Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A monastic lifestyle down at Milkwood Glen

Milkwood Glen: A relaxed environment.
In a post I wrote elsewhere on this blog almost a year ago, I said the time had come to release a society that “desperately tries to repress anything it does not understand and that does not follow today’s economic rules” (an American astrologer’s words in quotes). I have my own path to follow, I declared.

Well, I meant what I wrote, but I had little idea about the direction in which my path might lead.

Since then, Estelle and I have moved from our timber cottage in the forest to a house bought by my son at Milkwood Glen, about five minutes walk from the sea at Keurboomstrand, near Plettenberg Bay. This is a beautiful verdant place with, as the name implies, plenty of milkwood and other trees. Trees, shrubs and flowers flourish here. We do miss our forest walks with the dogs (and sometimes the cats, too) and we miss the calls and sightings of the wonderful variety of birds, including the regular chatter of low-flying Knysna loeries. But being on the edge of the ocean brings within easy view a new collection of wildlife, most notably whales and dolphins.

Wide open: Keurbooms Beach with Robberg on the horizon.
One late afternoon recently, when the sea was like a pond, a large shoal of fish appeared to be moving across the bay and seabirds plunged at it with abandon. At the same time, in small groups all over the bay, dolphins were also feeding freely. When, like small children, they had had enough and were full of energy, they did loops out of the water and surfed the breakers in a frenzy of pure joy.

Yesterday evening we had another surprise show of pure glory. As the sun set on Robberg peninsula, across the bay from us, a dead-calm ice-blue sea met a pink sky as the breakers rushed gently to shore. The colour of the distant Tsitsikamma mountains was a sharply defined deep blue. Berg wind conditions clear the air and bring the environment into sharp focus, retouching it with magical colours.

We returned to the beach this morning and the sea was as calm as it can be, softly ironed by the gentle north-westerly. But this time nature provided additional delights. Two whales wallowed serenely a couple of hundred metres out. An ocean safari boat soon arrived with a full load of red life-jacketed whale-watchers. But it was not an intrusion and must have provided those tourists with the kind of experience that is beyond description back in London or Berlin. The colours of the boat and the life-jackets reflected brightly in the still water as the whales showed a leisurely fin here and an unconcerned tail there. Back on the beach, the tide had strewn a million intricately detailed shells and we collected pockets full as we walked.

In the man-made past year, of course, the recession has bitten deeper for many of us. We resist, but it persists. Estelle is working some nights at the rehab in Plett and at the vet shop and surgery some days. I still have some newspaper work (and a very small pension), but, in Estelle's absence, I am now quite largely engaged in house-husbandry. Yes, house-husbandry, as in househusband instead of housewife. It’s an occupation which for some reason I don’t seem to mind too much and I even take some pride in washing up (it could simply be a socially accepted form of obsessive-compulsive disorder), hanging up the laundry, sweeping the patio and shopping for groceries. I try to approach these tasks with what Buddhists call mindfulness, which teachers say can be interpreted as “unconditional friendliness” towards what is happening in the present moment, and appreciating it for what it is, without judgment.

Buddha: He likes cooling off in water.
 I also walk Buddha our Newfoundland dog around the village. He is much loved here because, like his revered namesake, he is unconditionally, and uncontrollably, friendly. Buddha loves to carry bags of any description, so when you come across a family who have just moved into a holiday house for the weekend, and are busy unpacking their groceries, Buddha charges up, desperate to help carry. The sight of him, because of his black coat and large size, can be quite alarming, but shock soon turns to unconditional friendliness. Buddha also loves to cool off in the water, but prefers pools to waves.

Birthday hike: Estelle on Robberg on the eve of her 60th.
 When you add to my domestic activities reading, writing and daily meditation, you come to the conclusion that I live a pretty monastic lifestyle which, in spite of earlier ego-resistance, I am now learning to accept. A cutting in my little book says “transcendence arrives when you embrace the life that is given”.

Many people in this area are familiar with the financial struggle which can follow making a commitment to this most beautiful part of the world. It seems to breed a toughness and self-reliance – a kind of battle-hardened acceptance which lies side by side with a love of doing your own thing in a lovely place. If your fridge or TV needs attention, you don’t book it in for repairs with hundreds of others, or, better still, buy a new one. The repairman, who you know from the old days, comes to your house and fixes it with good humour and goodwill, and you pay him an undeniably fair sum in cash. And the appliance works better than ever.

Anyway, to get back to the point. My situation is such that I have been forced, or rather provided with the opportunity, to look at things differently. It’s all about perception. I’m learning to find “greater joy, deeper peace, more certain wisdom and more loving relationships”, in the words of an eminent spiritual teacher. But, of course, I’m still a student with common weaknesses.

Concert time: Charley and Anna with Missy.
 My daughter Melissa and her husband Charles live on a farm on the other side of town. Charles, a horticulturist, is the son of legendary veterinarian Andre Reitz whom I have known since the days when I bred Aberdeen Angus cattle in the area with my late father-in-law. Charles and Missy have provided us with delightful twin granddaughters who are sure to teach us plenty in the coming years. And we hope to teach them something, too. And apart from providing us with a home, our son Alex continues to inspire us with the work he does in the world of wildlife (and human) conservation and the almost weekly updates on the new and exciting opportunities he draws to himself.

I still write travel stories, as you can see below, but these days I prefer going to the many interesting South African destinations rather than doing long hauls overseas, even in business class and staying in fancy hotels. I cherish the memories of some of my overseas travel, but my tastes have changed. For example, thanks to Alex and his network of associates, in August we are going on a walking safari as a family with my brother and his wife, our children and their partners, in a remote part of Ngala private game reserve, staying in a tented camp complete with ranger, tracker and cook. Alex is a veteran ranger and professional tracker himself, so when we get into the bush we should know exactly what we’re looking for, and at.