre who lives in Australia, her husband Mike and their two boys.
I will leave you with these photos I took of the farm last Sunday. We went for lunch at a place near Clocolan called The Cabin and drove home the scenic route over the mountains. This is not a route we travel very often because it’s quite a bad road and very deserted with many of the farm houses along the route unoccupied. The road also takes one through farm lands on the top of the mountain so there are lots of gates to open, which I hate! Quentin took me on this route the first winter that I visited Vastrap three years ago and I just remember everything being freezing! From the top of the mountain there is the perfect view of the Vastrap valley and its patchwork of autumn colours. I hope you enjoy!