Twenty Chickens for a Saddle

Robyn Scott

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle

“Leaving the go-cart under the marula, we'd walk across the railway line and across the main road, stopping at the base of one of the biggest baobabs for miles, which towered here on the roadside like a sentinel to the turnoff for the airport and the Selebi houses.

We all longed for a baobab in our garden. The most splendid of Africa's trees, it had once, according to local legend, grown only in the gardens of paradise, until the day the gods tired of the poor baobab, tore it out of the ground, and hurled it from the heavens to the earth, where it landed upside down and continued to grow, roots in the air, reaching skyward.”

The paragraphs above are taken from Robyn Scott's quirky and enchanting memoir, Twenty Chickens for a Saddle. Subtitled The Story of an African Childhood, it's full of encounters with wildlife ordinary and exotic, humans ordinary and otherwise, and adventures enough to power the imaginations of the author and her siblings. She continues:

“But these great trees, with some of the biggest girths in the world, took hundreds of years to grow, so we has to settle for a neighborhood baobab. We knew intimately the valleys and folds on the smooth, swollen gray trunk, which tapered and split into bulbous branches that seemed absurdly big for their sparse clusters of leaves. Beneath it, sitting in the shade of the enormous trunk, we'd crack the woody pods and suck the tart white flesh around the seeds until our mouths ached. When we could eat no more, and provided we weren't already overloaded with spoils from our travels, we'd stuff our backpacks full with as many of the furry green fruit as we could carry, heading home armed with delicious snacks that would last us for days.

The small backpacks were a crucial part of our journeys.

When we departed, they'd be half full with water, sandwiches, apples, the portable computers, a few thebe coins, and the walkie-talkies. On our return, they'd often be brimming with new additions, including snakeskins, colorful feathers, huge seedpods, tortoise shells, porcupine quills, sun-bleached bones, useful bits of metal, wire snares that we tore from bushes, beautiful pieces of gnarled wood for th wall unit, and almost always, dead or alive, a few of the innumerable wonderful insects of the bush.”

In another passage, Ms. Scott writes of a time she was out riding with her grandfather:

“Far ahead of us, swathed in a haze of heat waves, the black strip of road melted into the flat bush. Far beyond that, at some elusive point, the bush became endless, cloudless blue sky. Only a few black bird flecks and the glowing white sphere of sun gave perspective to the gigantic expanse.

Hot, dry, and unforgiving still. But with fast cool air buffeting sticky skin and the untapped world whizzing past, inimitably wonderful, too, I stared until my eyes watered in the brightness and dry air.”

Quirky and humorous, Scott's Twenty Chickens weaves a spell that does not fade. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright 2010, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.