First Light, Paternoster

I wrote in a previous post about fulfilling a long-standing wish of my mother’s, to visit the little fishing village of Paternoster, on the Cape West Coast: most of the time was family time, an extended celebration of her 87th birthday, but on the last morning I made sure I had some time for myself.

I rose early, at 05:00, and let myself out before dawn, and headed down to the beach. It had been raining, and the tide was out; the skies were cloudy and grey, and the dawn broke only weakly through. Here is a first series of images – the sweep of the beach, the distant cottages, the light almost monochromatic except where it is suffused with soft yellows and pinks.

Drakensberg, dawn and dusk

I was out in the evening, and up early in the morning, as I observed in my last post, chasing the light in the Drakensberg, hoping for something dramatic. What the ‘berg gave me instead was a picture of calm, of light peaceably moving over a silent landscape, as the slow world turned.

In the end, I quite like these images.

Chasing the light in black and white

With the Natal Midlands behind us, we headed west, toward the northern Drakensberg, for the final three nights of our holiday meander. We’d booked ourselves a cottage at the Berg House, high on a hillside overlooking the magnificent Amphitheatre in the distance, up a winding dirt road that twisted and climbed and simply called out for the Land Rover. Not a place for city cars, for sure, but with careful driving we got up there, and were suitably rewarded.

Here is a shot of Rob, with the vast sweep of the Drakensberg before us; and here are three black and white images, taken on two different occasions while we were out walking.

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There is a tale here, to be told in another post: the tale of waiting for the light, at dusk and dawn, and being – well, a little disappointed. I’d been hoping for dramatic skies, towering clouds, the light brooding and magnificent, but what we got instead was harmony and tranquility – the sky pastel pale, the light calm and beneficent. Seems there’s no pleasing a photographer.

Here’s where we reach, instead, for images that will work in black and white, and let the old black and white drama perform its magic.


Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander in KwaZulu Natal – well, meanders, criss-crossing the N3 that links Johannesburg to Durban, offering the traveller a network of scenic routes that winds through hills and valleys as it folds into its embrace potteries and chocolatiers, breweries and cheese-makers, leather workers and artists. It is the land of dairy – and, along a nondescript stretch of the old Johannesburg road, beside the railway line not far from Howick, the area where Mandela was captured, in August 1962, following a tip-off, it is believed, from the CIA – those friends of democracy everywhere.

These images, I hope, stand on their own, but they are also an entree to the blogs and photos that will follow: The Road to Ardmore takes us to the wildly imaginative ceramics of – you guessed it – Ardmore, Abingdon Estate is home to one of KZN’s few – and best – wineries, St John’s in Nottingham Road is a construction that was shipped out from Scotland in the late nineteenth century and assembled in situ, Dairy Country (the only colour photo in this collection) is dairy country and the Mandela Capture Site – well, speaks for itself.

The Natal Midlands: Two Gates and a Landscape

Two sets of gates on Beverley Farm, in the Dargle Valley; two interpretations. The one gothic, the other more bucolic.

The landscape shows the Karkloof, where we spent a lovely morning hiding in bird hides, on a farm, hoping for cranes.

Karkloof # 1.jpg

Trees, Beverley Farm, Dargle Valley

We left Johannesburg on the last Saturday in July, around ten o’clock, for a much-needed break – five nights in the Natal Midlands, followed by three nights in the Drakensberg.

The traffic was light, the day was sunny, the wind was at our backs as we drove across the highveld, stopping at Harrismith for lunch, before descending the escarpment. We turned off the N3 near Howick, not far from Pietermaritzburg, passing the Mandela capture site, of which more in a future post. A short while later we turned off the old Joburg road, the R104, towards the Dargle Valley, and in a moment were enfolded by hills and fields, the road turning and climbing like a roller coaster. Down one precipitous incline and over the Umgeni River – just a stream at this point on its journey – and onto a dirt road that climbed again into the wooded hills. Around a sharp corner, and there rising above us were the gates to Beverley Farm, and our cottage.

Beverley Farm, Midlands # 1This tree stood at the edge of the homestead, overlooking the valley. As the sun began to set, a sharp diagonal of light cut across it, with the hills in the distance. I grabbed my camera.

Thinking to myself, I want to shoot this again, using a tripod, I took note of the time. It was 5.15. And yet, though I returned to the spot each evening that followed, the light was never the same. There must have been a particular break in the clouds, that first evening, that was never repeated. The moral of the story: when you see the shot, take it.

I like this next shot too, though. The light is not dramatic, or golden, but to my eye there is an almost spiritual calm and tranquillity, a sense of stasis, that works well in black and white. And yes, this shot and the shots that follow, were taken using a tripod.Beverley Farm, Midlands # 2

Beverley Farm, Midlands # 3

The last shot, of a line of trees, faces into the setting sun; while I can imagine it as a silhouette, I think it works best in colour.

Beverley Farm, Midlands # 4.jpg


Notes from Fathers Day

There are two new dads in our immediate family – my two sons-in-law, Shaun and Gareth. Fathers Day this year was the first for both of them, and I wonder what went through their minds, about their new status in life, their new roles and responsibilities. Or did they simply shake their heads in wonder and surprise as they got on with the business of changing the nappies?

No nappies for me, mind you – not on this particular Fathers Day, anyway. Instead it was off to Roots, at Forum Homini in the Magaliesberg, for Rob and me – the place where we got married, for a smashing six course Fathers Day lunch and wine tasting menu, starting just before one and running into late afternoon, as the light on the highveld turned golden.

It was the first time since we returned to South Africa, the first time since Rob got back (for the second time) from Canada, that we had had an afternoon to unwind, to feel the African light and the sight and colour of the African bush (only forty minutes from Johannesburg) sink into us. As the afternoon moved on, with the slow movement of the sun across the sky, the sense of letting go, of remembering – and then feeling – what it was to just be, was balm to the soul.

It’s been a hard year, so far, but it’s getting better.

Eve and Shaun, it was your gift that we spent, on one of our best dining experiences ever 🙂

Here are some photos.



Fork in the Road

When you come to a fork in the road, take it, said Yogi Berra – and if that isn’t a piece of advice befitting Samuel Becket and Waiting for Godot I don’t know what is. Kinda sums up the existential dilemma. Problem is, we live our lives forwards, not backwards, so we never know whether the choices we are making are the right ones, at least not until it’s too late, nor do we have any idea whether the road not taken would have been better, or worse, or just landed up elsewhere. Which is why, I guess, the path, the journey, the fork in the road, are such potent cultural memes and symbols.