From The Valley
by C Louis Leipoldt
Most of those who live in the valley learn to love it. It grips the imagination; it conjures with its beauty, with the subtle impression it makes on that aesthetic sense that lies dormant in each of us. No one can explain that influence of concentrated natural beauty on those who are daily exposed to it, but it is chastening while it is uplifting, strengthening the soul as well as the mind, a very potent factor in the life of those who feel that mountain and river, with their age-old serenity, bear the impress of forces that have moulded man’s destiny in the past and will mould it in the future.
So the valley had left its imprint on its inhabitants for generations. It had influenced them unconsciously. They could not, had they been asked to do so, express in words in just what manner it had shaped their lives. Most of them indeed would have been surprised if anybody hinted that these rugged ranges and that slow-moving river – that in winter overflowed its shallow bed and in summer dwindled down to mild trickles divided by lines of drift sand – had had anything to do with their lives. None the less the valley had stamped them, indefinably indenting on them something of its own character, inevitably teaching them to look with liking on its contours and ultimately to love every coign of it, every buttress that caught the wind in its seaward or inland sweep, every hill slope that lay brown under a blistering sun in late summer or blazed in purple and crimson and gold when the spring gave it a harvest of sorrel and saffron irises.
In its eighty years of existence the village had developed characteristics which, cumulatively, expressed its soul. It was somnolent, not with the sleepiness of repletion, but with the sense of complacency that is the result of victoriously overcoming small difficulties. The village had matured like a fine Burgundy wine in which time, climate and repose mellow the acids into esters and the alcohols into aldehydes. Nothing revolutionary had ever happened in it. Tranquil through the years, it had devoted its energies to the tame villatic interests which had absorbed all its attention. It had concentrated upon them an enthusiasm and a forceful energy that elsewhere, directed into other channels, might have achieved great things.
All things that mature slowly carry in themselves a capacity for permanency. The village was no exception to this rule, though few of its inhabitants would have been able to define just which of its prevailing characteristics were the more likely to endure. The old-fashioned air that nestled about it – the rococo gables of the brown-thatched houses, the trellised vines that made arbours in the gardens in summertime, the quaint dignity of wooden gates and stoep seats plaited with leathern strips – all these would vanish before the onrushing tide of novelty which year by year broke down the old barriers and transformed the nooks and corners into open spaces, more sanitary perhaps, but far less picturesque than they had been before. Few of the village inhabitants minded these inevitable changes, which came so slowly that their effects were hardly recognised before they had achieved such permanency that they could be reckoned as part and parcel of the environment.
Perhaps that was the tragedy of the village – that it acquiesced in changes which it could not forbid, and while acquiescing, was incapable of realising what it lost.