MY FATHER’S ODE TO MOUNTAINS

AN ODE TO THE DRAKENSBERG MOUNTAINS OF SOUTH AFRICA

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Natal National Park, c. 1933

The Drakensberg lie in South Africa along the border of the Province of Kwa Zulu Natal and the independent country of Lesothu, and form a wall up to around 11,000 feet high.   Erosion over aeons have created a highly complex mountain range and a mountaineers paradise.

My father, apart from his happiness with his family, was never happier than when in the Drakensberg . He was a member of the Mountain Club of South Africa (Natal) and lived for the ‘Berg, especially the Mont-au- Sources area, shown in the above photos. He did a number of quite remarkable trips , such as from the hotel, up the Inner Tower Gully, across the top and down the Sentinel Track , and back to the hostel in 12 hours.  He climbed with Oompie Liddel and Doyle Liebenberg, and also with the Zunckel brothers and the Park-Ross brothers, all of whom were his life-long friends. He knew “PR” (Dr Park-Ross) well.   In the 1930’s he worked at the Natal National Park hostel when it was run by the Zunckels   There he was office manager and official postmaster.  He also looked after guest entertainment.  He loved exploring and hiking, often on his own and especially did he love taking parties of guests on hikes into the mountains, invariably stopping and lighting a fire to boil the billy can for tea at morning tea time and lunch .     In this  poem he remembers the rondavels at Natal National Park and recalls his own one with its view over the Tugela River. He also recalls, evocatively, all that he loved about that wonderful place and the life he led there.  A few of his photos follow his poem.   It was thanks to my Dad that I learned to love nature and beauty and the fragility of this world that must be protected at all cost.

MY THOUGHTS
Rex Douglas Ridgway
Canberra, 1972

A WINDOW IN MY MIND
Deep in the corners of my far-away mind
rest the faces. scents and the sounds
of places I loved, friends I once knew
When we rambled together
thru valleys and streams
Climbed up the sides of steep sunburnt hills
and rested together in the shade of a tree
Watching the shadows of silent white clouds
as they raced over forests and valleys below
like the shadows of people
as they scurry through life
Blown by the winds far out of sight
to the mists of the memory
like spirits gone by.
Until a scent or a sound in the air
the splash of some water
Or coo of a dove.
and something returns
while the body stays still,
the senses go quiet,
the places come back
and the feel in the air
the hills and valleys are once again there
the tree and its shade
the clouds racing by
the blue of the sky
Slopes of the hill
the tall red grass
And there in the shadows all flecked with the sun
are the faces the voices
the laughter and fun
of those wonderful people
the friends that I knew
The people I loved were back in my view,
A view that is filled
with the treasures of time
That view from one window
of my far away mind.

MEMORIES

Rondavels all splashed
with shadows and sun
High peak roofs of golden thatch
Walls of washed stones
polished by the waters
of a river that flows
from the mountains beyond.
Happy little laughter
of a tiny stream
in front of a door
that opens to my room
where the scent flows in
from the pines outside
in warm summer sun.
The sweetness of honey
brought by the breeze
from bright gold blossom
on green wattle trees.
There’s a view from a window
of a long sleepy valley
where a river flows east
to a far distant sea.
Walls of the room
at the dawn of day
tinged with the glow
of the rose coloured beams
of a red, red sun.
Millions of stars
sparkle and fall
as the warmth of the sun
melts the night’s cold dew
on blossoms and leaves.
High hills beyond all wreathed in soft mists
fading away as they rise to the blue
of the fresh morning sky.
This is the scene
I shall paint one day
to show you the picture
that’s framed in my mind
of that place where I lived
and the room that I loved
in those days of long ago .

NATURE’S SYMPHONY

There’s a music that lives
deep inside of me
Like a symphony that rises and swells
in the tide of my memory
Like the harp and flute
and the violin
and many more instruments
merged into one.
It’s the music of heaven
in the bowl of the earth.
There’s the song of the wind
as it bends the tall grass
shimmering in patterns of shadow and light.
There’s the music of water
in diamond bright streams
making soft sounds
through gem coloured stones
all locked in round pools
carved in the rocks through aeons of time.
Music of waterfalls
cascading down
like the veil of a bride
in pure white gown.
There’s the boom of the thunder
like drums in the sky
growing in volume
as it bounces from hills
and echoes thru valleys
‘till its temper dies down
shedding great tears from its angry abode.
Raindrops beat down like a song from  above
to stir up sweet scents
as they fall on hot ground.
Roar of clean water
washing the hills
down to the valleys to replenish the earth
The dark cloud is fleeing, its thunder all gone.
Look to the sky
it’s the deepest of blue.
Rock faces gleaming, sparkling and wet
Bringing back joy to the song of the birds .
Hum of the bees, coo of the doves
in warm summer sun
all blended with mountains
the hills and the streams
While sunlight and shadows
fade into blue
where sky and horizon
merge in the view.
There’s the crackle of fire
as the flame leaps high
to heat up the can
to make precious brew
in the haze of wood smoke
that’s heaven to the few
who ramble together
as closely knit friends
to hear that sweet music
of the valleys and hills.

MOUNTAIN STORM

The storm breaks loose
Mad clouds race
thru blackened sky
and wind-swept night.
Earth-bound spirits
scurry and scream
through haunted fields
to swaying limbs
of wind-torn trees
scared by the fury
of lightening’s flash,
the black night split
with it’s flaming lash.
Sudden stillness
high charged air
hot, dry vacuum
as moments tick by
like a time bomb waiting
in shadows to strike
no-one knows where.
Blinding flash
igniting hot air
Bursts asunder
like tearing cloth.
Insane thunder
rents the earth,
frightens the souls
of the living and dead.
Silence again
as its anger subsides
and its breath runs out.
Slinking away to blackness beyond.
Clouds left behind
race with the wind
before it’s too late
to fly with the storm.
The night up above
sighs with relief,
Opens its window
to let out the moon
to cast her still light
on the troubled souls
below in the night.
Peace creeps back
and quietness reigns
in the silver light
of the storm-washed night
while all the world
turns round again
and lulls itself to sleep.

WHERE MY LOVE BURNS STRONG

It’s in the Mountains where my love burns strong
that my soul abides.
The great blue heights where the storms begin,
where rivers are born
birds learn to sing
and alone the eagle glides.
There in the deep blue shadows
lives my soul
Surveying the silent night
Listening to the song of the birds
Watching the eagle’s flight
Learning the music of the wind and streams,
Watching the sun
like a painter cast
his brush on the tall blown grass
turning it to red and gold
in the flush of departing light.
When the golden glow
with fleeting beauty fades
and the warmth goes out of the rocks and crags
The Silent Hour
with its blue shadow fills
all the hills and the valleys below.
The earth goes quiet
Song of the birds and wind
go still as the night,
It’s the hush of the Silent Hour.
It’s the hour when the world
and its cares depart
When eyes lift up to the heights above
and the mind sees the world where I live.
Senses the strength and the help that flows
from the source of the river
that winds thru life
To the artist above
whose brush paints the sky
with a glory of crimson and gold
in the still of the hour before night.
Oh Maker of all this beauty on earth
and the endless heavens above
Give to small man
the help and the strength
to carry his load
Thru the valleys and shadows
forests and glens
Up the steep slopes
to the heights above
and the crest of the mountain
where my love burns strong
and my soul
will forever belong.

The following photos were taken by Dad prior to 1939

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