Tag Archives: Environment

Clay Buster: Firming up the roots


Our house is built on clay. I have no idea what that’s like for foundations but after 25 years the nine units that make up our complex have none of the cracks displayed by many other Pietermaritzburg homes. However, for gardening, clay is a distinct disadvantage. The clay binds together (as clay does) becoming quite solid; not conducive to good growth.

Enter a product called Clay Buster. It’s a grey colour, like cement, and a handful mixed with the clay transforms the ground into plant-friendly soil. We don’t always remember to use it so the packet has sat in the garage for some years. Last weekend I had a young gardener help me plant three Sheena’s Gold (DURANTA erecta) shrubs that I hope will become a hedge at the back. I took out the brown paper bag and put some of the Clay Buster into each hole with some loose soil and asked him to mix it in. I came back to find that he had poured another spadeful of Clay Buster into each hole and was busy mixing it. I told him that I appreciated his initiative (really, I did) but that I had put just the right amount into each hole. We took what we could out, added compost, planted the shrubs, and watered generously – well, not too generously since this has been a wet summer and more rain was predicted.

That was last Saturday. Yesterday, a week later, I went into the garage to fetch something and found a white plastic bag. It had “Clay Buster” in bright orange writing on the side. I stared at it for a moment and asked myself rather nervously, “If this is the Clay Buster, what was in the brown paper bag?” I found it. A small white label proclaimed “Cement”. Oops. As the young folk say, “My bad”. Instead of loosening the clay, I had well and truly bound it together. In between bouts of raucous laughter, Jen asked me what cement needs to work and began to list, “cement, sand, water….”

After the unruly laughter had died down, I got to thinking how we sometimes muddle up the same things in the Church. We speak of building on strong foundations (cement is good, right?). And we say that we must grow the church, put down roots (compost and Clay Buster needed). But sometimes we take out the wrong packet. We try to cement principles in place and nail down foundations when we should be encouraging growth and experimentation, and then we wander around aimlessly when some guidelines and principles may be required.

I think of Mark Buchannan’srightness over relationships” and how we sometimes (perhaps all too often) lay down the law with clear disregard for the person involved. Think of how Jesus handled the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery and how we might have handled them if we came across them in our own family or church.

In the same book, Mark Buchannan wrote about a friend’s awkward question. The friend was about to dish out discipline to his son who had crossed the line in his rudeness to his mother. As he was about to enter the room, all guns blazing, the awkward question arose, “What would love look like now?  What shape would servanthood take?”

It’s a question for every interaction. Put differently, what’s needed here, in this relationship, this discussion, this contact? Cement or Clay Buster?

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Hadedas: comic with a sickening cry


Hadeda0421“With monstrous head and sickening cry….” Such was the Donkey’s description of himself in GK Chesterton’s poem.

It could well be the description of a hadeda ibis, a large dark-coloured ibis disturbing the peace in rural and suburban Africa. Its ‘sickening cry’ wakes us in the early morning, disturbs our afternoon naps, and frightens the unsuspecting.

While graceful enough in flight (apart from the crooked neck), landing is a huffing and puffing affair usually accompanied by more cries; the latter either to express amazement at his ability to land or to inform all the cousins where he ended up.

Hadeda0422The hadeda is a drab grey/brown colour at first glance, but sunlight reflecting on the feathers displays a beautiful spectrum of colours similar to the effect of oil on water. Their long, curved beaks drill into the ground in order to feast on worms, crickets, and other such tasties.

South Africans tend to hate the hadeda—its noise and its mess. But take a South African away for a time and you’ll hear, “I miss the hadedas.” I was once talking on the phone with a South African living overseas. As we spoke the hadedas cried out in the background. “Was that a hadeda?” was the plaintive query.

We often sit in our tiny garden with a hadeda or two ambling around within a couple of metres, keeping a wary eye on us. Suddenly, with no apparent reason, one of them will let rip his awful high-pitched scream. A partner in the tree above will screech a reply. Back and forth will go the “Haa, haa” without any sense of interaction between the two—it’s more like a shouting contest than a conversation.

Hadeda0419 When quiet, and they can sit quietly for very long periods of time, they are the most comical of creatures. They look like a row of little old men, passing the time of day scratching and preening themselves, sitting on a roof or a fence in a row of five or ten or more.

Taking off, especially if they have been given a fright, is hilarious. I have occasionally (unintentionally) frightened a hadeda or two when opening the back door. Only half their energy is spent getting their not inconsiderable bulk off the ground with much flapping of their large wings. The rest seems to go into squawking their displeasure and alerting the world to our uncharitable behaviour. But in spite of the noise and their weight, they rise surprisingly quickly from a standing position.

The hadeda will not win any beauty contest, nor singing competition; there is nothing particularly attractive about them. The hadeda is simply there: a large, loud presence on the African landscape, an atrocious noise in our quiet suburbs. But without them our landscape would be poorer and our lives a little less rich. A reminder that in God’s scheme of things there is room for all: the petite and unobtrusive, the stately and graceful, and the buffoon.

And who is to say who is who? Today, perhaps it is the gracious wisdom of the sage we need. But tomorrow, who knows? Perhaps it is the buffoon who will draw us out of our sorrow and introspection and lead us into loud and carefree laughter that damages our dignity but frees our souls.

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