A little bedtime story to fill a small gap.
Readers are welcome , and encourage to leave comments.
THE REFRIGERATOR BOX.
Leigh Morris and Helen Beswick were about 8 or 10 years old. Leigh is my youngest daughter. She is 10 years younger than my two older daughters Emma and Philippa. This makes for a very interesting scenario. When Leigh was 8 to 10 years old her older sisters were 18 to 20 years – by sibling association Leigh knew everything her older sisters knew (about everything), plus what she knew herself, and hopefully most of what her father taught her. Quite a bank of knowledge, even though, in a narrow geographic field. Helen on the other hand was born in Botswana to a very adventurous father, and I know she was bush-savvy, and had a few trips to Australia where she lived on a relative’s cattle station, and could certainly handle a horse, motorcycle, stock whip, water skis, tennis racquet and bow and arrow etc. A geographically wider range of knowledge. It was in the Refrigerator Box where this knowledge came together. These two were no babies.
At the time I was running bow hunting safaris in several parts of Southern Africa. A farmer in the Komatipoort / Malelane area of South Africa had offered to build “Tree Hides” for me on his game farm in the hopes of attracting overseas bow hunters. Helen was staying with us here at Fourways – I guess it could have been school holidays or something, when the farmers call came through to say, he had finished some of the tree stands and they were ready for inspection – would I like to come and see? Yes Mr. Farmer that would be great, except I am stuck with these two young girls, would it be OK if I brought them along?? Yes Jim, that will be fine. Good, we will leave Fourways the day after tomorrow.
Now, unbeknown to me Helen and Leigh had been living, eating, drinking, giggling, talking and sleeping in a biggish rugged old cardboard refrigerator box for the last few days (kind of like a dolls house), and certainly could not leave home without it. So the box was tied down onto the back of my pick-up and loaded with their safari kit (duvets, pillows, dolls, hats, takkies, sunscreen, lunch boxes, juice bottles etc. It would be a 5 to 6 hour drive, we were to meet the farmer near Malelane, and he would escort us to the game farm. On arrival at the game farm we would decide on appropriate inspection action. I had previously given the farmer dimensioned sketches, so it was really only a matter of checking the sturdiness and actual locations of the tree hides.
As the name implies “tree hides” are usually built into trees in such a way as to offer camouflaged bow shots in several directions from 10 to 25/30 yards / paces. They are placed on or near water holes and game trails. We are reluctant to place tree stands right on water holes as the human activity eventually forces the animals to drink elsewhere. If there is no tree in a suitable location, I had provided a sketch for a free standing hide. The dimensions are such that one or two hunters can lie down, and even sleep overnight in them if necessary.
The stands should be constructed in such a way that they do not squeak or move if the hunter rolls over or generally moves about while he is in the stand. The farmer told me that he had built one of each type; the tree stand was near a water hole, but could be approached from the direction away from the water hole, thus avoiding leaving spoor / scent around the water’s edge. The free standing hide was built just off a well-used game trail (leading to a steam) in another part of the farm, and could be easily re-located if it proves to be poorly placed.
As sunset was rapidly approaching we decided to inspect the free standing hide first, and then maybe spend the night in the tree hide near the water hole. The farmer concurred with this, as he was hoping to visit his girlfriend in the evening. Right let us go. We followed the farmer in his own pick-up to the free standing hide. We only then started to notice how much game was on this property – we glimpsed Elephants, Kudu, Bushbuck, Wildebeest, plenty of Warthog and Impala, Giraffe and Zebra. I was getting quite excited about the bow hunting prospects in this place. At one point we drove along the edge of a substantial stream, and saw hippopotamus frolicking near the opposite bank, and then there we were at the freestanding hide. It was about 250 meters away from the substantial stream, and 12 to 15 meters off a major game trail. The 250 meters is significant as it is only the last 50 – 60 meters before the water when the animals become super alert, and that is usually at dusk / dark. At 250 meters the animals would be less alert, and it would be sooner and slightly more light – perfect. I explained the situation to Leigh and Helen, and told them to climb up in the stand and do your best to shake it down. They did their best, but the stand silently resisted their best efforts. The farmer and myself then joined the effort, and climbed up to join the girls. With our combined efforts the hide did not even whimper. I expressed myself satisfied.
We then all mounted up in convoy and headed to the tree stand in another part of the farm – I was feeling pretty excited and optimistic about this whole set-up. Leigh and Helen were acting pretty cool for the benefit of the farmer, pretending this game farm scenario was just common place to them. I know they had been to plenty of game farms, but secretly they knew this one was a gem. They were setting themselves up for one hell of a night, we will see if they can hold the brave face. Well just before sunset we arrived at the tree stand, and all of us tried to shake the tree stand down. The structure remained as quiet as a Leopard’s shadow. Speaking of Leopards Leigh wondered – can Leopards climb trees? The farmer commented something like – can fish swim? The brave faces were faltering.
The farmer explained that this water hole was fed by an underground pipeline, but when the natural streams dry up a lot of animals come here to drink – even the Hippos.
Well the decision to sleep in the tree stand was confirmed, the farmer says he is going to be late for his date, but he will help us carry our stuff to the tree stand then he must fly. OK, the pickup was parked about 200 meters away. The easiest way to carry the girls bedding was in the box itself, and leave the pick-up where it stands. So we were all deposited at the foot of the tree, and could hear the farmer’s pick-up disappearing into the darkness. This is the quietest time in the bushveld – when the antelope species come to drink – when they can hear the slightest non-bush sound, like Helen and Leigh. But of course we had all been making a racket of non-bush sounds up until now.
Well it very quickly became obvious that we have no chance of getting the fridge box up into the tree stand, and if we did there would be no space for anything else like me. So girls, “the box stays on the ground, and you two sleep in it”. We move it about 5 meters away from the tree onto more level ground, and to such a position that I can see it easily. Don’t worry, I have my 44 magnum revolver, and if something threatening comes along I will fire a shot or two in the air, and frighten it away. In my own mind I figured we have been making a racket for a while now, and left scent spoor all over the place, plus we are still here smelling like grubby little humans that we are. I doubted anything worthwhile would come snooping around, – but you never know, it depended on wind and time. Leigh and Helen’s cool bravado was slipping, and I knew I would be sleeping with one eye open. Well we ate our meagre rations, sent the girls into the bush for a toilet stop, and then helped them into their box. The brave faces had returned to some extent. I took my mat and sleeping bag up to the platform, and set myself up for the night. The whispering and giggling continued for a while in the Fridge Box, but when I shouted a final goodnight all went quiet – dead quiet.
I guess it was about 01h00 or 02h00 (estimated by the Southern Cross) when I was awaken by something – was it a noise, a cramp or a full bladder, I was not sure. The surrounding bush was very quiet, and not quite pitch dark – there was good starlight but no moon. I sat up carefully and looked around – a cramp or my bladder was not the problem. I could see the Fridge Box there clearly. I decided lie on my back and listen carefully. To listen carefully one needs to actually stop breathing for as long as you comfortably can, even then you can misinterpret your own breathing and stomach noises, in this case nothing, but something had woke me. I will listen a bit longer. About 5 breaths later I heard it – the familiar and unmistaken sound of an Elephant’s stomach digesting it’s bark and leaves etc. It seemed to be coming from the other side of the waterhole towards the river, and opposite to where the pickup was standing.
Elephants can walk pretty quickly through thick bush absolutely silently, sometimes the only noise is stomach noises and maybe a thorn scraping along their sides – like a fingernail on a wooden surface. I have had them walk right up to me in the dark without a sound.
No more stomach noises, but there was a shadowy movement emerging from the bush on the other side of the water hole, and then another, and another. The dull ivory glow of their tusks told me which end was which of the elephants, and which way they were facing. Very soon there were four (could be more) shadowy lumps and eight tusks all aimed in the direction of the Fridge Box. If the shadowy lumps were straight ahead of me across the water hole at about 35 meters, the fridge box was 5 meters away to my half right. The elephants certainly did not expect to find a Fridge Box in residence at their watering spot – they were silently checking it out. I would love to know what they were thinking. But I was already thinking what a mess this could turn out to be if they decided they did not like intruding Fridge Boxes at their favourite drinking spot. The Fridge box remained still and quiet.
After about 20 minutes the lead elephant begin to slowly wander around to his left towards the Fridge box. Soon two of the others began to follow, leaving one to stand guard. Their approach seemed to be motivated more by curiosity than aggression, but wait, what is that?? – Another smaller and differently shaped shadowy lump had now appeared alongside the lone rear guard elephant, no two. By the time I finally worked out that the two newcomers were not baby elephants, but in fact fully grown Hippos, the lead elephant was at the Fridge Box. Kanell, this is getting serious – I now had the revolver in my hand, but I know from past experience that in the wild; if an animal gets a fright, and does not know what frightened him, he is likely to attack in full force the nearest thing in his vicinity – In this case the Fridge Box. So, hold on a bit there Jim.
In the meantime, when I looked back the two hippo had entered the water up to their bellies – hmm OK, then I heard the sound of the Fridge Box moving over the dry gravel. No mistaking what had happened; the lead elephant had nudged the Fridge Box and stepped back, and was now expecting a reaction – nothing, he just stood there. Phew, what to do now, the second elephant was now approaching the Fridge Box, and sure enough gave it a second nudge, to my surprise this produced a couple of muffled giggles. Both elephants stood back and looked at each other as if to say W.T.F. was that. It is amusing that when they turned to look at each other their tusks tapped together, and slightly surprised them.
Hey Mr. Elephant, you think you are confused. I was still conscious of what could happen if the elephants got a violent fright – they may both attack the Fridge Box, but for now I think their attitude is amused curiosity, also they must have picked up our scent by now. The nudges followed by giggles continued for quite a while, at least an hour. It reminded me of a child with a talking / crying doll. Turn it over, or give it a shake, and it cries. The elephants were treating this as a new found kind of toy, and each elephant wanted to give it a try, sometimes in pairs. Just give it a nudge, and it giggles like a couple of human kids – how amusing. This went on for about 1, 5 hours when the elephants tired of this game – or Leigh and Helen went to sleep. They went and slurped up their water and disappeared into the night. I did not notice at the time, but when the elephants left the Hippo had also left.
The next thing I knew, it was dawn, and murmurs were emanating from the Refrigerator Box, followed by two happy faces. We all then enjoyed telling each other’s side of the night’s happenings.
——RIDE HARD, SHOOT STRAIGHT, AND SPEAK THE TRUTH. ——-