Tag Archives: Walter Eschenburg

Encounters # 3 Bubo, the Cape Eagle Owl

owl_feb17

I met Bubo (Bubo Capensis) during an evening stroll and was happy when I realized he wasn’t scared of me. He didn’t even seem to think of flying away. He sat on his branch, orange eyes taking me in, as well as his surroundings, while the wind was playing in his ear tufts.  He looked straight through me, as if he just knew.

Watching him for a while made me realize (again!) that it is no surprise  that people of all – or at least most – cultures have always been captivated by owls:

Symbol of wisdom for the ancient Greek, wizard’s mate in parts of Africa, harbinger of death in certain areas of the Americas and messenger of the gods and divine ancestors in Asia; ‘Owl’ is Winnie the Pooh’s wise friend, ‘Hedwig’ Harry Potter’s trusted companion, and ‘I heard the Owl call my Name’ by Margaret Craven was a New York Times bestseller.

Cape Eagle Owls are monogamous, call in duet and sometimes like sunbathing in the early morning. They eat mostly small mammals, including bats, but also small lizards, insects and crabs. Like many other species of owl, they are able to fly in effective silence, their unique wing and feather design suppressing all sound that lies within the range humans, and apparently most of their prey, can hear. Recently, scientists have been researching the owl’s flight mechanisms and wing design to improve human-made aerodynamic design.

 

A wise old owl sat in an oak,

The more he heard the less he spoke

The less he spoke the more he heard

Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

 

Ever since writing “Healing Rhinos and Other Souls”, I’ve been fascinated by owls. Many a night they accompanied my late writing sessions with their calls, some near, some in the distance. And to this day they remind me of Walter, who always maintained that he could chat to them.

Walter had a special relationship with owls all his life, and the night after he died, the eagle owl in the terminalia tree outside his house in Vaalwater called incessantly, until the early hours of the next morning.” Healing Rhinos and Other Souls, p298

Thank you!

 

Adventure #1:The Idea

***Release “Healing Rhinos and Other Souls – The Extraordinary Fortunes of a Bushveld Vet” as Podcast and Audio book. (Just let it go! It’s been ready for a while, but my old friends, Ms Perfectionism and Ms Procrastination interfered… )***

audio-chair

How are ideas born? Where do they come from? Why do they sometimes linger for a while, before they raise their heads and demand attention? Do they have a life of their own?

Where exactly the idea came from to experiment with audio books and podcasts, I don’t know. However, once that it was there, it seemed obvious that “Healing Rhinos and Other Souls” would be the perfect starting point. But how to go about it?

‘Things will happen when the time is right,’ my magic life-coach friend said and, as usual, she was right. After pondering for a while, things suddenly started to happen. Bokkie Botha, whom we’d later just call ‘The Voice’ kindly volunteered to read the parts of the book written from Walter Eschenburg’s point of view. The narrator’s voice, I felt, I could do myself, for better or for worse.bokkieb-1

The Voice – Bokkie Botha (©James Botha)

But where and how to do the recordings? Turns out that Farai Bloemendal aka ‘Farai the Producer’ has set up shop in town recently and is running a small but very professional recording studio. Wow! When the time is right…

sept-15

‘Farai the Producer’

A huge thank you here to Bokkie and Farai!

Things were running smoothly and production was nearly done, when we hit a serious roadblock. I had read the small print of the “Audiobook Creation Exchange” before, or so I’d thought, but somehow it had slipped my eye that in order to use their services, one needed to be a resident with an address and a bank account either in the US or UK. Dismay! How could I have missed that? And now what?

Ms Procrastination was celebrating, while Ms Perfectionism just said, “Perhaps it’s a good thing, after all you are not a professional narrator, and it’s not perfect!”

Ms Pragmatic replied, “Mmm, but what about the time? The money? The effort? The favours?”

I remember lying on the sofa, listening to this conversation in my head. “Hey, what about me, I really like it! And I want it published!”

“Do you? Although it’s not perfect?”

“Yes! It may not be perfect, but we all gave it our best! And after all it’s a memoir, and a personal book and I think people will just love Bokkie’s voice, and…”

More pondering and wondering followed.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea: Why not publish it as a podcast, serialize it, one chapter at a time!”

“Good plan; then people can listen to it for free , and maybe that’s a good thing? Then you don’t have to worry so much about it being perfect!” says Mrs Pragmatic

“Yes, and also remember, what you give is what you get,” I hear my magic life coach friend chip in, “you never know what kind of wonderful magic you are going to release.”

“Ms Pragmatic, now it’s your turn to find out how to go about it! Soundcloud, itunes, youtube…”

“Ok, Ms Procrastination, I’ll do that. Can’t be that difficult, we’ll start in the New Year…”

“And remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect… Just give it your best!”

“yaa, but…”



P.S. Progress report to follow soon

A Serious Sense of Humour

Willem’s expression suddenly changed. ‘Walter, Walter, die ding word wakker! – She is waking up!’ There was more than a little panic in his voice. The truck just carried on slowly, the driver completely oblivious to what was happening behind him. From Walter’s vantage point, things looked quite safe, so he leaned out of his bakkie’s window and shouted back,

‘Hold on Willem, it’s not far now, hold tight!’ hoping this would do. …

To his delight and Willem’s dismay, he then watched how the elephant began exploring. She didn’t move anything but her trunk, but with that she began feeling Willem from top to toe. And then – Walter couldn’t believe his eyes and at that moment he really felt for his friend – she ventured with her trunk up Willem’s leg and inside his short blue shorts.

Walterrrrr, sy word wakkerrrrrrr! – she is waking up!’

20130811_134918

More about inquisitive elephants and other creatures with a serious sense of humour on page 199 ff of Healing Rhinos and Other Souls 🙂

 

Healing Rhinos and Other Souls – How it all began

the book_3d

 

…My thoughts wandered back to the first time I had met Walter. It had nothing to do with food, but with castrating two young horses. I was spending some time at a large cattle farm and horse-riding enterprise in the Waterberg, a remote area in the northern regions of the South African bushveld. Triple-B Ranch and Horizon Horse Trails were only a short drive away from the Eschenburgs’ home in Vaalwater, and Walter had been their vet and advisor in all matters related to horses, cattle and dogs for many years.

‘Oh, you’ll love Walter,’ Shane had said.

Shane did not only understand horses, but people too. One of a rare breed, a real horseman, he was in charge at Horizon together with his wife Laura. Leaning against the rails of the paddock, his Australian Akubra hat drawn deep to protect his eyes from the sun, he continued, ‘Walter has been our vet ever since we moved here, and he is the best; there is no doubt. I don’t know what we would do without him. But you’ll see for yourself.’

The two colts were ready, but luckily unaware of what was about to happen to them. They were just content being allowed to graze on the lawn outside the kitchen, where the castrations would take place.

‘We always do these little ops on the grass here,’ Shane said. ‘It was Walter’s idea. There is less dust and therefore less risk of infection.’

We watched two young English lads, guests spending their holidays at Horizon, milling about. Coming from London, they had only just lost their air of investment bankers. They were a tad inexperienced in bush matters, but keen to give everything a go. Up for a new and exciting challenge, they had volunteered to assist. At their riding stables back home they were not allowed anywhere near a horse when the vet was around. But Horizon was different; here they could become part of a working cattle farm, ride horses to their hearts’ content and learn from Shane, a quiet man who in his modesty shrugged off all comparisons with the famous horse whisperer.

‘We’ll see how they cope,’ Shane said now. He had seen it all before.

‘Oh, there comes Walter.’

A cloud of dust rose from the access road, which was flanked by rows of tall eucalyptus trees.

‘Walter can be rather unorthodox,’ he explained, ‘but you’ll see, he just knows. And as I said, he is brilliant. I have never seen anybody else administer anaesthetics the way he does. If at all possible I only let Walter do anything to my animals.’

A battered blue bakkie came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the yard. The driver’s door opened with a squeak and a tall and somewhat portly gentleman alighted. His dirt-speckled glasses sat slightly askew on the bridge of his nose and his shirt and khaki shorts were spattered with what could only have been dried blood. He ran one of his hands through his shock of white hair as he looked around.

As expected, the operations went well. Within an hour the two young horses were standing again, still slightly dazed but already interested in the grass.

The two young Englishmen presented a different picture. Geoff, the taller and louder one, sat on the steps leading up to the kitchen holding his head in his hands, while Chris was lying on his back in the grass, eyes closed and breathing heavily. Both of them looked decidedly off-colour, with a tinge of green around the gills on their sunburnt faces.

Walter just grinned. It wasn’t the first time that some young guys had volunteered to assist, and he had learned that it was always better to have somebody a little more seasoned around. Women in general dealt better with castrations than men. These two had actually done all right, held the ropes when he dropped the colts and watched with interest when he got the emasculator ready. But things had turned pear-shaped for Chris and Geoff when he’d thrown the severed testicles to the dogs that had been waiting patiently. It was one of their special treats and even now Fred and Dingo were licking their lips.

‘Walter always does that, and the dogs know,’ Shane said. ‘Suppose he’s got a wicked sense of humour. But did you notice how sure he is with every movement he makes? That’s what I call experience.’

It had indeed been apparent that each and every move was deliberate, that Walter had done the operation uncountable times.

How many years of practice does a vet need before he gets this kind of experience, this confidence, I wondered.

‘Walter, how about a cup of coffee?’ Shane asked now.

‘Hey? Sorry, did you say something?’

‘Ah, yes, a coffee would be great. Why do you even ask? And yes, two sugars please, a good South African coffee.’

Within minutes of being introduced I was invited to spend the next weekend with the Eschenburgs. Only later did I learn that Walter and Topsy had made it their habit to pick up ‘strays’ and indulge them with the hospitality they had become famous for. It was, as they say, the beginning of a long and wonderful friendship.

….
(this is an excerpt of the first chapter of Healing Rhinos and Other Souls.)

 

Encounters

“I didn’t really lead an exceptional life. I mean, I didn’t invent the light bulb, nor was I ever an explorer and discovered exciting new places, nothing like that – which is what people normally write about.

But maybe there is a theme to my life. My love for nature. I suppose that’s a recurring theme that goes right through, from the early days at Juchow until today. Yes, I suppose you could write about that…”

Walter Eschenburg, May 2009, while recording his memories for “Healing Rhinos and Other Souls”

Perhaps a manifestations of this love for nature was, that Walter enjoyed taking pictures of “All Creatures Great and Small” (Thank you, James Herriot!) he encountered while doing his daily rounds.

For some reason, this habit resonated with me, and stuck. More and more often I find myself taking pictures of ‘encounters’ along the road…

like this leopard tortoise a few days ago

tortoise

Review of “Healing Rhinos…” for the Waterberg Nature Conservancy Newsletter

Richard Wadley has been so kind to include “Healing Rhinos and Other Souls” into the Books section of the Waterberg Nature Conservancy’s website. To have a look, please click here. He has also written a fabulous review for the Waterberg Nature Conservancy’s Newsletter January 2014. For the newsletter, please click here.

Thank you Richard!

Book Review 

Book Title

Healing Rhinos and Other Souls: the Extraordinary Fortunes of a Bushveld Vet,

by Stephanie Rohrbach. Privately published. www.peppertreechronicles.com

Whenever anecdotes about vets are mentioned, people of a certain age are bound to be reminded of the innumerable stories of Alf Wright – alias James Herriot – the author of over 20 books (beginning with “If Only They Could Talk”, in 1970) about sick animals, sick owners and their treatment in the Yorkshire Dales. Personally, I found many of those stories rather contrived, especially after the first couple of volumes, and soon stopped reading them.

Now at last comes a book about the experiences of a vet that not only seem very real, but which are also about the area in which we live – the Waterberg. Healing Rhinos (the title aside), is the wonderful story of the life of a beloved and highly competent, if occasionally unorthodox vet many of us living in and around the Waterberg were fortunate to have known: the late Dr Walter Eschenburg.

Walter was and still is regarded as having been one of those truly exceptional vets, who had an innate empathy for animals big and small, wild or domesticated; who (with few exceptions) almost immediately developed a reassuring communication with them; and who would apply his considerable intellect and veterinary skill to finding solutions to their maladies, using whatever equipment and material he had at his disposal.

But Walter was not only a fine vet. He was a remarkable person too. He loved people (including his delightful wife Topsy and their family), nature, the environment, humour, conversation, problem solving, teaching, story telling – and good food. In some respects, he was too good for his own good, too modest, too self-effacing, and there were those who took advantage of these attributes, failing to pay him for his services.

Stephanie Rohrbach, a qualified vet herself, German-speaking like Walter and an old family friend, set out years ago to capture Walter’s history and his often outrageous, even unlikely, but always amusing stories. Walter knew that his experiences needed to be recorded for posterity and co-operated willingly with Stephanie’s project. The result is this new book, published, sadly, four years after Walter’s premature and unexpected passing.

The content is a blend of first and third person memoirs, cleverly compiled, with an easy flow, if a little repetitive in places. While acknowledging the subject’s few shortcomings, like his difficulty with financial administration and his inability to drive slowly, the book is unashamedly a eulogy to a dear friend.  As the author notes in her foreword, “This is not a work of fiction, nor is it, strictly speaking, a biography. It is a life-story, a memoir, and a collection of anecdotes. It is a story told by many voices, a picture painted with words. It is my picture of Walter”.

It commences with Walter’s childhood, when in 1939, his family unfortunately chose to visit Germany from South Africa for a family reunion – and ended up having to remain there until the end of World War Two. This section offers a fascinating perspective of the conflict through the memories of a child; and his travails provide a glimpse of the strength of character of the man he was to become.

After the family’s safe return to SA, the book moves on to describe Walter’s affinity for animals on his father’s farm on the Highveld, leading to his decision to study veterinary science and to go into private practice. Along the way, he had the great good fortune – he was always saying how fortune smiled on him – to meet and marry Topsy Graham, a beautiful young farmer’s daughter and agricultural college graduate.

Off went the young couple to their first practice, in Potgietersrus (now Mokopane). And then the stories really began: wild Brahman bulls, reprobate buffalo, lucky escapes, inquisitive elephant, failed tranquiliser darts, cows in calf, a confused circus lion – and another that disappeared, escapades in a succession of clapped-out vehicles, unusual house guests, hungry (and other) snakes, ingenious improvisations and more, tumbling off the pages in rapid succession: the best fireside tales ever. Get a life, James Herriot!

The book’s title is misleading: although there are a couple of stories about rhino, there are so many other fascinating and arguably more rewarding tales told in this absorbing, engaging volume it is a pity the author chose the over-used rhino theme to brand her work. Many indeed were the souls – reptilian, avian and mammalian (including human) – that were bolstered, saved or redeemed during the course of this wonderful gentleman’s career and life, aided and abetted by Topsy and his able assistants Paraffin, Flying Machine and George, as they moved first to Naboomspruit (Mookgophong) and later, to Vaalwater.

We can be grateful for the memorable colourful thread Walter Eschenburg wove through the Waterberg tapestry. And we must thank Ms Rohrbach for having brought so many of his entertaining anecdotes together to paint an accurate portrait of his character, for the enjoyment of all of us who love the world he loved.

Richard Wadley

Coming soon…

Book Title

Book Title

Healing Rhinos and Other Souls tells the story of a much respected if unorthodox vet, a family man who loved and understood nature and all her creatures, a reluctant businessman, a somewhat exuberant driver, a humble person, a great storyteller and a wonderful friend to many.

For nearly fifty years Walter Eschenburg lived and worked as a pioneering wildlife vet in the South African bushveld with its many animals and a host of weird and wonderful people. After a childhood spent in a German castle during the Second World War, a harrowing escape from the Russian army and a sequence of bold moves and fortunate circumstances, it is here, against the backdrop of the harsh but beautiful landscapes of the Waterberg, that Walter comes into his own and develops into a seasoned vet. He encounters charging rhinos, tame buffalo, irate cows and angry giraffes; he deals with snakes and warthogs, amorous elephants, cats, dogs and donkeys. He treats his patients with compassion and kindness, and his clients with large doses of humour.

Healing Rhinos and Other Souls is a story of love and life; of nature and adventures; of humour, passion and understanding. It is a story about a man who was simply himself all his life, the story of a life well lived.