Work in progress

Turning Feral – work in progress

Our dog Cloud. Photo by Lin van Hek

A pack of dogs is going crazy down at our swimming hole. Crazy wild like nothing you could tell them would stop their racket. It’s been happening a lot lately, packs of dogs rampaging through the bush. It’s been talked about at tables and by the river, what should we do about those dogs? They’ve had the taste for blood. Turning feral.

Us kids emerge from the blackberry tunnels and rush down to the river to investigate. We make up our own little feral pack.

A dead kangaroo, fat and bloated, is wedged in a tree that overhangs the waterhole. The stench stings our nostrils and the pack of dogs is bursting with hysteria.

Will it blow? asks Couzie.

Someone nudges the animal with a long stick but it won’t budge. Marko steps out from the bank, left foot on a branch, right foot on the body – like a steppingstone. Us onlookers crane forward, waiting for the drama. The dogs are beyond excited now, saliva spraying sideways, teeth bared.

Marko rocks and nudges at the dead beast, the water rippling across the river. We hold our noses dramatically, the pong makes our eyes water. It might explode any minute.

The kangaroo comes free bobbing in the ripples and parting the branches of the tree. The dogs are barking in trill tones – feverish – as the bulbous body floats downstream, the dogs following along the shore, carrying on like it might try to escape and bound away.

Boredom sets in now that the excitement is gone, so we run off to capture frogs. The dogs lose interest too and slink away into the bush, the occasional yelp or bark fades into nothing.

This small bit of excitement is soon forgotten, we go back to the blackberries. From the break of day till the dusk of night, we are in the creek bed or in the blackberries. We scoot into the depths of the vines, prickly and dense, where we have carved out rooms and corridors just like in Watership Down. We sit in dug out hollows sipping tea from a river rock or writing on a flat rock using another powdery rock as a pen. This one makes soft yellow words.

Our warrior dog, Cloud, stands guard. He is bored with our games now and prefers rolling in crushed ants. We hear a whine deep in the bush and Cloud stops panting to listen, wary of those feral dogs in the distance.

The blackberry grows like a hedge around the bend in the creek and gives us bucket loads of large, juicy blackberries every summer.

There’s nothing like blackberry jam made with just-picked berries. Mama sometimes puts too much sugar in the mix and the jam becomes toffee. It’s so hard we can’t even get it out of the pan. Then it burns and turns the toffee black. The pot is no good now. We put it in the garden for the bush to reclaim.

When the jam works well it doesn’t last. We eat it on chapatti bread cooked on the fire. Warm and oozy. A jar of jam might last a day or two. Maybe less if we didn’t have to wait for the chapattis to cook.

Blaise the book chick


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