Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

Life was simple when we had just a tent in the bush


Laikipia, Kenya

Twenty years ago, we pitched a tent in the wilderness which became the farm where we live now. We were starting from scratch. At twilight we saw a low, silver mist descend into the trees, making halos around the distant giraffe and elephant, and settling into the grass. The constellations came out, the moon in its phases, with meteorite showers. There were no electric lights, nor any sounds outside camp apart from wild creatures.

In our early days, drought made the land bare and silent. Dust devils coiled across the plains. One night, we woke to hear an army beating spears against shields. The breeze brought the first scent of rain, which lifts your soul. The smell of wet dust, blood of the gods splashing onto dry rocks. Hope! Delight! Then came a swift battering of big drops, then continuous noise and curtains of water, Claire and I lying awake in bed on either side of our two little children, Eve and Rider. I felt great confidence about our lives ahead.

For our first year, we cooked on an open campfire and our shower was a bucket hung in the branches

At first light after the rain, we looked out at mists, lifting like breath from a knife blade over rocky escarpments, mimosa branches and tawny pastures. There were crickets, frogs and hundreds of birds. Dew dripped from cobwebs in the early sunlight and we walked in pastures soaking our legs, with larks in the blue above and the savannah stretching away, unbounded by barbed wire.

The ranch was all open country, with no fences between here and Ethiopia. Wild animals roamed freely and out on the high plains we saw zebras, oryx and gazelles. A bull giraffe was a dinosaur with oxpeckers all over his back. A herd of eland ran with their heads up and dewlaps swinging.

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