‘Bergs’ eye view

As I sit here and pen my ed’s letter this week, a berg wind is blowing, the quintessential Cape “mood” wind, harbinger of cold and damp weather (praise be, given our parched landscapes and perilously-low dam levels).

Living here on the southern tip of the mighty African continent (well, within spitting distance, meteorologically-speaking), means that we are well-acquainted with the Atlantic cold fronts that shift across the subcontinent, and the coastal low preceding this often-dramatic change, which we call “pre-frontal”.

And I doubt I’m alone in having multiple loads of laundry flapping in this warm wind today, having gotten a head start last night, and with the typically red-sunrise that is coupled with this kind of weather, I was up at dawn attaching linens, towels and clothes with double-pegs (otherwise I’m prone to finding my garments scattered around the garden, having been whipped off the line by the forceful gusts).

The word berg, of course, comes from the Afrikaans words for mountain and wind, both of which I have a particular fondness for.

The Cape of Storms is defined by the majestic Table Mountain, in all her demeanours and commensurate drapery of clouds, and one of the most stimulating realities of calling this special part of the world “home” is that we get to experience the tempestuous winds that encapsulate, by association, their directional origin (there are few things that make one batten the hatches more than a oncoming black south-easter, or head for a breezy walk in one of our glorious nature reserves, in the knowledge that there will be a cool wind.

The powerful gusts put paid to the Cape Town Cycling Tour this year in spectacular style, cancelling the efforts and plans of people who had arrived in the Mother City from all over the world, and a few months ago we all braced for “the mother of all storms” when it battered the region, also sending said berg wind towards the Southern Cape coast, where it wrought utter havoc in the Eden district and town of Knysna, propelling fires that raged mercilessly for days, claming lives and homes in its wake.

Turning to mountains (and I have the good fortune, quite literallly, to be looking at the serene dome of the Helderberg Mountain from my window): just over the weekend, I was musing about how mountains, and the words denoting these awe-inspiring monoliths, have always featured in my life, as a part of my habitat, central to my personal view-finder.

My mother’s maiden name was Bergh (and I trace my ancestry on her side to Olof Bergh and Anna de Koningh). Theirs was one of the first “mixed race” marriages of the Cape, in 1678 (she was the daugher of Captain de Koninck of the ship Drommedaris, born in Batavia, and one of three children of the slave known as Angela of Bengal).

My father’s ancestry was Welsh, a country where the mountains were carved out 10 000 years ago during the Ice Age. My parents lived near the shadow of Sleeping Beauty, part of the Riviersonderend range, and while they were expecting my birth, moved to Mossel Bay, where I spent my childhood looking at the Outeniqua Mountains over the tranquil Indian Ocean, and living later on a farm at the base of the Robinson Pass, on the winding road to Oudtshoorn.

The Stellenbosch Mountains were my next haunt, during my student years, with the Franschhoek peaks and Bain’s Kloof’s incredible winding roads often drawing me for closer scrutiny, and then my travels took me to the Swiss Alps, the Pyrenees, the Rocky Mountains (where I lingered for nine lovely years in valley on the top of the Continental Divide, at the watershed of two oceans), and many of mother nature’s other stone monoliths, that I was drawn to without rhyme or reason or any particular destination in mind, until I wound my way back to the land of my birth as the last months of the last century drew to a close, to take up residence again in the Boland, then Helderberg, near the confluence of two mighty oceans.

And while the wind is obligingly drying my laundry this fine day, I’m aware of how our thirst for water, collectively, has grown, and what challenges lie ahead for all of us.

Not only in the capturing and provision of water for us humans, but also for all the plants, and animals, with whom we share our habitats, great and small. It shall rain later tonight, and tomorrow, if predictions manifest, and the mountains will also channel this water our way, through rivulets and streams and underground caverns and pathways.

The dams remain depressingly empty, and according to reports, we’ve had much less rain than is standard for this time of year. Perhaps the rains will still come in greater volumes, later than usual, but that may be wishful thinking.

The paradigm shifts that we were all subjected to during the infamous blackouts heralding the electricity crisis of previous years, seem pale in comparison to this pressing, much more urgent need to conserve water, and change our relationship permanently with it as a resource that can never again be taken for granted, or used with careless (and callous) disregard.

Our continent is increasingly arid, as is much of the rest of the planet, and the implications are immense. Would that the world’s policy-makers change their self-serving focus. And in the words of the song by Toto, “I bless the rains down in Africa”.

Carolyn Frost: Editor