Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

The Forest Maker


I have this little brother, Andy. He is big and quite funny. He is also kind, dreamy, hard-working, full of empathy, sporty, outdoorsy, loyal and committed. For a living, he makes forests.

When he was growing up and in his early twenties, it was never clear what Andy was going to do for a job. He tried his hand at insurance and while his boss liked him, Andy found the relentless daily grind of office work unbearable. He also became bogged down by office politics – as a non-political animal, he just couldn’t understand it and was often hurt by people standing on his head to climb onto the next rung of the ladder.

He knew it was not for him and he left. He began making my mother’s smoked trout pate and selling it at local markets. This work suited him better: he was his own boss, he could work at his own pace and it allowed him more time to be outdoors. Andy’s smoked trout pate became very popular in KwaZulu-Natal and he even started selling it to a few shops, but it still wasn’t The Thing he wanted to be doing with his life. The family, as you can imagine, were wringing their hands. What was he going to do? Who was he going to be?

What nobody knew was that, in his heart, Andy knew what he was going to be. In his time off from the smoked trout pate business, Andy took his beloved black Lab Billy for walks in the indigenous forests of KZN. While there, he would collect seeds off the forest floor, take them home and nurture them. Achingly slowly, over a period of years, Andy developed a nursery of 4000 trees in his garden. He found he was spending more time looking after his trees than making trout pate. He joined local environmental groups, made contacts and began to be known as someone who knew a lot about indigenous trees.

Going indigenous is a big trend amongst South African gardeners because plants that are local to the area attract more birds and insects, whereas exotics leach the soil of precious nutrients and can be destructive. Andy began to sell a few trees from his home nursery, started to advise the lady gardeners of Pietermaritzburg on replacing exotics with indigenous and participating in drives to replace exotics in public spaces with beautiful indigenous trees.

And then his miracle happened. He was offered tenancy at the nursery of the local Botanical Gardens. He carefully transported his 4000 trees from the garden at home to the Gardens, where he now has a shop, staff and a public venue for his skills and knowledge. He is also involved in wholesale indigenous tree sales, participates in tree fairs and has become known as one of KZN’s top tree people. He still landscapes for lady gardeners, but he has also worked on golf courses and larger projects, removing hillsides of exotics and replacing them with indigenous. He is the forest maker.

My brother inspires me because he didn’t take the traditional route into the working world, but followed his heart. He ignored all the naysayers and did what he had to do. When he found his true calling and began to live it, his miracle happened. He is not an arrogant boss; he labours with his team, digging and hacking and hauling. He speaks brilliant Zulu. His employees love him. His employers love him. He is the gentle tree-man of KwaZulu-Natal. I am so proud of him.

And the best news of all, selfish sister that I am, that he is finally earning enough money to buy himself a ticket to come and spend Christmas with me and my family. This is his first visit to us ever and the best possible Christmas present I could have.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

22 thoughts on “The Forest Maker

  1. An inspiration indeed! The world needs more people like him.

    What a lovely Christmas present to have him with you!

  2. He sounds like my kind of person…how lucky to have him as your brother…really a good story Charlotte.

  3. what a great story. and i think this is how everyone should find their way in the working world.
    i love how in german the word “beruf” for job or profession goes back to “berufung”, calling. but sadly so very few people really follow their calling but choose a profession that is picked out for them, or they want to do “something with the media” because it’s a growing business. you brother must be a very happy man.

    and pssst … can i have the recipe for that smoked trout pate?

  4. Thanks, Lizzy, it’s going to be a treat. And no trees of his own around to distract him.

    Wendz, he’s a good guy. If you have any lovely single friends you want to send to Germany for Christmas, don’t hesitate!

    Bine, he is happy precisely because he has found his calling. Thank God no-one forced him to stay in insurance. As for smoked trout pate, I’ll see if the Queen can recall it from memory!

  5. What a fabulous job. And quite inspirational. I could learn a lot from him.

  6. What a great story! And that sounds like a wonderful job.

  7. He sounds like a very patient and dedicated man. You are going to have a lovely Christmas!!

  8. How wonderful to have a career which involves doing what one loves.
    This gives me hope that our No3 might eventually find his metier.

  9. Your brother sounds dreamy. I’m so happy for you. I too get to have my sister and her family over this Christmas. I know first hand what a treat it is to spend Christmas with loved ones that live far away.

    What a testamony your brother’s life is for following your passions. Good to keep in mind as my son graduates from High School.


  10. Your story sent me to googling KwaZulu-Natal, and what an extraordinarily beautiful place it is! Your brother must be a wonderful man, following his passion on his own until the “real world” was ready for him. We all know it’s not so easy to do that.

  11. I have a few tears here. What an inspiring story. I can only want as much for my sons — to do what they love, and the money will follow. To know their own hearts, and to create a way for themselves, and not conform and to be and do something they are not. Cheers to your brother — cheers. To him, I’m sure, this is probably no big deal — he’s just doing his thing. But, what a treat for your children to have their Uncle there for Christmas. So nice.

  12. Glad you were inspired, Mr (un)Relaxeddad. I do find his story amazing.

    Dorothy, it is a wonderful job for the right person.

    Oh Kate, I am. He actually arrives on my birthday, so he’s a double present!

    Teuchter, he will, I’m sure. This shuffling-down process that so many people need to go through is a valuable chance for learning.

    Hi Alida, thanks for visiting and your kind comments.

    Welcome DJRM! You’ve hit the nail on the head, that his passion and the real world finally met.

    Susie, I cried a few tears while writing it. I hope that your boys find the same fulfilment in what they choose to do.

  13. What a great calling to have. I’m glad that the indigenous awareness drive has come at the right time for him to be able to live from his calling. If only he was down here I’d be straight off to his nursery to buy more indigenous trees to plant on our farm. That’s the one thing we don’t have enough of here – trees. But then we’re in a fynbos area so even the indigenous trees don’t grow very tall in our sandy soil.

  14. I’d be so proud to have such a brother.

  15. How absolutely wonderful. This story gives me hope for my “dreamer” son.

  16. What a wonderful story. I always envy people who carry within themselves the knowledge of what they realyl want to do and then end up doing it. The story gives me hope that one day I’ll also find (and follow!) my calling :).

    You’re going to have a fabulous Christmas!

  17. How wonderful to have him with you for Christmas!

    Isn’t it funny that we often have such a preoccupation with a “career” instead of just focusing on what is happening right now? Andy had a fine time (and a successful one) with the pate business, but it didn’t have to last forever.

    I just hope my kids can find their bliss and follow it.

  18. He sounds amazing — and your story of him is equally so. The courage to follow one’s bliss is so admirable — and so rare.

  19. Pingback: Happy Christmas « Charlotte’s Web

  20. How lovely to read this and be able to say “This just proves my point that you should find out what you love, do it and the money will come!”

  21. dear Chalotte
    what an enchanting story. recently, I enjoyed an afternoon of seed collecting in the mist-belt forest with Andrew and we polished off a bottle of champagne under a Celtis Africana tree afterwards. he is a special fellow. I am also a great fan of Charlie and Lola as you obviously are ( I only get near a television on weekends in the city, unfortunately). Andrew told me all about his magical stay with you in Germany and his blog – which I was actually looking for when i found yours. this is the first time ever that I have posted a comment on a Blog. something I have never, not ever even considered before – so thanks for the inspriation. with love Nikki ps I beter look for his now…

  22. WOW that is amazing!! He sounds SO SO SO awesome!! 🙂
    What a nice story!

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