Thursday, July 20, 2006

Slowly but Surely

Paternoster caught the scent on the morning breeze. Slowly he moved his head from side to side as he tested the strength of the attraction. Finally he made up his mind. It definitely was female, and he wanted to meet her. So he set off, out of town into the Karoo veldt. The object of his desire lived on the farm of Sheila Snyman, some 10 km outside of Carnarvon. This distance did not deter Paternoster. His attention never wavered, and many days after disappearing from under a bush in town, he arrived at the back door of the farmhouse – determined to meet the new mountain tortoise that Shela had been given. The product of this adventure was Bloukraans. He is a 16 year old mountain tortoise, who has now translocated from Carnarvon to Cape Town.

We spent the night at “Out of Africa”, a B&B in Carnarvon run by Marie Jacobs. She is hospitable, gregarious, and very helpful (even to posting Jessica's shoes left under the bed. Armed with her directions to Sheila Snyman’s tortoise farm, we set off on a farm road into the veldt. We missed the farm – by 30 km! Eventually the driver (me, male) conceded that we needed to ask directions, and we stopped at a farmhouse where we were put right. The amazingly friendly farmer could not understand why we did not first have a cup of tea before going back along the road to the tortoise farm. But we, the city people, had things to do. We needed to see the tortoises, have lunch at the local cafĂ© on the square, and get to Douglas. So we declined the offer of tea. Little did we know that we would engage in a leisurely walk among 60 or so tortoises, and then chafe under the unhurried hospitality of the lunch venue.

Sheila Snyman is an expert on Mountain Tortoises, and published the definitive South African Mountain Tortoise book 1987. We learned about their mating habits (the female can store male sperm for up to 4 years), the egg-laying process (they are stored inside the top of the shell while a hole is dug to lay them), and the rings on the shell that denote each year of age (much like a tree). And Sheila gave us Bloukraans, who now has residence under a bush in the back garden.

I was reminded of the story of the tortoise and the hare from Aesop’s Fables: I, from the city, wanted to get through the day. The people of Carnarvon, however, wanted to meet us. The former required time frames and deadlines. The latter asked connecting and building relationships. I, the hare, wanted to get to the goal. Paternoster proved that the tortoise approach can also reach a goal – but with greater texture to the journey.

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