Oppermanskraal orchard photo john boardman

Four trees stripped of fruit by baboons remain
Of the three neat lines in my photograph;
Stumps now among the invading shrubs.
Back in 1950 Walter Watermeyer’s chickens poked
Among the trees wary of the buzzard overhead;
Meanwhile his wife collected eggs, bottled peaches
And hauled water from the stream.

Now, no road links down-valley to Good Hope.
Time’s eroding agents leave a line of stones and little else
And recent floods have taken out the latest track.
We are where we were, before Walter came, no chance
To take the donkey cart to Aandrus
Where Walter’s nieces held their night-long parties.

We sit beneath the stars sipping brandy.
A car light flickers far away, no brighter than Orion’s Belt.
Full moon at Oppermanskraal, an owl flits between the trees
Harassing the ghostly shadows of long-gone chickens.
The house slips to ruin, stones recycled as sand
Washed away in next week’s rain.

Walter probably foresaw this gentle decline.
His family left for the city and someone cut
The peach trees down.

I never met these people; only in their orchard
Counted stumps, felt their presence, their endeavour,
Their persistence and timely failure to change
This landscape or, more certainly, the stars.

March 2011    Karoo, South Africa

John Boardman, Oxford

The picture above shows what remains of the orchard; the abandoned farm in ruins is off picture to the right. John has been visiting this area in the Karoo for 15 years on a research project into land degradation. Much of the area around the farm at Oppermanskraal was growing wheat until 50 years ago; now it is overgrown with shrubs or (in the foreground of the picture) is bare ‘badland’. The area was never forested, the only trees were in valley bottoms and around farms, as here. John gratefully acknowledges Larkin’s ‘No Road’ and Sylvia Plath’s ‘Two Campers in Cloud Country’ as inspirations for this poem.