Just above my computer where I beat out a living, is a large framed photograph representing a patch of the abundance found deep in the Wolkberg. The Wolkberg is near Haenertsberg in the Northern Province, and just four hours drive from Johannesburg. Often as I grapple and struggle for solutions, I gaze into that photograph for comfort and to calm my mind. I remind myself that the valley is there right now: its magic, its mysteries, its small buck, its silence.
HUSH! Listen! It's all there right now!
Despite these constant reminders, I was compelled this last weekend in August 2000, to plunge again into the Wolkberg! It is hard to explain the compulsion. Harder still to describe the great sense of stillness and the wild beauty. I can only urge you – oh Young Intrepid Explorer -- to go! Go yourself! More, than that, it is difficult to say. There are no set routes, no wooden signs with arrows burnt into them, no established campsites. And what’s more, what infrastructure there was, got trashed by the floods around the turn of the millennium (So maybe take a 4X4 for the last 40 kims to the Serala Forest Station as well).
I'd advise the quick route down, the one where the rocks tumble after each other as you step crazy but sure down, and deeper down into the valley. It is a real skaaper with the backpack jolting on your back, and your mind dancing in the mist-blue sky and darting into the red cliffs on either side. And steeper and deeper still until the air is sweet where the Mohlapitse River has swallowed the dusty earth and the rugged bush!
(A word of warning! Take proper river footwear for carrying a heavy pack with soft feet over sharp rocks is fine once, actually it's fine right up until you're lost and its the tenth time!)
So! Easily now, sluip along the bank of the Mohlapitse River until suddenly there is the confluence with Shobwe. Yes, another river crossing -- and look out for faeries! For you are at the beginning of Andy’s Path, the path which leads to the “Wonderwoud.” For those who don’t understand Afrikaans, ‘Wonderwoud’ means ‘wonderful forest’ and in this case, it’s an understatement. Imagine a lush indigenous forest jam-packed with just about everything you ever dreamed you might find in a forest -- visible and invisible alike! So tread as Angels do when they are afraid, which is to say -- not in a rush! This is Andy’s path. It is the path in the photograph. This is the path to the wild place of mystery where my soul lies as a stone at the bottom of a rock pool.
There is the soft rustling in the trees, the sunlight glinting deep in the water. Ssssh! Listen! This is the voice from my wild place: You are the secret I have been holding, you are the answer I am giving back to you. Anyway, that’s what I was told. And be it known that a message is spoken to any one of you Young Intrepid Explorers if only you will keep an ear open to listen!
Well then you might stay awhile and see the bright red-orange flowers spark in the long dry grass and watch the shadows dapple the valley pink. You might wake up and find the mist spiraling on the river and slipping off the mountains in the sunlight.
To exit the place (and always with great reluctance) it is best to tramp further down the Mohlapitse, take your photograph in front of the great circular cliffs, cross the river five more times. Now have a final swim before the long ascent beside a multi tiered waterfall and then up and Up! into the hills beyond.
So concludes a brief description of my latest sojourn. And be it known, oh Young Intrepid Explorer, that when you are on the run from a world too harsh or else your own heart grown too hard, make for the Wolkberg, where you will find your own soul at the bottom of a deep pool.