Archive for October, 2013

While doing research for The Pegasus Project, I came across the following facts:

  • DNA  from florescent jellyfish has been injected into a fertilized rabbit egg  to produce a rabbit that glows in the dark. The same DNA was used to produce sheep, pigs, cats and dogs that glow in the dark.
  • Human growth hormone inserted into a mouse embryo has resulted in an adult mouse double the normal size.
  • GM pigs will be used to grow organs that can be transplanted into humans.  These pigs are genetically modified to contain 6 human genes that partially “humanize” them in order to prevent rejection by the immune system of organ recipients.
  • The  Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation claim that a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine, are destroying our planets bee population. If left unchecked this could destroy our world’s ability to grow enough food to feed its population.”
  •  96 percent of the vegetable varieties our ancestors ate in 1903 are now extinct.
  • The latest statistics show that in 2012, 17,3 million farmers in 28 countries planted over 170 million hectares to GM crops. All this in the 17 years  since GM crops were commercialised!

The Pegasus Project is a thriller about the search for a super bio-fuel and what might go wrong if that research fell into the wrong hands. A frightening and all-too-possible scenario. The book is available from http://www.melange-books.com/ and the author at dafol@mymtnmail.co.za

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Happy Valley Farm

            A farm! After years of working and saving, hoping and dreaming, Andrew and I were about to leave the city and head into the country to our very own farm. After signing the document that made Happy Valley Farm in the district of Thornville, KwaZulu-Natal ours, Kids -Happy Valley Farmwe walked home on a cloud, hardly able to believe our good luck. No more rat race, no more smog, no more traffic jams. Instead, we could look forward to fresh air, home-grown veggies, eggs from free-range hens and milk, butter and cream from the dairy herd we planned to buy.

The fact that we were city folk with no experience of farming, didn’t worry us in the least. Our shelves were packed with manuals on every aspect of agriculture, from ploughing, planting and animal husbandry to poultry, tomatoes, strawberries and beekeeping. And a whole lot more besides. With so much knowledge at our fingertips, what could possibly go wrong? On that bright, sunny day in 1973, we were confident we could cope with whatever might lie ahead.

Although showing signs of age, the rambling old farmhouse had everything we could wish for—an enormous kitchen, lounge with fireplace, an outdoor entertainment area and ample space for our large family. From the verandah, one could look out over the whole farm. Water sparkled on a dam way down in the valley. The hill beyond stretched to the horizon. A plantation of pine trees marked one boundary. Tall blue-gums, growing close to the house, offered protection against the weather. Some distance away, in a grassy paddock, was the barn, dairy and a scattering of stables and sheds.

In the days leading up to the big move, we wrote lists. I kept four—what to take, what to leave behind, what to do and what to buy. The latter contained items such as seeds, fertilizer, fruit trees, tractor and a pump for the irrigation system Andrew planned to install. The item on top of my, ‘What to do’ list was, ‘party’. Achieving our lifelong dream was an occasion to celebrate, and that was what we aimed to do just as soon as we were settled.

Our friends were delighted to receive an invitation to a housewarming party at HappyValley farm. “Come for the weekend,” we told them. “Bring the children. The kids can sleep in the barn. There’s a mountain of hay in there, and they’ll be warm enough wrapped up in a blanket or sleeping bag.”

This news was greeted by our own children with wild excitement. A sleep-out in a barn! That was something they’d surely be able to boast about to their city friends. They ticked off the days on a calendar, hardly able to wait for the big day—or rather night—to arrive.

A wintery wind gusted through the trees as our guests drove through the gate, but it was warm inside the house and, once the festivities began, the weather was soon forgotten. The wind picked up as time went by. I heard it rattling the roof and whistling through the trees, but took little notice until, round about midnight, I happened to glance out a window and saw a dull glow on the horizon. I stepped outside, sniffed and breathed in a whiff of smoke. As I watched, the glow brightened. A shower of sparks lit the sky. And then… and then flames flowed over the crest of the hill and came rolling towards us.

“Fire!” I yelled. “Fire. The whole farm is on fire.”

My yells brought everyone running. For a few seconds, our guests stood speechless, eyes wide with shock. Then Andrew shouted, “The barn! Get the kids out of the barn. Hurry! For God’s sake, run.”

The thought of what might happen if the fire reached the barn before us sent everyone racing, breathless with haste, hearts hammering in chests. It took a while to rouse the children, longer to get them up and longer still to get them out of the barn and up to the house.  By the time they were settled on mattresses on the floor, the fire had reached the dam. We watched in horror as it swept across the wetland and began a remorseless climb towards our house.

It struck us then that nothing in our manuals had prepared us for this situation. We’d read about runaway fires, felt sympathy for the victims, but never, in our worst nightmare, imagined anything so awful happening to us. Given a week or two, we may have had the staff and equipment to fight a fire. That was high on our list of things to do. But we didn’t have two weeks. Or even a day. The fire was here, now, and growing closer by the minute. We sprinkled water on the lawn and stood by, ready to beat the flames with branches cut from nearby trees. That was as much as we could do. I hoped it would be enough to save the house and those inside.

The fire licked the edge of the pine plantation, caught hold and, with a loud crackle, sent a flame shooting high into the sky. Sparks showered down. Wind scattered them and, suddenly, the plantation was a raging inferno. Smoke billowed as, with terrifying speed, flames leapt from tree to tree. Each flared briefly, brighter than any Christmas tree, only to collapse and send up yet another shower of sparks.

The air was thick with smoke and, as the fire drew closer, we faced the fact that soon—very soon—we might have to pack children, dogs, cats and as many valuables as we could gather into our cars and flee for our lives.

And then, taking us by surprise, a truck came roaring down the road. It was followed by another and another. And yet another. As they came to a halt, men spilled out—dozens of men carrying water-filled knapsacks, wet sacks, tree branches and all the equipment needed to fight a fire.

One of the men walked up to Andrew and held out his hand. “The name’s Edwin Lucht. I live on the farm next door.” He waved to the others. “We’re all neighbours. We saw the fire and came to give a hand.” He paused to squint up at the flames. “She’s a bad one. It sure looks like you could do with a spot of help.”

“Thank you,” Andrew began. “Thank you so much. We’ve just moved in and—” but Edwin brushed his words aside.

“We’re neighbours. We help each other when we can. That’s how things work in this part of the world. Now, how about we quit talking and get on with the job?” Without waiting for a reply he turned and, calling instructions, set his team to work.

Andrew and several of our guests joined them. The rest of us sat watching as, little by little, the fire was halted and, section by section, snuffed out. Hours passed. I lost track of time, but it was close to dawn before the last embers died and the men came trudging back, bone weary and covered in ash. I handed out mugs of coffee. It disappeared down parched throats. Then, with a goodbye wave, our neighbours climbed back into their trucks and set off the way they had come.

When the sun rose, we looked out at a strange, new landscape. The tawny veldt of yesterday was gone. In its place was a vast area of blackened earth. The pine trees were no more than a layer of ash. Smoke rose from the skeletal remains of blue-gums but, thankfully, there was not a flame to be seen.

We counted our blessings. The grass would soon grow green again. Our house was intact. No one had been injured. No animals had died in the fire. The barn and dairy sheds had been spared. Best of all, we’d met the neighbours. Not quite in the way we’d envisioned, but we knew, beyond doubt, that we’d made good friends—friends we could count on for help when the need arose. And, suddenly, in spite of the devastation surrounding us, the future looked bright.

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