Living with a vista for a living room, one develops an affinity for one’s environment. Glass made up roughly three quarters of room’s walls. A panorama of mountains, clouds and sea were beyond them. At 5:17pm, on a Saturday, the sun glared off the wind-muddled water: blinding colourless ultrasound. To its left and right blue could begin to be seen, first as shadows mingling with the light-water, then becoming its own blue, speckled with fine white horses. The lighted water had that lake-like quality, wind swells moving without a frame of reference, static in a camera flash.
To my left was Camps Bay. One has to squint when looking around while writing. I do so because of my poor eyesight, of course, but glancing to the left through a squint seemed writerly. Through the poor eyesight and the panel of glass grimy with pool water residue, I saw Camps Bay and couldn’t think of much to say about it. Cape Town’s own little Miami Beach. People so desperate to make the place work that they put up with the wind. A brief squint at the beach and I could see the black dots of people and the broad tufts of white sea spray that blew back across the turquoise segment of sea visible behind the neighbour’s roof.
More squinting and wincing and sips of a G&T.
Over the sea, just one cloud hangs there, or now two, as the larger one’s fingers parts with the smaller one, asking to be examined. Well firstly, they’re clearly a pair as every time I look up from the page they seem to either be exchanging secret touches or wandering watchfully apart. The smaller one brought to mind a dove, the larger a snail. A strange pair sailing out, infinitely out, in the landless sky. While I wrote this they were shattered and transformed by the forces that be.
I don’t know where they came from. The same mass of clouds hasn’t been able to get past the mountain range. The mass always appears to move, in an ominous fashion, but seems stuck, constipated, clinging to the peaks, reluctant of the seaward journey. Only the brave fly before the writer, brave and bright and confident, stamping a shadow in that sea glare. But my God! The cloud had become a swimmer. An old man swimming against the wind. Grey skeletal shadows, his one arm pulled back completing a stroke, his other burnt off in the sun. Black skull, white hair, white eye. His resolve had broken. He feared the blue infinite, the inevitable transfiguration and disintegration. He swam weakly for that band of sticky clouds above the mountains. Within the first sentences of seeing him he was no more.
A creative writing piece that expands on my poem, ‘Silver Trees’.
The wind droned. Grey distilled light fell from the clouds upon everything. The sea seemed barren. He stood at the foot of the mountain. The slope was full of silver trees that shook and battled in the wind, glittering. Beyond the crowd of trees were sheer granite faces rising to the peak.
Leaving the footpath, he clambered vertically upwards, gripping shrubs and digging the toes of his boots in the soft, moist soil. Dead sharp branches from a dead silver tree blocked his path so he zigzagged around it, keeping the mountain-side edges of his boots firm in the ground and leaning a little into the slope. Dew rested on the fynbos and his boots, the lower part of his jeans and his hands were already quite wet.
He had been waiting for a day like this to climb the mountain. A day when the coast was grey, the granite and the silver trees shone and the wind droned. It was hostile, the way the trees fought in the wind, loudly and ceaselessly, yet at the same time it was beautiful. A kind of harshness natural to them and foreign to him. A splendid battle. He wanted to experience it more closely.
The sharp fynbos had lashed the dark brown varnish from his boots revealing the tan leather beneath. He looked up and saw that the sea of green and silver was much closer. A little to his right a tree with pale pink leaves caught his attention. It was a dying silver tree. There was something ominous about it. Its colouring reminded him of bones not yet clean and dry, of a carcass before the vultures descend. After climbing higher he looked back at it. It shivered and bristled, not yet dead.
Upon reaching the treeline he ventured further in and lay down on his back. The sound was deafening. It was as if he was drowning, laying on the seabed, somewhat removed from the tumult of the surface. The branches crashed and swept. He noticed their springiness, how they bounced against the wind. The leaves flickered brightly amongst the sky, dazzling him. He closed his eyes, breathed, and felt himself be tossed in the swell; of sound, of movement, of nature’s violence, and felt safe. Sublime.
After a while he sat up and peered out at the sea, dull and barren, and could make out its distant roar. Dark storm clouds on the horizon broke the sky’s uniform grey. Small cars moved along a road beneath a set of mountain peaks. He’d begun to have enough of all this noise. His journey back down was difficult and cumbersome.
Silver Trees Poem: Silver Trees
Judge, jury, law student, surfer…
Photograph by Alex Kibble (Instagram: @diaryofalex)
The sea seemed stretched, drawn out by long periods and a strong south-easter. White water reached up the coastline in measured surges. The waves looked good. The recent stormy swell had scoured out a decent sandbank. Another set ran across it, feathered by the off-shore wind. Swells approached with slow power and broke with ominous perfection.
I knew I had to go out later. It was now a matter of which responsibilities I was willing to forgo in order to get into the water earlier. I have some law cases to summarise, more than usual because I didn’t complete the ones I was meant to do yesterday. On the other hand, the work might go even faster after a surf, what with the new endorphins flying about and the freshened perspective that the Atlantic sea provides. The only surfer in the water pulls out the back of a close out and my reasoning loses a bit of its virility.
I stare at the sea and wait for the next perfect wave to roll through, the perfect evidence I need to win this case. A lull rests upon the water’s surface, raising its incredulous eyebrow. The judge taps his finger impatiently. The white dot of a seagull flaps amongst the expanse of blue. Another close out states its objection. The tides were turning. There was an audible crash as a left broke across the bay. “I really don’t like the lefts at Glen.” I thought, followed by an accusatory “Whose side are you on?”
“Ah, there you go.” A smaller wave ran leisurely to the right. The diagonal stretch of white water served as conclusive evidence. Another broke in the same fashion, this time further out and larger. And another. The case was proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge finished his mug of coffee and banged it back down on the desk, adjourning the proceedings.
I stood up to fetch my wetsuit and watched helplessly as close out after close out washed vindictively into the bay.
We hiked through Newlands Forest this morning. The path while sometimes bending and twisting up and down was flat for the most part. As it lead into the canopy its surface changed from rocks and dust to a raised wooden footpath. The landscape shrunk to dense greens and browns through which the dogs would swim and clamber. Areo, our chocolate Labrador, was always fascinating to watch. She was both regal and gluttonous, sluggish and supremely agile. Walks were an opportunity for her to display her potential energy that she would happily conceal when lounging around at home. She was the chocolate drop, at home slipping from the couch to the floor to the other couch, always fitting her cumbersome and floppy bulk to her place of rest. On the walk she was a torrent. She poured down steep rocky descents, flowing through our legs and at the bottom she would stir about gently. Her golden eyes watching us and seeming to ask a very pure yet elusive question.
I often wondered how much she knows. She is intelligent and possibly very perceptive. Perhaps when she looks at me she is somewhat aware of subtleties of character, of my inner-turmoil and is trying to console me. She is a beautiful dog and perhaps as we do with all beautiful creatures, we ascribe far more to them than they ask for. She is a hungry dog and would raid the bins every night if the “Please Lock: Areo” bin locks were not fastened. She’s probably just trying to telepathically compel me to give her some food.
We reached the designated picnic point of our walk, a raised wooden construction built around a thin chopped down tree. This was the halfway point of our hike, the horizontal peak, and as such required the ingestion of some snacks. I had brought some chopped up croissants, my mom some grapefruit and apple slices and her friend a flask of coffee and some cups. “It is such a pity women are such light eaters” I thought to myself as I gorged myself on the remaining croissant pieces. I dipped a piece into my coffee (something I was told was ‘the French way’ by a woman I had had a fling with a while ago. I have since been told otherwise and so now not quite sure of the correct procedure, claim to dunk the croissants for sentimental value. The truth is that I just like dunking things in my coffee) before unctuously noshing on it. Creamy, coffee-y, buttery, my mouth’s relationship with this dunked pastry was intimate and all-encompassing. As it flaked and dissolved into the ether of my digestive system the familiar sense of longing and abandonment, the defining symptoms of pastry heartbreak, began to rise within me. My fingers (Note: plural) swept up the residual flakes that lined the Tupperware container. Ah, bless croissants flakiness. I am a clingy lover when it comes to pastries but our affair was well and truly over (for now) and so after eating the remaining, but this time offered fruit slices, we moved on.
It really was an easy hike and I was midway through convincing myself to go on a run later in the day when we came across a fork in the path. The decision was made to go left, turning up an incline instead of going right and continuing to wobble downhill. This was the motivation I needed to not go on a run later, the uphill had settled it. “No need to do two exercise activities.” It said gently. And gentle it was. Within a minute of walking the slope evened out and the path began to lazily undulate amongst the grass in front of us. I thanked the slope for its kindness and continued altruistically at the back of the group, making sure everyone had the chance of a view uninterrupted by a sad, inwardly deteriorating glutton. I cursed myself as I finally took note of the butterfly flapping in and out of my field of vision. I’m on a lovely hike with friends, family and dogs and I’m unable to enjoy it, to be in it. I spent my time gobbling food and forming lazy abstractions for the purpose of distracting myself. If I begin to start distracting myself from eating I’ll have to take direct action, something extreme to jolt this feeling from my being, to shatter this foggy mirror which dullens everything whilst forcing my perceptions back into me.
I was guilty of gluttony yesterday. This was proved beyond reasonable doubt when after seconds of supper and the remainder of the tub ice cream, I had made myself a second bowl of milky granola, this time with a crumbled sugar cone. My stomach practically burst with each mouthful. The usual glowing inner-hug I felt after eating was replaced with images of the grey boerewors from earlier looking even greyer as it writhed in the milky mire of my stomach. It was curling and writhing viciously, seemingly intent on rupturing out of my chest as if it was a young Xenomorph. Of course there wasn’t a long, unchewed piece of boerie in my stomach, I didn’t shove the sausage down my oesophagus while using lubricative, melted ice cream to ease the process. I may as well have, I felt disgusted. Not only that, but the crumbled sugar cone went completely soggy and offered nothing in the way of texture or flavour to the dish. I was disappointed. Finding a sitting position that didn’t threaten the dormancy of the alien lifeform was also difficult and so after completing some work I made myself a soothing mug of peppermint tea. Since I was unwell, the tea was medicinal and was therefore administered joylessly.
Yesterday’s overexposure to milky granola prompted a wonderful thought. Food is like life. The more you eat, the less there is on the plate. I will use the bowl of milky, vanilla seed granola (usually made with dates, coconut flakes, a drizzle of honey, and dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg) that prompted this insight to further explain the analogy. As we begin our lives we are faced with the full bowl with only its milky surface actually visible, save a few specks of spices or sesame seeds. The world is unknown, our lives are for the most part sheltered from anything hard or substantial. It is also pure in that sense and the first spoons are delightful, simple, and easy. Vanilla honeyed milk with only the softest resistance of floating sesame seeds testing our milk teeth. Ah, but we grow more inquisitive and brazen. Our spoons delve deeper and we begin to encounter the granola. The granola is harder and more substantial. It requires chewing, an action that like hard work is often its own reward. We become enthralled. The crunches pop with moments of delectable sweetness as unctuous chunks of dates are scooped up in the process. Aahh, the joys of life. It all begins to mix extraordinarily well, the flavours, the textures, all the while wonderfully accompanied by that never-ending pool of milk.
Or, it was never-ending, but as you pause to take a leisurely sip of your grandma’s homemade kombucha tea you have a moment of reflection. You are already half-way, maybe more, maybe less, and a feeling of dread attempts to set in. Here the mind will dictate how the rest of bowl will go. Every spoon from here on out not only depletes the milky granola, but does so at an increasing rate. You could have never have known but the bowl is conical, the longest years of your life have already happened. You could attempt to bury this thought, let it become a dull but ever-present force that will destabilise that inner peace you had felt. You could begin to eat it faster, ignoring your body’s pleas to slow down, you don’t care, or you say you don’t as with tears in your eyes you shove mound after mound into your mouth. You barely chew and swallowing becomes painful. Take a breath, there’s still so much left, you made yourself a big bowl after all. Take a spoonful, savour it, that spoon had two date chunks in it, would you have known otherwise?
We are getting close to finishing our bowl of milky granola. We are beginning to feel content and quite full. There are more dates at the bottom. Our smaller, more conscientious spoonfuls do little to slow the milks progress down the sides of the bowl. We have enjoyed it and feel restful. We make peace with the pangs of helplessness and greed for another bowl. We scrape the sides dotted with memories of times before. Our spoon has done all it can, there is no more granola left, just a shallow but richly flavoured puddle of milk at the bottom. Finally with a smile on our face, we grab the bowl with both hands, raise it to our mouth and take our last sip. A dribble of milk runs down the side of our chin and we recline with our eyes closed back into the chair.
I open my eyes and look at my phone. Ah, it’s already 11:00am, a couple more hours and I’ll have some lunch.