Archive for March, 2011

The red   hills swamp our eyes – too immediate to process in our travel-torn minds. The angular rock scree of cobbles, pebbles gravel, sediment, cover the slopes. This land the Klein Karoo, the great thirst-land – sucks us in with its dust, its sun, its sky, its landscapes, its juxtapositions of light and shadow. We arrive at Pear Tree Farm as the four o’clock sun aborts the promise of rain.

We have five days here, my mother, my sister and I. Five days to live in the intimacy of each other as the wild beasts gnaw inside me. I look up, the sky is scribbled with swallows, the telegraph wires sag with their weight, the heat. We abandon ourselves to the immediacy of each moment, leaching out of them the life essence of this finger- cracked basin of earth. I take my mothers hand, lead her across the cobbles, down the white stairs to the entrance of the house, generations of existence freshly painted – white walls, white roofs, white planters, white roses – a setting for angels in this resilient stretch of semi desert surrounded by wide girthed, split, bark-peeled blue-gum trees. A row of cypress stand formally in the front garden, under their shade butterflies float among an overabundance of flowering shrubs. Water drilled from streams beneath the earth keeps this little oasis alive.

The vastness of it all – country roads running across the desert floor, tapering off in the far mountains where they disappear over the horizon. Marilyn and I stand on a hilltop facing the last rays of the day. A boy walks by pushing a bicycle, a tractor chucks up the dust, laughing children on the back, a dog running alongside them. They pass – nothing else remains but the sky shouting its colours across the Karoo. My mind clears of the impending dread, a further six months of chemotherapy; I become encompassed by light, my sister beside me – my life, small in comparison.  This is the moment of my being, the moments behind – buried, the moments ahead – embryos waiting to be born.


The bushmen of the Karoo were children of the stars – tonight I look at the sky, I too am a child of this unfathomable galaxy. The milky way, brightest near Sagittarius arches over a silent Karoo, passing westward through the constellations of Scorpius, Orion, Gemini, Taurus, who play out their mythological tragedies in the arena above.  Phaeton, stung by the celestial scorpion as he drives his fathers sun chariot too close, drops out of the sky, scorching Africa into a desert. On this dry land I stand, vulnerable – my own tragedy playing out its course among these dying stars whose light carries on through the millennia.  We too, the remnants of some life form fizzled out long ago.  Moths appear -surround the lights, throw themselves against windowpanes, beat their wings in grim death throws.

It is morning. I watch Alexis limp across the lawn towards us, She hugs us warmly, I feel it spread, this warmth, between myself, my Mother, Marilyn, our friend Alexis, guardian of this fierce beauty. We are caught in the vortex of its existence, spinning with wonderment. A dragonfly has trapped itself in the dining room window, its wings splayed out in fine-netted delicacy. I lie on my belly, hands on my chin, watching the sun form rainbows on its thorax. I carry it outside; hold it up, the dragonfly escapes into the dome of space above us. I feel as free as it does.

We stand on a rise in the road watching the people on their way to church. Marilyn sits on a rock holding her camera. A boy on the other side of a fence starts to sing.

I believe I can fly

I believe I can touch the sky

I think about it every night and day

Spread my wings and fly away

I believe I can soar

I see me running through that open door

I believe I can fly

I believe I can fly

I believe I can fly

His head raised to the sun, his face tinted by its light, he adjusts his earphones. A small boy sitting next to him looks up, smiles. I see three women walking up the hill, each holding a bible. I get my camera ready. The middle woman is wearing a white pillbox hat with a veil caught up in a hatpin. She has a faux patent leather bag over her shoulder. She turns around for us to photograph the bow on the back of her hat. Her sunglasses are skew. They smile, walk on, their shadows stretch across the gravel road in front of them.

The golden hours between sunrise and sunset are spent hunting light and shadows. The mystery of these counterpoints challenge my imagination. These shadows are not sinister, they represent companionship on my journey through life. I metaphorically bend the bow in the rainbow to diffract the light. A women is sweeping in front of her Karoo cottage, the early morning light catches the white walls, the dust in front of her broom, it throws them into another dimension, sets them apart from the shadows. Her silhouetted form comes to represent all who have lived in this tiny farming community – Kruisrivier. Children on bicycles ride past us on their way to school. They stop to pose, their shadows create elongated mirror images along the road. A teacher walks by, books under his arm, glasses fogged by dust. Dust rages up behind a herd of cattle driven by men with red flags. They whistle and shout above the noise of hoofbeats. The light squeezes between the confusion. The heat of the sun begins eating through our clothing. We go home to rest.

The light surrenders to darkness. I have the ‘botanical room’ – prints of flowers, plants pasted on the wall. I lie on my back. A play based on magical realism, the ‘Karoo Moose’ by Lara Foot Newington comes to mind. I think about the children I passed on the road riding their bikes in innocence and delight. I think about the humour and tragedy in the play. In an impoverished, isolated village in the Karoo, Thozam, a young girl, survives a violet, mind altering experience and a magical encounter with a Moose that changes her life. This story is the light and dark side of pain, redemption, in this land of harshness and hope. I think of my own life changing experience, one where I have my own mythical beast forcing me through my fears, helping me see the awesomeness of each day, challenging me to be grateful, humble, fearless.

The 6 o’clock red hills are daubed in light, splashes of light over their peaks. The sun, too young to reach the slopes, the clouds, too few, too small to cast shadows over the valleys. Dust rises from farm vehicles starting their day. Slowly the Karoo is stirring. Roger points out spots for great shots, he a photographer with his own printing works, his own gallery, a bed and breakfast, a nursery, a wood sculpting, furniture making factory, a coffee shop with all kinds of farm baked goodies produced by his partner Phyllis, herself a puppeteer and couturier. A great man with a wild streak, (fast bikes, Elvis, Karoo feests) organizer of a soccer team for the local school where he teaches art. He has abandoned his early morning coffee, his split time to share his Karoo with us.

We take a turn into a track leading to a dam, mountains reflect in water fringed by thorn trees. I walk around the edge until I reach a tree filled with swallow nests. They fly in and out, skim the water, high notes of sound tumbling from of the sky. A laborers cottage stands abandoned, broken windows, doorless, thatch ripped by wind.

Our last trip is with Alexis. She drives us over rough dirt roads through valleys, over  mountains. We pass a herd of sheep being driven into the road, hooves powder the surface into fine dust, we wait. Alexis knows the land, the farms, the rivers, the history of the place. It has seeped into her soul, the beauty and the harshness of it all. She lives alone under the mountains with the companionship of the creatures around her, barking baboons, lizards, tortoises, snakes, caracal, buck, hare, extraordinary night skies above her, Karoo landscapes around her. She is a reflection of her great privilege and is generous, gracious in sharing it with us.

Five days – I look over my shoulder, way goodbye through the back window. I take with me an all-encompassing feeling of gratitude to have shared this experience with my Mother, my sister. I take with me a spirit that is prepared to fight as well as a spirit prepared to flow with the great force of life, I take with me the light, the shadows, the quintesinal now.

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Sent: Friday, March 11, 2011 7:02 PM

Hi Marguerite,

Ive just had a look at the Writersblog site which Margie told us about last evening. Its a wonderful forum and such beautiful, moving and thought-provoking writings. Ill be following it regularly and wish you all well.

Greetings and good wishes,


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