Over the years there is a place on the east coast of South Africa that we have visited often. It is a place of sanctuary and refreshing for us and has been more constant in our lives even than the homes we have lived in. It is a place where the prayers of those who stay there can be felt as you step through the front door, breathing in the salt air, delighting in the fact that, at last we have arrived and now we can relax. The walk that this brief passage describes is one of the many joys this place offers us.
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. Matthew 17:1
With dogs and children bouncing around us we left the house after tea, when it had cooled enough for us to walk. It was a holiday ritual, this walk at the end of the day. Night draws in early here, a reprieve from the oppressive heat of midday, and this time was a grasping of the last hour of daylight before the long hours of darkness.
For a little while we walked along the road, holding dogs and little ones in check. But then we reached the gap in the fence – left especially for people like us, and squeeze through into a wide expanse of green grass and space. Checking that all was safe we let dogs and children go free and tramped up the slope behind them as they raced ahead, delighted at the holiday freedom of it all. What a wonderful experience to see them able to run and laugh and play safely in such a place. The slope flattened and we strode up the broad lawns, watching for birds in the trees that bordered the walk. We never knew what treasures there may be, hiding in the security of their spreading branches.
The trees closed in ahead of us – we could see through a clearing that the slope continued steeper again, but that was not the way we would go this day. We turned away from the broad lawns and entered the dark and secret world of the forest. This was a precious pocket of natural bush, where monkeys and orioles and snakes live. Its coolness was welcome, its darkness and mysterious ambience quieting children and dogs. We did not have far to walk along this peaceful, shadowed path before we came again to open spaces and sunshine and light.
Once again the younger ones ran ahead, knowing now where we were going. We followed at a more sedate pace, but revelled too in the mellow light and the cooler rays of the sun. We were still climbing a gentle slope to the small cluster of trees ahead and the bench we could see beneath them.
And suddenly there before us was the splendour of this walk. We had reached the top of this long, gentle hill – to find the world dropped away revealing more rolling lawns, a row of trees and the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean as far as the eye could see. This was a favourite place. The suddenness of the view before us never failed to delight us. Once, with binoculars, we had seen whales blow; often there were ships or sailing boats; sometimes threads of cormorants flying past.
We sat on the grass or the bench in the shade and drank in the beauty of the scene before us. Even the little ones and the dogs would rest, temporarily wearied by their race to the top. At last, as the sun began to sink more rapidly behind us, we began the steep descent to the lawns below. The littlest ones clung to our hands whiles the older ones went ahead as fast as they dared. When, we wondered, would we walk this way again? Whenever it might be, the memory of that hilltop would be with us until we were here again – and that, for the moment, was enough.