From The Valley
by C Louis Leipoldt
Come winter with its rains, the steady drizzle starting in the morning and lasting through the day, soaking the hard, clay shale, impregnating the dry, fissured Karoo soil and the superficial layer of the loose earth derived from the weathered sandstone, and bringing with it new life to the seeds that lie dormant below, waiting for the warmth of spring to quicken into full and blossoming life. Come the boisterous east winds, soughing through the leafless trees at night like lost souls clamouring for release, shaking from orange and lemon orchards young fruit whose smooth green carpeted the red soil below the trees, a pathetic, sad sight for the farmer. And at last, almost miraculously sudden, in the space of a night and a day, the spring, splendidly fresh and verdant, daintily perfumed with soft odours of infant leaf and bud of aromatic mountain and veld plants, making garden of what it touched, revealing untold glories in what had seemed a wasteland but a week before.
For that was one of the characteristics of the valley, its sudden spasms of natural activity, its amazing leaps into life and sterility. A cold wind, sweeping through the gateways of the mountains, would warp and wither the tender shoots of the adenandra bushes, and dull them to a dingy grey; a snatch of warmth after the winter rain would bring forth innumerable sorrels and make the veld cheerfully variegated for a short while. A hot blast in summer would sear it so that the foliage showed its under-surfaces and the whole hillside looked bleak and bare, and in midsummer the veld would appear more barren than a desert while in spring it would be hard to find a square inch not scented by some adjacent flower or shadowed by some neighbouring leaf.
In winter the mountains filmed themselves, especially in the early mornings, in hazes of grey and pearl. Only towards midday, when the sun had gathered strength and the mists drew slowly, reluctantly, away in wisps of cloud that lingered around the dells and in the wooded kloofs, were their bold outlines sharply silhouetted against the sky. Generally only the higher peaks were snow-crowned, but the snow had been known to come down into the lower slopes; and tradition asserted that it had in one season even fallen on the banks of the river, doing incalculable damage to the young sheep. That, however, was far in the past and only the oldest inhabitants remembered it; and they preferred to forget that they had seen it there. On the mountain tops, snow was a different thing. It was something wonderful to behold, something quite foreign to the valley yet not altogether unfamiliar, though few had taken the trouble to climb up and handle it, so as to be able to say authoritatively what it felt and looked like. Some, like the magistrate and the parson, who had travelled in foreign parts where snow actually fell on the ground and men careered over it with sledges, and children threw balls made of it at one another, knew all about it; but the valley accepted that knowledge as it did so many other things – with a philosophical calm that was almost indifference, a tolerant smile that was more courteous than curious.