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.

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,


Margie Wilson

This is a powerful site. Amazing to think that there is so much talent in such a small corner of the world. Yet, look at the fynbos, and one sees the beauty that is there – this is the beauty reflected in your writing. It’s earthy, profound and stimulating. May there be many, many more essays, poems and commentaries from you all. I shall definitely return to read more.

(See ABOUT section above “Free your mind” for original comment)

The Cape fynbos kingdom

is a place where

squalling winds herd ocean birds shorewards.

hard rains infuse summer-dry soil

Orchids cling to water -furrowed misty cliffs

slopes thick with Proteas run to the sea

dormant seeds ant-drawn into earth chambers

sprout among blackened fire-tufts

cicarda nymphs molt on wiry stemmed Restios

Springs open petals tincture valleys warm with light

the archaic hail of trumpeting Ericas

pay homage to the mountains

great ancestors of Gondwanaland

in who’s leached acid ground

the fynbos Kingdom flourishes


The doorbell rings. We have known Alfred and Lina for nearly two years now. He and Charles discovered, in passing conversation at a building site one day, that they both grew up around Mooi River, Natal. Are both ‘Zulus’. When their shack in Kleinmond’s ‘informal settlement’ (read: squatter camp) burnt down, we helped with purloins, roofing materials, odds and ends.

  Of course they lost everything.. Have you even been welcomed into a home where there is only a make-shift half-drum for cooking and one lumpy old mattress?

  Today Alfred comes for help in filling out an application for temporary work with the Municipality in the cleaning services. With the large and continuing influx of people in search of work in this area, and the downturn in construction, his work has become less and less. They haven’t earned in a while.  They barely live from hand to mouth. He asks for money for food. For paraffin for cooking. One cabbage at home. He can buy a packet of dog’s bones at the Spar for R5 or R6, he says.

  Food for them is a daily, weekly, yearly life struggle. Food is not  ‘have’ but a ‘have-not’ and ‘have-not’ means living at the constant edge of hunger, starvation, begging,  Food is a call for help, care, support ad recognition of common humanity.

  What do you feel when you have to look this person, without food, in this situation, in the eye? There may be millions of people without sufficient food to live , year in and year out, but you are the one standing in front of Alfred and Lina.


We switch on the television. Food flows in many channels – recipes, lifestyle, travel, famous chefs entertaining, whipping up taste, status and desire buds. We walk into a bookshop. Shelves of cookbooks by the dozen – glossy, expensive, beautifully produced for housekeepers to salivate over and then place where they  can be seen. Magazines featuring domestic goddesses socializing through creative dinner parties.

Food feeding those who have much. Who can use and misuse the fruits of the earth in accordance with a lifestyle moulded by fashion and the urban consumer culture. Shielded from reality, living  in illusion. Over-consumption. Conspicuous wastee.


Obesity. The slimming industry. McDonalds. Weight problems.. The anorexics, the bulimics, the many for whom food is compensation, weapon, duty, ingratiation, addiction, de-stressor, social asset, psychological satisfaction or dissatisfaction.


Sustainer of life. Earth’s abundance gifts. At root, the product of Nature and its elements.


Territorial imperative. All living creatures moving in search of daily food. Simple survival. Staking out feeding territory. Defending territory. Fighting outsiders for the right to eat and live.


Health. You are what you eat. Too many people on the planet. Polluted waters, atmosphere, soils. Finding healthy nutrition. Shutting eyes to waste, consumerism, advertising, packaging, cold rooms and other known and unknown predators of quality.


What you can afford. What your body needs at different stages of your life and age. Sensitising and reading your own body to reveal exactly what and what not food/eating is right for you.


The Art of Food. The Art of Eating. The place of food in the Art of crafting a life of Beauty, Truth and Goodness. Food offering the richness of colour, texture, taste, the senses, enjoyment, satisfaction, fulfillment, quality. Food offered with an artist’s sense of design and elegance.

Food offering the simplicity of pure livingness. Put together and eaten with respect for the gifts of daily life-sustenance,, the gift of creator, the gift of s/he who offers this. In a rich simplicity, sensing the intimacy of self and of life on Earth.


Yes, Food in all these aspects is a cornucopia. Food IS. Food sits in the rhythm of each day’s survival, each day’s work and play. Begging the questions: Have I enough? Have I too little? Have I too much? Do I consider food and my way of eating as an aspect of our human evolutionary path? Can I discriminate between what is healthy and what is not healthy – for me? For my nearest and dearest? How shall I choose to eat, pray and love?

May we all enjoy the abundance of sweet chocolate and riotous wine. And the enough-ness of bread and cheese. And may we ever wrestle with the realities of the too little and the too much. ‘Enough was always Enough” (RUMI).

Love and may your food bless and be blessed!


When I prepare for an evening’s stargazing, I always keep a watchful eye on the clouds. I acknowledge their beauty, remain friendly, give them time to show off their glorious sunset gowns but when dusk settles in, I plead with them to go away until another day.
This is my ritual.
Some things about yesterday were the same, some were slightly different. The wind was howling. The sunset was magnificent. The clouds rolled in and then as I looked through my viewfinder to take a photograph  I noticed “the apparition”.
I looked twice and thought no no, I am not going to be phased by this. “These clouds need to go away now! I am on a mission. Tonight  I need to see Orion rising over the mountain, the beautiful globular cluster of stars  in Tucana  and far away galaxies  ”
The clouds dispersed slowly.
The wind kept howling .I took shelter. I must have been the only one outdoors when the International Space Station sailed across the sky.  I remembered to wave.
Tumbling satellites flashed their signals. Night creatures were stirring……….
It was around midnight that I directed my telescope at the Silver Coin Galaxy – 10 million light years away. What a magnificent sight to behold.
This object was first discovered by Caroline Herschel way back in 1783 and there I was discovering it all over again in the night sky over Betty’s Bay.
Mmm, what a considerate apparition!

Carol Botha

I pick up a hand drawn card, it has a red heart on the front – I turn it over, it reads

“You are loved”

Ella puts her arms around me, kisses my mouth, the red from her crayon rubs onto my T shirt. She is the first of my granddaughters.

Our tribe of female warriors stretch back to a world where woman ruled the British Isles. The first, Boudicca (Boadicea), Chieftainess of the Iceni took up her mantle to lead a famous rebellion victoriously. These Warrior Queen’s were many. Ethelfleda of Mercia, Gwenllian who raised an army to fight the Anglo-Norman settlers in Wales. Queen Maeve of Connaught, and perhaps even Gwenwhvawr of the Cornovii.

I close my book – Artur, Gwenwhyvawr and Myrddin – Ancient Brythons of the North by Alexander and William McCall. These brothers, offspring of my great-grandmother, siblings to my grandmother, uncle’s to my mother  – all born in the womb of an old, old land – Scotland.  I think about these people who are my family, descendants of the warrior queen’s whose fate turned out differently through some inexplicable events in their lives.

She remembers seeing her mother for the last time, standing at the front door of their cottage in Carmunnock, Ayrshire. From the back window of her father’s car she remembers passing the bull on the farm next door, she remembers her baby brother crying, her sisters tears leaving dark marks on the leather seats. Those moments were tightly stitched in the fabric of her memory.

The road to the terraced houses where her grandfather lived cut through the woods. Glasgow – What wonderment the place aroused in her, soaked as it was in her mind with sounds and smells of her childhood: armfuls of bluebells in springtime and foxgloves flowering; walking through the woods to school; the silence of the snow; the stiffness of the cooks  uniform; Miss Walker, the fat little housekeeper who smelled of mothballs.  The times before her grandmother left: getting into her big feather bed, burying herself between her breasts, listening to tales passed down through the generations of grandmothers. Afterwards, when they took her grandmother away, she would touch the long golden plait on her dressing table, wrap it around her head; pin the glass encased bumblebee broach onto her dress, run her fingers through the sequined, embroidered silks in her cupboard.                                         Her grandmother, the second woman to be taken from her – put into an institution while the fat little housekeeper spread her duties to her master’s bedroom.

And there is the memory of seeing her grandfather for the last time. She stood on the deck of the steamship at Southampton, waving goodbye to him   hunched under his umbrella in the rain. As the ship left the dock, grinding it’s way through the swells, she could see him getting smaller and smaller until he was the size of the seagulls wailing in the cold, grey sky. She felt as if her ten-year-old body was tied up with pieces of string.

She had not been told much, as the ship approached Cape Town she remembered seeing the mountain.  She clasped her suitcase tightly as though it carried her life, neatly folded inside it. Aunt Molly held onto the two younger children, Hannah and Barry: little suitcases dangling from their hands as they walked towards a figure waiting for them. She handed them over to a man whose face they no longer remembered. Aunt Molly left them at the station where they caught a train to Johannesburg with the man they were told was their father. That little girl was my mother and wrapped inside that suitcase were the fragments of her life.

I followed the path from the tube station to my grandmothers house at 89 Littleton Road, East Finchley: the path that her offspring followed as though pilgrims  – back to the shrine of their matriarchal roots – Her son, her daughters, scattered about on the shores of the southernmost tip of Africa unaware until a strange turn of fate revealed that their mother still lived. How strong can the maternal instinct be to draw back children abandoned so many years before?

The thing I remembered most vividly about that visit was the smell of roses as I walked up the garden path. The air was sweet with fragrance. Full blooms dropped crimson petals onto the lawn. I pressed my finger on the doorbell, Nan opened the door. She stood in the light with her arms outstretched, tall and elegant and groomed as though she was a person of great importance, like the Queen. She wasn’t wearing a hat, but she had on a tweed suit and a string of pearls. Nan’s skin – the colour of Arum lilies and her eyes were what I imagined bluebells to look like – the bluebells Mom had told us about, the ones that grew wild in the Scottish woods.

When she spoke I could hardly understand her.

Why did my grandmother sound so different to us?

That’s when it struck me: We were different, foreign to the land where our ancestry was mixed in the melting pot of Celtic culture. Our traceable family tree began in the early eighteen hundreds where two brothers, cattle drovers in Dornoch, spawned sons – David, James, Robert, William – herd boy, herd meadow head, shepherd boys. In eighteen seventy-two the McCall connection was established when Elizabeth Gilchrist married Thomas McCall and produced three children. Alexander, their only son, married Marion Samson in 1903. They had seven children, one of whom was Margaret, my grandmother, who’s secret drove her husband to sleep with a gun under his pillow. Another was my Aunt Betsy who had her own secrets. Bobby, the boy raised by maiden aunts, the boy she saw every day, opening the gate of the house next door  – was he Betsy’s child?

His grandfather told him when he was fourteen and yet never once during her lifetime did Aunt Betsy acknowledge him as her child.

Had the court not awarded custody of her children to our grandfather, our existence would have been very different. We may have spent our childhood exploring the landscapes of Scotland: playing in heather covered knolls, hiding in little glens, jumping from boulder to boulder across burns and walking on ground choppy with peat. I will never know the real truth, but on that day, standing at her front door, I felt like one of the salmon leaping up the falls of the river Earn or Tay, the Braan or the Garry or the Tilt, finding their way back to the place of their birth.

Although I stood on a doorstep in the north of London, neither my grandmothers birthplace nor mine, we were both in the United Kingdom of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In my seventeen-year-old head I was home and the words from my favorite school poem came back to me

Up the airy mountain, 

Down the rushy glen,

We daren’t go a-hunting

For fear of little men;

Wee folk, good folk,

Trooping all together;

Green jacket, red cap,

And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore,

Some make their home,

They live on crispy pancakes

Of yellow tide-foam;

Some in the reeds

Of the black mountain-lake,

With frogs for their watch-dogs,

All night awake.

And yet my childhood was spent exploring landscapes – landscapes of a different kind, more wild, gritty, arthritic; the earth’s acid eating into focalized rock, leeching out dust of gold into rivers bereft of fish. At least where I came from; those mudbrown watercourses tasseled with willows, chocked with hyacinth, giving little relief to the dry earth tattooed by drought.

And those whiskery, knobbly, misshapen barbel – can one call those fish?

The women I knew as a child were not warrior women fighting wars, they were women fighting for seeds to sprout, for rain, for fertile soil. Mrs Harrison – every Sunday she grabbed a chicken in each hand, swung them around until their necks snapped, plucked them, pulled out their guts, stuffed them and served them for lunch

It is precisely these contrasts that I love –  my ancestral land, the feeling that I know it so well – deep inside me the wellspring of my being.

My birth land – gripping my existence like a strangler fig – intoxicatingly suffocating and I must gasp for air.

When I look at Biba I see the warrior women of my ancient past in her eyes, I feel my blood flowing back to the mist of time, pumping through the veins of the earliest Britonic Celts, the Gaelic Celts, the Gaulish Celts. I feel my blood spilling on the lands of South-west of England, south Wales, southern Ireland, place of her paternal lineage, southern Scotland, all these the places of her ancestry She, my last born grandchild, hair red with locks, as true as any Celt. At three she has the legendary temperament described by Ammianus Marcellinus

“…a whole band

of foreigners will be unable to cope with

one in a fight, if he calls in his

wife, stronger than he by far and with

flashing eyes; least of all when she

swells her neck and gnashes her teeth, and poising her white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks,

like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult”

and then I feel in Ella’s heart her connection to nature, as connected  as ancient Celtic spirituality where every aspect of life was nature revering -placing shrines in natural sanctuaries – at springs, lakes, rivers and woodlands. She, like the Bards, Vates and Druids has an integrated relationship with the natural world.

Through my matriarchal ascendancy of endurance,  suffering, courage, humiliation, abandonment I look at my descendants – my daughters daughter’s – a pure mixture of  boldness, determination independence, braveness and warrior instincts in the one and the intergratedness with nature in the other, all these qualities combined together in my daughter Justine, each expressing themselves through the multiple possibilities of life itself.

We search the cemetery for a rose garden where Betsy wanted her ashes to be scattered. The graveyard attendant digs a hole under a white rosebush, takes the top off the urn, mixes her pale ashes with the dark, rich soil, I remember her words when I asked her to tell me about Nan’s secret.

“ I cannot tell you, that secret I will take with me to my grave.”

She was the last living relative who knew the answer


I only now begin to understand. Nan did not have a dark secret,

she made a choice.