Up at dawn, the wind blowing clouds over the valley in spills of yellow and grey. We climbed through a mountain gorge and edged into a small kloof or ravine to look at red disas growing near a waterfall. Slipping on moss, noting the oily speckled backs of Cape platannas, listening to the alarmed cries of small birds. However quietly we walked in single file, we were interlopers, a threat. Glimpses of grysbok, bontebok, an orange-breasted sunbird. We stopped for doorstep sandwiches and a flask of coffee at a spot where we could look down towards Rooi Els where the mountains tumble into the foaming ocean, the Cape Rock Thrush darting between boulders. Talking as we sat there in the wind and sunshine about the old eland trails over the mountains, the Gantouw Pass, the crossings used by wild game and followed by the Khoi-Khoi nomad pastoralists each spring. Back in the 18th century it took two or even three days to cross the mountains into the Overberg and an early Dutch traveller (Anders Sparrman) wrote in his diary:
The next day…we got up at day-break, in order to take our journey over Hottentots Holland’s Mountain, in the cool of the morning. The way up it was very steep, stony, winding, and, in other respects, very inconvenient. Directly to the right of the road there was a perpendicular precipice, down which, it is said, that waggons and cattle together have sometimes the misfortune of falling headlong, and are dashed to pieces.
High sandstone mountains, the Helderberg, the Hottentots-Holland. None of us were climbers, so we just walked the contour paths, taking out time to identify wild gladioli and proteas, listening to the bird cries carried on the wind. The bracing smell of wild buchu. Thinking as I clambered up between rocks and slippery clumps of restio: this is core to sober living, staying present to the beauty of nature and companionship, the aches and pains of the body stretched beyond comfort, the wide panorama stretching to the horizon. Letting go of self, releasing the questions and doubts and pinpricks, just losing myself in practical gratitude, the climbing upwards, the sunlight, the wind, the clean empty skies and that invisible point where they meet the indigo line of ocean.
Came home and had a call from an unhappy woman whose mother said something rude to her, an affront, hurtful, cruel even: and now the daughter wants to drink, wants to sit in her flat staring at the walls and rehearsing her grievance, drinking until the hurt and resentment and bitterness become incoherence, her dulled mind stumbling around in forgetfulness. Alcoholism has only one song to sing, that maudlin note of complaint repeated again and again. You have hurt me; I will will punish you by hurting myself. You don’t understand me; you cannot understand why I drink. You cannot escape; I will follow you in my mind. You cannot make it right; I will never forgive or forget. You hurt my feelings; you make me want to drink, you are responsible for my unhappiness. When you hurt my feelings, you drive me to drink, it is all your fault. You hurt my feelings, you give me a reason to drink again and again. You hurt me; I hurt myself and hope to hurt you. You will suffer as I suffer, you must share the consequences of my drinking. A windowless room, a corridor with no exit.
By the time I put down the phone, I feel I could be suffocating, I need fresh air to breathe. That old terrifying claustrophobia of the alcoholic obsession.
What Joyce Carol Oates said: Tragedy is not a woman, however gifted, dragging her shadow around in a circle.
Outside the bees are thrumming away in the lavender, a crazy joyful dance. Life opening like a great invisible door. Come out and play. Enjoy the day while the day is there to be enjoyed, live while there is still life. Reclaim your wasted life, snatch back a few hours of time. It seems to me just yesterday that I was standing barefott with hair falling over my sleepy face at the front door of a student communal house, saying that I couldn’t be bothered to go for a picnic in the mountains, that I would rather sleep off the hangover and let the day go by without acknowledgement, waving goodbye to the others and heading back into the musty passage, my head pounding, my eyes sore, wanting only the mussed pillows and knot of sheets, the shutters drawn. . And then the days and years flew past as I slept — and now I have no memories except those I make in the time left to me. And all the while, there was so much beauty out there, so many friends waiting to accompoany me, so much living to be done.