I grew up in the Overberg region of the Western Cape province of South Africa. There are farms of every description in every direction. In the part where I was raised (and where I live now), they are chiefly for the cultivation of wheat and barley, and the rearing of sheep. It is a region with endless hills, divided here and there by modest rivers, and presided over by low mountain ranges. I spent the whole of my childhood there—here—and it was—and is—heaven on earth.
It was only when I left for college that I fully experienced city living. It was not palatable to me then (though I did my best to adjust to it), nor is it to me now (so I do my best to avoid it). Whilst for many years, I lived in a large town beyond the Hottentots Holland Mountains—the Overberg region lies beyond or “over” these mountains or berge (Afrikaans)1—I always sought accommodation on the edges of the town, even though the town itself was not densely populated.
Nonetheless, I would visit my family home in the countryside as often as I could, as a means of escape. Nearly every weekend, I would make my way “over the berg” and immerse myself in the loveliness of pastoral life. When I could bear being separated from it no longer, I started thinking about returning permanently. I distinctly remember the moment I made the decision to do so: alone upon a hill, listening to the sound of a distant flock. A few months later, I moved back.
But eventually, familiarity did its work, and with time, I grew accustomed to the landscape and its creatures. They were still a comfort, but I was unable to recognise their true wonder. Much of this I now ascribe to a sense of alienation that has plagued me all my life, born of a deep sense of abandonment and disconnection that I felt in childhood. This perception came to a head at age six when I was sent to what for brevity’s sake, I shall call boarding school.
I would not have felt the periodic separation from my family quite so keenly had I earlier in life known that natural bond (and its security) with my parents. Sadly, the failings of my father and the pressures upon my mother meant that I was raised as an infant by my grandmother and nursemaids. Consequently, being sent away for most of my school life was overall a negative experience which produced in me a tendency to detach from people—and, I now realise, places.
That I would drift away from the very countryside I so loved was perhaps inevitable. It was a concerted effort on my part to overcome my inner struggles that led me to reconnect with it once again. This project was born at the beginning of that process. I soon found the more progress I made psychologically, the more I reconnected with the rural wonder about me. The Zephyr and the Swallow was my first, lucid response to it. “Forgotten Fields” then describes this journey.
- Berge is Afrikaans for “mountains”; the singular is berg. The former is pronounced “beh-R-guh” with the “eh” (and “g”) in “get” and a trilled “R”; the latter, “beh-R-CH” with a trilled “R” and “CH” the guttural “kccch” sound in “loch”, that is, not the “ck” in “lock”.