Night village

The dark-descended village
huddles between sea and hills
fading into velvet-covered black

Starlight, boat light, town light
(landlocked stars) reflections mingling in the night
dance, meeting at shoreline

Humanity’s sounds are swallowed
by sea-roar, wind-howl, frog-song;
the night strips our uneven power


Back in the Cape

Turquoise waves roll on infinitely, white capped and brilliantly-hued and reaching out to where the horizon blurs, dark blue against light. I can hear them crash, a roiling white tumult of foam and white sand and crumbling shells. Listening to them as I sit on our balcony partway up the hill, the ocean seems close, closer than it is. The wind gusts, roaring through the fynbos and flowering trees, while dogs bark and baboons howl here and there, their sounds following each other across the village. The calls of children rise and fade, rise and fade; they are still celebrating their freedom on this their last day of holidays before the new school year begins. All these sounds layer themselves over the incessant and highpitched frogsong – one note sung in unison, unwavering.

The sun is hot and brings out the scent of the flowers and leaves, borne along on the cooling Atlantic wind. It is a familiar and sweet scent, like no other perfume in the world. The fynbos is unique, precious, rare – a combination of succulents and other low-lying scrub perfectly suited to the wind and the climate. Much of the growth on the hills burned in dramatic bush fires that swept up the peninsula two nights ago. As we made our way here from Canada, first from Ottawa, then in London, and finally at the Cape Town airport, I followed the progression of the fire through messages from friends and posts on Facebook. The pictures showed a swath of bright flame that came within meters of the houses at the outer edges of the village, throwing smoke and sparks up into the dark, moonless night.

A network of volunteers and professional fire fighters, combined with a fortunate change in the wind, managed to protect the village, but it took 24 hours of tireless firefighting. It’s part of life here, not entirely unusual, but of course as you defend everything against the power of fire, as you watch as your neighbours defend your home, this beautiful haven on the edge of the world, even the stoutest of heart feel fear, feel cowed by the awesomeness, the powerlessness of man.

Today, though much of the mountain has the burn marks to show for the night of devastation, everything feels normal, everything feels as it did when I left it, nearly two years ago. At that time, I was heartbroken to leave. I thought I might never come back and as the days wound down, I took hundreds of pictures of everything that I loved, each turn in the road, each road sign, the ocean in the ever-changing light.

Now, I can’t help but smile a ridiculous smile, delighted to be back here. And I am still taking pictures of everything, fully aware of just how quickly the time will fly. I don’t know whether to watch the ocean or let my eyes roam across the fynbos. I love the hills and the view of the village and the openness of looking out to sea. We’ve been to the local restaurant, visited with our friends, and clambered across ocean rock pools. Not fears of fire, nor even the wild, smelly baboons that break into houses to steal whatever food they can grab (we’ve already had one wander in with her tiny baby, and of course they stole my special gluten free granola) – nothing mars the perfection of this place.

Each day, each breath even, I take slowly, full of appreciation, full of gratitude that I am here again.

Into the light

I shed layers

loosen weight oppressive

slip out from under real-life,

its cold, steel clutches,

and begin to breathe again:

Chest expanding

draws in salt-dusted air

sun-soaked limbs soften,

languid in water,

muscle memory awakens

recalling other seas, sands, shores —

dreams and imaginings borne upon the elemental crashing of waves.

I am still.

I am light.

I am breath-air. 

Swallows at Sundown

The swallows come
with pink-tinged evening
swooping and soaring
they dive low among the grape vines
all the way down to the pastel sea
then up again
flashing past flower-laden walls
and earth-red rooves
while the blazing sun sinks
beyond the edge of the world
as the cool mountain breezes return
as darkness rolls in across the wat’ry horizon
washing silence and shadowed hues
over the softly leaching vista

The Festival

Twirling, the colours flash past
a blur of clothes, towels, people –
more alluring as a rainbow,
as a mass of colours
against blue-black sea-tumbled stones,
than their individual parts –
they move to the percussive beat
swaying with clapping hands
voices lifted
above the churn of the turquoise waves
faces open, smiling,
local accents thrown out on the wind,
singing, greeting neighbours, families, friends.

I can still taste the honeyed wine sweetness of that evening,
can still feel its headiness,
the lingering sun’s heat,
the sand sticking to skin thick with salt.

We were welcomed
into a moment of celebration,
the lines we had drawn
between observed and observing
blurred then
as we, too, danced
and sang
and twirled.