I have just spent a very privileged weekend in the back of beyond, enjoying time playing in the foothills of yet another unique Cape mountain range not too far from the concrete jungle.
‘Home’ was a little two-roomed cottage tucked away, up a dusty road, through a creaking farm gate or three.
Our playground? Beautiful rolling Fynbos and Renosterveld-clad mountains that go on forever. Big wide coffee skies with star sprinkles cradling a massive moon – her deep craters brought alive by a long so-close-you-can-touch-the-surface camera lens.
We sat on the stoep in the evenings and took it all in. The stillness and the intoxication of being in a place where you cannot hear (or smell) a single ounce of homo-sapien-ness…
Every inch of me craves this kind of silence.
I breathe it in and hold it there, eyes closed….trying to capture it, to mentally bottle it and sip on it when next I find myself in a thrumming, sense-sapping mall, or having to endure the shrieking neighbor-hood kids and barking dogs…
And then the night-jar pipes up with her ‘Good-Lord-Deliver-Us’ and her mate calls back further down the valley and they continue with their heart-wrenching sing-song, until you see and hear a flutter of white and their calls echo further up the kloof. And then they’re gone.
And then the bats start their rustle, shuffle and twitter in the reed ceiling above and then they flit about in a very ordered frenzy, and we feel them rush over our heads and past our faces – almost touching, nanometers away from our noses.
We see a fleeting, perfect silhouette of one against the light – big, beautiful, template-perfect bat wings.
One evening I scan the pinky-orange-tinged mountain with my binoculars as the sun sinks away (reluctantly almost). I am hungry for a blurr of spots, the flick of a dark tipped tail, the whisper of a feline presence. The optimist in me believes that if I scan the mountainside for long enough, I will see a leopard in these mountains.
These are leopard friendly farmers after all.
We don’t see leopard, but we see a big old creaking giant of a leopard tortoise – quite possibly a septuagenarian.
I come across him grazing in the road as I cycle quietly up to him. He grazes so loudly I almost hear him before I see him! He stops, munches a little more with his beaky mouth, casts a lazy look at me and lumbers off, his massive, ancient, knobbly, distorted legs hauling his humpy-lump cargo – back into the bush.
What stories he could tell!
We hike in the foothills one morning… Destination: Waterfall.
Once out of the shaded poplar and oak groves, we hit the sudden intensity and heat of the mountain and begin our ascent…..
The air is heat heavy and deliciously aromatic. The grass is crisp and the ground thirsty and crackled. Thick papery leaves curl and shuffle in the wind, making one glance hastily sideways as you pass – always on the alert for sun-seeking serpents.
The red aloes are bountiful – all over the mountain, with their inward-curling apologetic leaves. Delicate pink and green-fringed succulents tough it out with all manner of other glorious plump painted fat plants with spots, dots and splashes and exquisite symmetry.
Tough customers these… they can take all the heat, drought and wind thrown at them. Yet still be so flawless and beautiful.
We hike for over two hours, every now and again putting on brakes as we descend into the valley and criss-cross a bubbling stream. Each time we cross, we teeter on rocks, slip-slide on logs and hover on leg-scratching dried up flood debris to stop and scoop up great handfuls of pure, sweet, delicious mountain water.
Into our mouths and over our heads. We cannot get enough of it.
It’s all modest-cool-moss-shrouded-rock with a tall glassy splash of water in the corner and a dark mysterious bewitched little pool at the base. Curly ferns and cool-as-cucumber waving arum lilies… a welcome contrast to the crackle-simmer heat intensity outside.
I dip my toes in the icy pool and opt not to swim…leaving the frigid liquid to the zip-zapping water-boatmen and other dark wriggly creatures within.
On the way back down we come across black-shoe-polish-shine beetles scuttling about between hot rocks and quivering stalks…they’re all going somewhere. For something. Only they know where.
We stop to watch a large termite colony. Every single team member has a job to do and with military precision, they just get the hell on with it. There is not a second of down time. It’s all feeler-frenzy and ant energy bristling. Massive strips of grass, heavy seeds, five-times-your-body-size-restio stalks….all of it hauled along the rocky pathway into a tiny hole. The optimism and energy is infectious. Where one ant enthusiastically takes on too much and dumps it as it scurries feverishly onwards, another will follow and whip it up and carry it down. No questions asked.
We watch a Black Eagle pair thermalling high above us. In perfect unison, they tuck their wings back and zoom down to a ridge below us. They holler and tease and take on a pair of uptight Jackal Buzzards who screech and dive-bomb…..and then move back on upwards together.
Un-phased. Unruffled. Effortlessly superior in every way.
Over a late lunch we watch a family of striped field mice scuttle about under the tangled bush beneath our stoep. We sit silent and still and see life unfold in this tiny patch of mountain.
Birds, mice, lizards – all sensing no movement or threat above, begin to trust, inch closer and just be in their moment.
We watch it all unfold and the stories tell themselves.
It is a perfect place to be.