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Last Days at the Africa Centre for Holistic Mangement

We’ve left the ranch and Zimbabwe. We are in Johannesburg with Chase and Hart from the Chesapeake Bay Hub in Maryland waiting for our overnight flight to London (Note: we are now in London Heathrow bleary eyed again and waiting to get on our second 11-hour flight of the day. This time to San Francisco and home to our baby queen!). This morning I ran at sunrise with Tre, Ricardo and Saera out the Kalahari red dirt road toward the Vic Falls road. It was hilly and sandy, but so fun. We ran past thick patches of grass taller than us, under the Mopani trees with their leafless branches, flocks of guinea hens and barks from baboons hiding in the brush. The motivation and the thrill is the idea of what might be watching us. Lions? Wild dogs? Giraffe? Elephants? We’ll never know. But it makes us run faster.

Last night we presented our business plans to one another–working late and eating a quiet, tired dinner together in the dining hall. In the morning, it was our last group session followed by many hugs and well wishes as we climbed into the vans waiting to take us down the bumpy road and out of Africa.

Sunday night was grand. We ended work early and headed out for a game drive. With characters like Jeff, Spencer, Tarquin and Halgaard among us, we became quite a loud group. Always stories, games, challenges and laughter. But this afternoon we were quite. No one spoke. With Allan Savory driving on truck, Andy the ranch manager another, and a third truck bringing up the rear, we headed out through the ranch in complete silence. With our binoculars. We saw some shy kudu, tracks of giraffe, signs of elephant (crashed, uprooted trees) and tracks of other animals. At first we all watched Allan in amazement as he led us through the bush barefoot. He was a tracker in the Rhodesian war and still goes barefoot in order to pick up all the information the ground sends out–information the rest of us soft-footed folks overlook. He gave us a mini-lesson in reading the land: how to look for species of grass, conditions of soil, signs of life that tell a story about the health of that spot of land. It was fascinating. He explained that the ranch there suffered from over use of fire (and unplanned wildfire) and over rest. This had created bare land. Even with lots of changes to the land, the species of grass there are fire-loving (their seeds depend on fire to germinate)–evidence of the over use of fire. But this is changing. Bare, capped soil is giving way to first annual grasses, then perennials. He says that the ranch still has a ways to go (I thought it was impressive, given that it survived the total collapse of the country and skyrocketing inflation not to mention the Mugabe-induced mass exodus of white farmers from the country) and that he still has a lot to learn. He reminded us, in his humble way, that holistic management isn’t about perfection or even a certain outcome, but about making decisions in a holistic context instead of the short-sighted context of problems, needs or desires–which are sure to leave us with unintended consequences. I hope that when I am in my late 70s I still want to learn, observe and improve. And the ability to walk through the bush barefoot would be great too.

We drove under the full moon to a cleared spot in the bush, under looming Mopani trees to a beautiful braai (BBQ). We tried to make sense of the southern constellations, told stories around the campfire, indulged in “sundowners” and a wonderful dinner of eland, mutton, beef kabobs, bush buck (as well as salads and sides, but the meat was most memorable) and “pudding” of course. This usually consists of homemade cakes or bars covered with creamy sauces. They never served the same type twice. What is Spencer going to do without dessert served at lunch and dinner everyday?

Here are some photos from the ranch tours and of our friends. Thank you all for making this wonderful experience possible. We have gained so much and are going to deliver results for our region. We promise.

Our friends Halgaard and Natalie from the South Africa Hub. Their last name is also Smith, so Spencer believes he's found his South African cousin. Spencer and Halgaard do have the same sense of humor and attention span.
Our friends Halgaard and Natalie from the South Africa Hub. Their last name is also Smith, so Spencer believes he’s found his South African cousin. Spencer and Halgaard do have the same sense of humor and attention span.
Sarah and me on the ranch tour. We are sitting in the back of the truck that has been converted to seats. It's perfect for game drives and tours with lots of people.
Sarah and me on the ranch tour. We are sitting in the back of the truck that has been converted to seats. It’s perfect for game drives and tours with lots of people.
Spence, Joshua, Tarquin. Joshua and Tarquin live on the Masai Mara in Kenya and Joshua is from the Masai tribe. Great guys!
Spence, Joshua, Tarquin. Joshua and Tarquin live on the Masai Mara in Kenya and Joshua is from the Masai tribe. Great guys!
Ranch cattle moving toward the kraal (corral) for the night. Herders move the cattle according to the grazing plan each day.
Ranch cattle moving toward the kraal (corral) for the night. Herders move the cattle according to the grazing plan each day.
We meet the ranch pet!
We meet the ranch pet!
Spencer inspects elephant dung near the cattle kraal.
Spencer inspects elephant dung near the cattle kraal.
Enjoying the ranch tour.
Enjoying the ranch tour.
A potjie pot. Spencer wants one to add to his cast iron collection.
A potjie pot. Spencer wants one to add to his cast iron collection.
Where all our meals were cooked. Everything here is homemade: the food, the oven, the fire.
Where all our meals were cooked. Everything here is homemade: the food, the oven, the fire.
Checking out the boma/kraal where cattle are processed. It is also handmade.
Checking out the boma/kraal where cattle are processed. It is also handmade.
Susie Ward and me. Such a wonderful, and entertaining person.
Susie Ward and me. Such a wonderful, and entertaining person.
Little Maezy in the classroom where Mom and Dad learned all about the hub business.
Little Maezy in the classroom where Mom and Dad learned all about the hub business.
Tre Cates and me: my running partner, teacher, coach, mentor, friend. We are lucky to have met Tre and have the opportunity to learn from him.
Tre Cates and me: my running partner, teacher, coach, mentor, friend. We are lucky to have met Tre and have the opportunity to learn from him.
The herd moving in the late afternoon back to the kraal where they will spend the night. The kraal is placed strategically in locations that need high animal impact.
The herd moving in the late afternoon back to the kraal where they will spend the night. The kraal is placed strategically in locations that need high animal impact.
Tre in the classroom. It is the height of winter here. Each morning there would be an open fire burning in the classroom fire pit when we arrived.
Tre in the classroom. It is the height of winter here. Each morning there would be an open fire burning in the classroom fire pit when we arrived.
Comparing soil: the darker, richer soil is from the crop field. The herd of cattle was kraaled there after the harvest for animal impact. The nutrients in the crop field soil are far higher than the red dirt from outside the crop field.
Comparing soil: the darker, richer soil is from the crop field. The herd of cattle was kraaled there after the harvest for animal impact. The nutrients in the crop field soil are far higher than the red dirt from outside the crop field.
Telling stories with Huggins and Gladys from the Africa Centre for Holistic Management.
Telling stories with Huggins and Gladys from the Africa Centre for Holistic Management.