Tagged: Musing

South African Brown

It is always brown somewhere in South Africa.

During the frostbitten winter, it’s the flat Highveld that cracks and curls up in chocolate squares of parched soil. These gold- and diamond- and crop-littered plains get their rain in the summer, sometimes in abundance, sometimes not. In the winter that wetness becomes a forgotten fantasy that is swept away in howling dust storms and hearsay. The June air fills with static, the tall grasses splinter, the sky becomes a lighter blue and sunlight is thinner. Dryness envelops the meadows and fields. The earth below loses all its moisture. The land above cracks and curls and parches. In the Highveld winters, the deepest hardness of Africa is seen and felt in its brittle brown ground.

In the searing summer months, it is the fringe of land along the coast—the southern curve of Africa—that tans a deep cocoa in its endless sunshine and on its blonde beaches. These provinces lie south of the Highveld and get fed on an opposite schedule to their upcountry neighbours, when winter fronts arc up from Antarctica with rain and melancholy. In summer, sunburn makes everything tawny, thirsty. Life, previously green, shrinks and shrivels in the hot, deep, dry days of December. The navy of the distant mountains turns deep purple in the bake and the rare flora, found on them and nowehere else in the world, becomes brittle and brown in this cycle of dryness that they know very well. In the Cape summers, a paradox of Africa is felt in the joy of the arid heat and the life it sucks out of the soil.

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Land, Possessed

We are the land. We are Africa. We are made from the ancestral spirits of the San and the Khoikhoi and the Bantu peoples. We are not the god of everybody but are the beginning of everything. Many people have sought our counsel in the wind or in bones or in the healing wise whispers of those who passed before them. Ours is the domain that stretches across from ocean to ocean and from the great desert above to the stormy coastline below.

We have been here since the beginning. We have raised mountains by folding great depths of rock over each other. We have grown forests and greened valleys. Along us rivers stream down to the sea and carve canyons out of the stone, sand and soil. And we offer their waters to the sky so that it may rain back down upon everything that lives on us. That water sustains life. Our grass and roots and bark feed elephant and buffalo. Our sable and springbuck feed the mighty lion and cheetah. Our fields are filled with abundance. Continue reading

The Art Of Repetition

This piece written by the fabulous Ellie Roscher. Find the picture of the moment and her original posting here. And her blog here.


The Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing is full of people doing ordinary things like Tai Chi and Tibetan Dance. At least they seem ordinary to the people doing them. To me, it seems odd and beautiful that so many people are moving slowly, intentionally together in public. In the middle of the park, an old man practices calligraphy. Bright white hair peeks out from underneath his dark baseball hat. He wets a long paintbrush with water from a bucket, hunches over slightly, and writes on the pavement. Every few characters he pauses, referring to a poem he is holding in his left hand. The graceful symbols evaporate in just a few moments. He repeats the same lines over and over and over again. Slowly, mindfully. Dip, stroke, stroke, stroke, dip. His writing hand moves like he is conducting an orchestra in an underground pit. I look out across the expanse of pavement and see years of art, layers of words encased there. Whispering to us about life and death and love and heartache. The poem waits briefly to be discovered before it fades in the afternoon sun. If only I knew how to read Chinese. I suddenly mourn the fact that I do not yet know Chinese.

The fleetingness of the water, the holy detachment of his practice has something to teach me. I know it in my bones. I can’t take my eyes off him, dipping and stroking as if he had all the time in the world.

What a curious man. Does he come here often? Why this poem, this practice? Is it penance? Obsession? Devotion? Maybe it’s a love poem he’s sending out to the one he lost, repeated in sorrow and grief. Or maybe he simply believes in the art of repetition, the pure goodness of beauty and the fleeting nature of things.

I think of Daniel’s kisses– generous beyond counting– stroking my lips, cheeks, breasts, thighs over and over again. Gentle art, wet poetry, evaporating. Layers of love becoming part of my story, part of my body. Small moments of beauty encircling me on a journey.

I think of my yoga practice. I can count miles run or pounds lifted, but I push myself to return to my mat day after day simply to practice. To see what is mine to learn in a new moment, as a new self. There is nothing to count. Every day there is something simple and profound in the practice, a journey to seek truth in me and around me. Then, in corpse pose, I detach from it all and let it go. I walk out, sweat evaporating, glistening with newness.

There is no keeping score.

I think of hours spent poring over holy books, digging through translations, wading through concordances, seeking insight and light. Taking a moment, closing my eyes, swimming through my mind for the right word to capture a floating feeling of an idea. Luring the transcendent to become imminent for just a glimmering moment. Knowing only that it feels as though I’m walking in the right direction and that deep in the seeking is goodness. The rigor is intoxicating.

I watch the Chinese characters, hoping they stay a bit longer. I don’t want this moment to fade. But it does.

I am driven to use ink. To write my own words instead of basking in the wisdom of others. To make a mark, to be recognized for excellence. I want it to count. I want to count. I want to use permanent marker and oil paint. I want to be immortal, to stick, to go on.

I think we are sold the lie that we will get there. That there is a destination. We can earn it, we are entitled to it. There is no room there for quiet devotion, for vulnerable dependence, for committed practice, for the mundane. When we get there, we will plant a flag and then we will matter. We will conquer. We will be whole, happy. There, life will be easy. We will have arrived.

And practicing poetry in the park will not get us there.

I do dishes with Daniel every night. He washes. I dry. I watch the soap suds disappear into the embroidered rag and place the square, white dish back in the cupboard for tomorrow. I fold blue towels and green sheets. I chop sweet potatoes and dice garlic. I sit in traffic and stand in line. This is it. I am scared of monotony and mediocrity. Breakfast, lunch, laundry, dinner, bathe, repeat. What if it kills me?

I could go to the park today with a poem and a brush. I could choose to think, to stay alive, to treat others with compassion. I could practice being human in all its messiness and mortality. I could decide what has meaning. I could decide what to worship. I could choose to fold laundry and sip soup and kiss Daniel and find dignity in devotion and dependence. I could proclaim, “This is life.” I’m arriving every fleeting moment. Hidden in plain sight before me is something on fire with sacredness. There is poetry trapped on the pavement at my feet. There is art evaporating all around me. I am held in the holiness of life. I simply have to choose to pay attention.

I could learn Chinese.