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“When I bought this farm the earth was sterile. There were no animals.” – Professor Anne Rasa reminisced about moving to South Africa and finding her farm, a land of rolling red sand dunes, blue skies and scarce water. After years of re-wilding, this piece of the Kalahari is booming. Desert flowers and native bushes like sage have slowly taken over the barren dunes. Now, they provide shelter, food, and moisture to wildlife that little by little have been attracted by this new haven. Anne’s eyes twinkled while she relived the good times and the difficult times and how she loves sharing her Kalahari dream with visitors at Kalahari Trails.

“I wanted to find a piece of desert that had been destroyed by human abuse, bring it back to life, and give it back to nature.”- Prof. Anne Rasa

When we left her place we were so inspired by her story that a dream was born: we wanted to buy a farm in the Kalahari and return it to the wild.

Dream big, right?

This is not easy when 1) you don’t have any money and 2) you live on the other side of the world.

After that trip we moved to the U.S. and bought a house. The yard was in a terrible state and we’ve really enjoyed re-wilding it and witnessing how animals are coming back to this little piece of land. We built a pond for wildlife which has attracted numerous frogs and salamanders, we’ve planted native plants that are feeding and sheltering birds. We also let our grass go to seed so our birds and little rodents have food, and in turn they are food for the hawk and the screech owl family that live around here. We built a brush pile where chipmunks, birds and a large toad have made their homes. By keeping our outside lights to a bare minimum, nocturnal animals like fireflies are not disrupted and are booming.

A baby screech owl staring at the photographer

One of the baby screech owls that our owl neighbors raised last year

Over the years we have come to know the birds and mammals that live around us. We know where they den or nest and we make sure they raise their young undisturbed.

But then something happened. Our neighbor.

On one side of our small property there are two adjacent lots. One contains a derelict house, the other is an empty lot about a third of an acre. Beyond that is a strip of forest, then a suburban neighborhood. When we bought our property five years ago, the empty lot next door was just a lawn and several trees, but since then has grown up to the first stages of a new forest and is full of life.  These two lots were owned by someone who wanted to develop them in a way that no tree, bush or flower would have a chance. “I’m going to bulldoze all of this and drop a trailer on it.” In developer terms this means “I’m going to kill everything and put the cheapest structure I can on it so I can get tons of money for it. Say goodbye to those magnificent trees. I am going to grow a sterile green lawn and spray roundup everywhere.”

The horror!

Two years passed since his first threat of raping this little piece of heaven in an urban area. We stressed out about what would happen to the screech owls and woodchucks and woodpecker and flying squirrels who live there, and the family of mischievous raccoons who make their rounds each night.

A hawk, a frog, a moth and another frog

Some of our wild neighbors: red-shouldered hawk, spring peeper, Nessus Sphinx and an Eastern green frog.

While they might not be leopards or rhinos or meerkats, they all deserve to keep their land, their homes. We people have taken too much already and we need to give something back. We can’t keep developing the land for human use without having some consideration and respect for everybody else who uses the same space. We are not alone. Urban wildlife and trees are also important. Definitely more important than building a garage so we can store even more crap that we don’t use.

We need every single bug, every single bird and every single flower. Because we are all in this together and we are all playing our part in this magical web of life. If something happens to the bugs, we’ll pay the consequences at some point. Nobody is more important than any other. We are all equal and we all need a home.

Let’s co-exist.

So when the opportunity arose, we had no doubt. We had to buy those lots so our neighbor wouldn’t destroy it. But we still had no money. We managed to figure out a plan, thanks to a family loan, that would work for us. And if even it has put us in even more debt, we are happy and relieved.

Our new wildlife refuge

Our new wildlife refuge

We closed on those properties a couple of weeks ago and now every time we see the woodchuck with her baby, or the woodpeckers nesting in that dead tree cavity, or listen to the screech owls neighing in the night,  we smile knowing that they’ll still have a home tomorrow.

As for us? We just need to work a little harder to make payments on the property, but everything is OK. Once our little neighbors are OK, we are OK.

And that’s what matters most to us.