Extract: Under the Camelthorn Tree by Kate Nicholls

Published: August 6th, 2020
Publisher: W&N
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Biography, Autobiography, Travel Literature

Today I’m delighted to share with you an extract from this book as part of the blog tour to celebrate paperback publication. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and W&N for the extract.

Extract

Gomoti Camp, Botswana 2001
The distant chugging of a car struggling through deep sand aroused a certain nonchalant curiosity, most likely it would continue on towards the Gomoti River –nevertheless all ears in camp casually attuned to the engine.

I was concentrating on the barefoot boys high above me in the spreading branches of the camelthorn acacia tree. During the night, a funnel of wind had blown down the radio mast, and Pieter and the boys were reattaching the antenna. Relaxed andNfocused on their task, they were moving easily among the thick branches, while I imagined them lying in crumpled, lifeless heaps at my feet.

‘It’s not fair,’ grizzled seven-year-old Oakley, ‘I’m the best climber. Why aren’t I allowed to do that?’

‘Because you are my favourite child, and thus indispensable.’

‘I heard that, Mum,’ Angus laughed, wrapping his arm around a gnarled branch for support, before leaning out precariously to hand the rope up to Pieter who was reaching down from the branch above.

‘You concentrate on what you’re doing,’ I snapped. Watching my tousled blond boy dangling forty feet above me made my bones ache.

The tree was coming into flower, a smattering of soft, mimosa- yellow blossoms releasing an earthy sweetness. She was an old tree: she must have been producing seeds for many decades, for the elephants had learned her ways, and came from far and wide to feast on her grey-velvet seedpods. Usually, I shooed the huge animals out of our unfenced camp by shouting and banging a wooden spoon on a saucepan, but when the seeds ripened the beasts would gather under the wide umbrella of our tree and browse undeterred by my Betsey Trotwood vehemence. Four years ago Oakley had renamed the irresistible pods ‘elephant Smarties’, and annually we declared a pachyderm truce until the last crescent had been hoovered up.

Maisie was sitting cross-legged on the roof rack of the Land Rover, observing her older brothers and drawing the action in a notebook. It was a late-winter morning, and she had a blanket wrapped lightly around her thin shoulders, but the sun was moving up in a clear sky and soon she would be as warm as her sweaty siblings. Her animated, delicate face was already smeared with grey Kalahari sand, and when her dusty, unbrushed hair fell over her eyes she carelessly tied it back in an untidy knot in the nape of her neck. Briefly she tipped her head in response to a new sound –
the gears of the distant car had shifted down a tone.

‘They’ve turned into the palm scrub,’ she remarked, ‘are we expecting anyone,
Mum?’

‘Nope. It’s probably the wildlife department,’ I replied, looking up and briefly catching Pieter’s eye. Maybe there would be some news. Our life was precariously rooted – a thin slip of paper could puff us away. I had grown used to pinpricks of anxiety spiking my bloodstream – fear keeps you alive in the wild. But the fear of losing home sat in a deeper place – its movement through my body was whittling and wearing.

‘Whoever it is can’t drive,’ Travers commented wryly, lying out- stretched along a branch with the radio antenna dangling from a wire in his hand, ‘did you hear those gears grinding, Pete?’ I hadn’t got used to my sixteen-year-old son’s man voice, it still had the lilt of youth but the androgyny had gone.

‘Will all of you stop drivelling, and get that bloody antenna up? I can’t stand the tension,’ I barked, marching to the kitchen tent to put the kettle on. If my progeny were going to fall to their deaths I didn’t want to witness it, and whoever was coming to see us would need some sustenance. Bush etiquette was simple in the Okavango: help those in trouble, and offer food and drink to new arrivals.

Maybe the wildlife department was coming to tell us about a problem lion killing cattle on the other side of the buffalo fence, or maybe they’d found another poisoned lion. I looked at Sauvignon’s skull, bleached salt-white by the sun, lying on the sand beside the campfire. A month ago Pieter had found the female’s desiccated body beside a pool of water – her cubs’ carcasses scattered nearby – and all around lay dead vultures that had nibbled on the lions’ toxic flesh.

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Born in London, into a theatrical family in 1954, Kate Nicholls has lived her life energised by her favourite quote.“An unexamined life is not worth living.”

She is insatiably curious and self-educated. She left home, and school, age sixteen to pursue a successful career in the theatre. Age twenty-one she had her first of six children. Now, she has five children, and three grandchildren: with another on the way. She gave up her acting career age thirty-nine to study biology.

In 1996 she moved to Botswana with her children and worked for an NGO Women Against Rape. Later she became co-principal researcher at the Okavango Lion Conservation Project– where for eleven years she studied lions–raising and home-schooling her children under a tree.

In 2010 she returned to the UK where she continued educating her youngest son and started her home-school business. Her children all graduated into top Universities in the USA and the UK. She moved to Rome, Italy in 2015 where she wrote her first book Under the Camelthorn Tree. 

Passionate about educational reform, and integrated learning, she continues her business devising bespoke programmes for individual students.

She is writing her second book.

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