The activity around departure. The great decayed sogginess of dead leaves cleaned out of the roof gutters, more gravel layered on the new herb beds, the dogs smartly kitted out in their laundered tartan coats, kitchen floors washed. The shabby threadbare house set in order.
Half-asleep at dawn, I imagined the fata morgana of the long road ahead, those shimmering castles in the air, ghostly oases and peaks that appear in the middle of nowhere and then vanish as you reach them, the rainbow’s end deferred.
South African writer Pauline Smith of the mirages of the Karoo:
The country ahead of them now was flat as a calm grey sea, its veld unbroken by any kopje until the long low line of the Hermansdorp hills was reached. Yet in the shimmering heat of noon this sea became a strange fantastic world that slipped into being, vanished and slipped into being again as they gazed upon it. Around them now were ridges of hills where no hills could be, banks of trees where no trees grew, and water that was not water lying in sheets and lakes out of which rose strange dark islands and cliffs.
We don’t get to choose our heartland always, it is given or even forced upon us like an unwanted gift, it creeps into memories, nostalgia and hopefulness and just makes a home there. An accidental belonging that baffles others, monotonous and unceasing passion for place. The Low Country of Carolina, the Rocky Mountains, forested mountain slopes in Montana, the chalky cliffs of Dover, the austere Welsh Marches, the jungles of Cambodia. We don’t always get to live there — for decades now I have been in political exile from Zimbabwe and die a little each year when I know the msasa trees of the Bvumba are turning red and I am not there to see them — but the great lonely spaces of the Karoo are where my spirit is able to breathe. An ambuscade of light and cloud, dust-devils and shivering grasses, elusive shape-shifting horizons that recede as you approach.
It is just there, a flat monotonous land, vast under the sun, with its profound silence and its remote distances, faraway hills hazy in the heat, the wind in the long grass and the dry scent of the afternoon; thorn trees, a rare road, an arching heaven — what else can one say of it? An aloof detached land that asks no love, but when love has been given irrevocably, and nothing else matters, nothing else worth loving remains.