For as long as I can remember there's been an image stuck in my head.
A farmhouse. Double storey, wood clad. Wide wrap around porch. Kitchen with slanting sunlight, a butler's sink, slate floors, big worn wooden table in the middle, pantry stocked with home-canned good-for-you bounty. Large family room - fireplace. Wide stairs to comfortable rooms on the second floor. A gigantic tree out front, swing hanging off one branch, kitchen garden to the side, barn / cow-shed further off out back. Orchard nearby with apple, peach and lemon trees - couple of grapevines bordering the garden. A stream at the bottom of the garden past the big tree - knee-high grass sloping down to it. A long summer-meal table under the row of trees near the river with an assortment of chairs standing ready. A place for growing, playing, a place for dropping in and staying a while, a place to live and work in harmony with the world around you. There are low hills in the distance, fields between them and the house - and all that I can see is part of the farm. My farm. The place my heart knows as home - though I've never seen it and I don't know if it even exists.
It's summer now, here in reality. I can hear cicadas zinging out the back in the trees that line the road behind our small, bricked-up-yard residence in what my grandfather calls "rich men's squatter camps" - security complexes with high walls and your neighbours within touching distance. My "garden" has just been watered - a mere collection of terracotta pots with various herbs, random baby tomatoes or green peppers, a smattering of arum lilies and spider lillies and my son's collection of cacti. It's the only greenery in the yard, besides a weed or two struggling up between the bricked yard and the concrete wall. We have a tree - outside the complex, interfering with our satellite dish's reception - the only shade in the yard that hugs one corner for 2 hours a day. My dog can't cure his indigestion by chewing on grass, as is the way of the canine - there simply isn't any to be had in his small hard-surfaced boring world.
It's this time of year that the farmhouse image lives strong and constant. It's the growing season, the harvesting season, a time when my garden should be bursting with delicious home-cultivated organic goodness, picked and plonked on the table within minutes. It's a time for being outside, for seeking out cool breezes, for grass and water and trees and living things.
Reality is brick, concrete, tile and road reflecting back a stifling heat. Noise of traffic and neighbours and technology constantly all around. Horizons close enough to touch, blocking you in. Cramped quarters and the daily grind of cars, industry, chasing down Rands and cents, and getting your food from sources unknown via the nearest supermarket.
I'm under no illusions as to the realities of farm life - it's no joyride, and it takes a huge amount of work to see any form of success. Attempting to farm in South Africa - or anywhere in Africa - as a white person is akin to a death-wish. Global warming / climate change (call it what you will) is playing havoc with what you can and can't do in any given place - what's been done there for hundreds of years has suddenly become impossible.
But lately that farm, that dream, is constantly in the back of my mind. I guess it's the place I escape to when the walls crowd in and my life balance seems a bit off.