Tag Archives: sky

So Much Water, So Little Sky

Four years ago and many, many miles away, I wrote a blog post about missing the sky. Living in a crowded Korean city for a year, I missed the sky often and a lot. Missed open spaces. I talked, in that blogpost, about a quote from Dana Snyman’s book On the Back Roads, 

“Maybe it’s because today most of us are confined to life in the cooped-up spaces of the cities. It’s great to know there’s open space out there where you can just drive, and drive, and drive. Open spaces allow you to dream dreams of freedom.”

Today feels very much like that missing-the-sky time. Before I went overseas, I lived in Johannesburg and Cape Town and the Eastern Cape and travelled to odd corners of South Africa, from Port Shepstone to Vredendal, East London to Tzaneen. Almost every place I went shared one taken-for-granted characteristic: wide open spaces with plenty of sky.

Then I came back to South Africa and instead of finding my way back to my beloved wide open spaces, I moved to a place almost as green and crowded and claustrophobic as Korea. Instead a place to dream dreams of freedom, I discovered a totally different face of South Africa. Every time I’ve tried to explain the difference, people seem confused. After all, it’s still South Africa. It’s part of the same country. Just because it’s green? Just because it gets plenty of rain? It should still feel like home. It doesn’t.

The clouds are lying low again today. Yesterday morning the mist was like soup, think and cold. The mist lifted later, turning the day into a hot, humid weight upon the air. I like hot. I love hot. Tropical rain forests in December. New Year’s humidity in Mozambique. Glorious, terrifying, summer storms in Windhoek. The way the air smells and tastes before a thunderstorm in Grahamstown or Joburg or Queestown. This isn’t like that. It’s warmth without sunshine. For two days now, the clouds have sat, low and brooding, while the humidity and the heat built up and built up and sat. The hot air is heavy with the almost overpowering scents of flowers. It’s spring. Everything is green. Everything is always green. Steep green hills and deep green valleys and grey, green rivers.

I never knew there was a place in South Africa with so much water and so little sky.

“Yes, our African sky gives on the same sense of perfect freedom and wild exhilaration; sometimes on fees as though, for no reason that could be given, one were almost in an ecstacy of happiness when one goes out alone… Here one is never alone.”

Olive Schreiner writing from London, 1879

On Emptiness

I miss the emptiness.

It’s pretty here. It’s green and lush and all the words that describe pretty places. It rains a lot. There is water. Lots of water. There are monkeys in the trees and so many birds.

But I miss the emptiness.

I never see the sky here. It’s mist and trees and mountains. Sometimes there’s a glimpse of the deep blue in winter or the clear blue in summer, but I never see the whole of the sky. The valley is picturesque. It’s picture-postcard pretty. But postcards are static. They’re the same picture. They stay the same. It’s that kind of pretty.

I miss the drama of empty landscapes. The road that goes on forever between rough, harsh bush, dotted with rocks and windmills and the occasional sheep far in the distance. I miss being able to see the distance.

I miss the rolling, empty grasslands with the thorn trees and the aloes and the dusty, dried-blood soil.

I miss the majesty of the craggy, Cape folded mountains soaring beyond the vineyards.

I miss the sea, the rough, dangerous, cold Atlantic with a million moods, every one more incomprehensible than the last.

My mind keeps drifting back to the summer grasslands and the long-horned acholi cattle silhouetted against the storm sky.

The green and the valley and rivers are pretty. The tree-green covered mountainsides of Korea and the big rivers were pretty, too. The same full green land and dull grey sky. Not steel-grey, blue-grey brooding storms. Just mist-grey. Overcast-grey.

The happiest places of the last nine months – places, not moments, because people can make the other places okay – but the happiest places have been just the places I’ve always loved. The grasslands of eastern Congo. The dryness of Eldoret before the rains. The Eastern Cape. My Eastern Cape. Driving past Cradock and Bedford and the winter-swept Nieu Bethesda. The “arse end of the world”, to quote Marguerite Poland, around Grahamstown. Even Stutt, with its forests, but set like a stone rippling grasslands in all directions. And those forests, like the African rainforests, so much richer and more complex.

I long for the endless, complex loneliness. The lush, green, pretty, cluttered beauty here is, well, pretty. But some days, against the backdrop of incessant soft, green rains, I wish, I just wish I was a million miles away.