This weekend I cooked in a tiny kitchen, in a tiny cottage, about 100 metres from the Groot Marico river, invisible from the generous stoep, but a constant whooshing rush in the background. We found the strongly flowing river, brown like weak, milky coffee, swirling around rocks in places, elsewhere seemingly smooth and opaque, but not still, at the bottom of a steep pathway.
From the stoep of this deeply rural, rustic cottage, the bushveld unfurls: thorn trees in that iconic flattened, stretched out shape, white stinkwood trees, layer upon layer of green and matt brown, pale sage-green lichen blooming on branches, an aloe alone in the blonde grassland where trees have been cleared or are naturally less dense.
The walk along the river took us into another kind of woodland. Densely spaced, but straggly trees reach straight up, tender green leaves almost catch the sun. They have a poplar feel, or birch: but I don’t think they’re either. Underfoot the green continues, swathes of unknown green plants with soft stems swish against my ankles. Some mushrooms push up at the base of some of these trees. I saw about five different kinds in the fertile soil left behind by what seemed like regular flooding: shoulder high, land-side, there is evidence of a previous level of this river. Uprooted trees, dried switches of grass up in a crook of a still-standing tree starkly reminded me that this benign brown river has raged through this land.
This afternoon at last I dared to slip into the river, in a safe spot, the cold water taking my breath away at first. I am not a good swimmer, and could not swim with my husband yesterday at the dam at the top of this particular stretch of the Groot Marico. He floated out to the middle of the pool, concentric circles widening out around his head, which seemed very far off. I had a moment of panic, but soon he clambered out against the steep bank, hungry. We walked back to a lunch of salad greens and smoked trout (brought here all the way from my local Woolworths). We bought meat for the obligatory evening braai, which is what we do in South Africa in the bushveld, from the local butcher. A ramble through the little village left us feeling slightly depressed but also strangely inspired by people who live here, stoically putting up with tourists’ demand for card facilities: the butcher does have that. It also has wire mesh swing doors, exactly as the butcher of my growing up years.
So last night we braaied. Another salad, garlic bread and a nice shiraz. My beloved played his sax a little, then we settled into the sounds of this veld: crickets, and what sounded like cicadas at night. And the whooping, bubbling bursts of frog song, and earlier, the stark bark of a far away baboon.
Tonight we are having a simple chicken fricassee. I brought rosemary from my garden for the possibility that I may cook a stew: we drove through three rainstorms from a rainy Johannesburg. I thought that we might have a rained in weekend. The chicken is almost ready. I added leftover mushrooms and bacon. Out here at the table on the stoep, I can smell the chicken, and the cooking rice: that earthy almost truffly smell of brown and wild rice, another Woolworths staple packed for this self catering weekend away. The two-plate, oven-below-cooker has served its purpose in this tiny kitchen.
We will be back.