Blog 11 - The Veil of the Dragon
It was only a six hour drive, but it felt like we travelled off the edge of the world. When we left Johannesburg early that morning it was cold and rainy. But still very much the city. The long highways that pulled us away from the big smoke gave no indication of the realm into which we were heading. The realization that things were different happened gradually. It came with the mist. That cold white, that thickened as we drove into it, muffled all sounds from outside. Approaching cars arose so quietly, their lights dim, all but extinguished by the cloud, they appeared to be no more than faded ghosts passing on their way to the valley below. All that existed was the sound of the windscreen wipers, the quiet breathing of the passengers and the music. Even that seemed to fade in and out as we wound our way higher into the Mountains of the Dragon.
The Drakensberg, the spine of our land, that rugged haunt of leopard and lammergeyer, baboons and black eagles, otters and porcupines. None of it could be seen in the veil that hung all around us.
We turned off the highway and headed deeper into the wilderness. The road lost its edges, narrowed, twisted and turned. It was slow going; the potholes, the sudden disappearances of the verge kept us vigilant and alert. We could see no more than five or ten yards in front of us and we kept climbing higher.
Then, a gate with the sign “Injisuthi” appeared and we crept through into the small valley. With the rain dripping around us we found our cabins and quickly unpacked the vehicle. We could hear the river rushing along below and could make out the foothills of the mountains that surrounded us. It was beautiful. It wasn’t Jo’burg. The campsite was quiet. Mist hung like memories in the thorn trees scattered across the flat, rough lawn and the smell of woodsmoke drifted past, promising warmth and tea.
The next day began early for some of us, while the rest drifted in and out of sleep, only to rise drowsily at ten. I confess it was only the promise of scrambled egg that finally got me out of bed. Breakfast was a lingering affair as we crunched our way through rusks, copious amounts of coffee and conversation. It was the kind of day one expects in the mountains. Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel cheated if I don’t have mist, rain, cold and log fires when I’m there. Each, left to their own devices, followed their own inclinations and hiked, fished, read or flitted in and out of each other’s cabins for more tea and conversation. There was no itinerary, no agenda, no programs planned and for that I was grateful.
Very quickly the slough of the city fell away and it became hard to remember that days actually had names. The second day there dawned with the sun melting away the mist. As each layer departed, more and more of the mountains could be seen. They rose, ridge after ridge, soaring higher and higher into the clean, blue sky. We were surrounded by soaring buttresses, dramatic cutbacks and rampart after rampart. A fire had raged across the mountain some time before and now the regrowth was pushing its way through the blackened remains of vegetation. The ferns, curling and brilliant had turned the mountain into a vast green carpet lying lushly, softly over the ragged foothills and crags. On the other side of the firebreak was Africa; the grass harsh, dry and almost white with desperation for water, and on our side it was the imagined Ireland. Startlingly green, and soft.
A short hike out of the campsite brought us to the yellowwood forest. It was a welcome relief from the heat of the day. The yellowwoods rose high above us, the soil, dark and damp beneath our feet. We followed the river, crossed at a narrow bridge and found ourselves at a small waterfall. It was pleasant to sit on the rock, our feet in the icy water rushing past over golden rocks, enjoying the shade.
We climbed higher on to the grasslands and made our way past the old kraal and dipping tank, the rocks blackened with age and fire. The mountains were too irresistible for some and they turned off and made their way towards loftier areas, while the others headed back down towards the camp.
That afternoon we went to the gorges. Here, children and adults alike frolicked in the freezing water of the pools, clambering from one rock to another, slipping and sliding as they made their way to the low hanging, but thunderous waterfall where they stood gasping with cold and delight as it pounded down on their shoulders. The climb out of the gorge was, for those of us who are unfit, breath-taking, literally.
That night, lying on picnic blankets, lanterns turned off, soft singing weaving through us and blessings being passed from one to another, it was easy to feel God around us. Especially as we could see a vast cloud of stars and planets hanging in the dark night sky above us. That wonder, often hidden by the city as it melts into the night, staining it with its dirty orange smog was magnificent. The night sky framed by the mountains was back, clean, and displayed across it was the reassurance of glory.
The way back was completely different to our arrival. The sun blazed and small African homesteads, villages and roads lay across the grasslands. Cattle, goats and skinny dogs ambled with blissful unconcern as we drove carefully around them. Some of the children saw the car and took up the typical beggars’ stance. But not all of them. The villages baked in the sun waiting, like Brigadoon, for the night and white mist to descend and cover them, completely hiding them once more in the icy, cold cloud.
GUEST BLOG - Charlene Raddon. "Life in the Good Old Days". When Everyone was High or Drunk!
Welcome to Charlene Raddon, the lady who designed the cover for "Harcourt's Mountain". She is also an author with Tirgearr Publishing and her latest novel is "The Scent of Roses".
Thanks so much, Charlene for sharing your fascinating insight into why the good old days were so good.
"Food in the nineteenth century wasn’t as wholesome as many of us think. Contamination was rife, even among foods prepared at home, on the farm or ranch. Few understood about germs, bacteria and E. coli. Even then, food was tainted by foreign substances, chemicals, even fesses. By the 1840s, home-baked bread had died out among the rural poor and those living in small urban tenements, which were not equipped with ovens.
In 1872 Dr. Hassall, the main health reformer and a pioneer investigator into food adulteration, demonstrated that half of the bread he examined had considerable quantities of alum. While not poisonous itself, Alum could lower the nutritional value of foods by inhibiting the digestion. The list of poisonous additives from that time reads like the stock list of a wicked chemist: strychnine, cocculus inculus (both hallucinogens), and copperas in rum and beer; sulphate of copper in pickles, bottled fruit, wine, and preserves; lead chromate in mustard and snuff; sulphate of iron in tea and beer; ferric ferrocynanide, lime sulphate, and turmeric in Chinese tea; copper carbonate, lead sulphate, bisulphate of mercury, and Venetian lead in sugar confectionery and chocolate; lead in wine and cider; all were extensively used and were accumulative in effect, resulting, over a long period, in chronic gastritis, and, indeed, often fatal food poisoning.
Dairies watered down their milk then added chalk to put back the color. Butter, bread and gin often had copper added to heighten the color. In London, where ice cream was called “hokey-pockey,” tested examples proved to contain cocci, bacilli, torulae, cotton fiber, lice, bed bugs, bug's legs, fleas, straw, human hair, cat and dog hair. Such befouled ice cream caused diphtheria, scarlet fever, diarrhea, and enteric fever. Meat purchased from butchers often came from diseased animals.
One of the major causes of infant mortality was the widespread practice of giving children narcotics, especially opium, to keep them quiet. Laudanum was cheap—about the price of a pint of beer—and its sale was totally unregulated until late in the century. In fact, the use of opium was widespread both in town and country. In Manchester, England, it was reported that five out of six working-class families used opium habitually. One druggist admitted to selling a half gallon of a very popular cordial, which contained opium, treacle, water, and spices, as well as five to six gallons of what was euphemistically called "quietness" every week. Another druggist admitted to selling four hundred gallons of laudanum annually. At mid-century at least ten proprietary brands, with Godfrey's Cordial, Steedman's Powder, and the grandly named Atkinson's Royal Infants Preservative among the most popular, were available in pharmacies everywhere. Opium in pills and penny sticks was widely sold and opium-taking in some areas was described as a way of life. Doctors reported that infants were wasted from it—'shrunk up into little old men,' 'wizened like little monkeys'.
Kept in a drugged state much of the time, infants generally refused to eat and therefore starved. Rather than record a baby’s death as being from severe malnutrition, coroners often listed 'debility from birth,' or 'lack of breast milk,' as the cause. Addicts were diagnosed as having "alcoholic inebriety," "morphine inebriety," along with an endless list of manias: "opiomania," "morphinomania," "chloralomania," "etheromania," "chlorodynomania," and even "chloroformomania"; and - isms such as "cocainism" and "morphinism." It wasn’t until WWI that the term “addiction” came into favor.
Opium was at first believed to be a medical miracle and became the essential ingredient in innumerable remedies dispensed in Europe and America for the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, asthma, rheumatism, diabetes, malaria, cholera, fevers, bronchitis, insomnia, and pains of any sort. One must remember that at this time the physician's cabinet was almost bare of alternative drugs, and a doctor could hardly practice medicine without it. A great many respectable people imbibed narcotics and alcohol in the form of patent medicines and even soft drinks. The reason Coca Cola got its name is because it originally contained a minute amount of cocaine, thought to be a healthy stimulant, and a shocking number of “teetotaling” women relied on daily doses of tonics that, unknown to them, contained as much alcohol as whiskey or gin. Of course it was no secret that men imbibed alcohol at alarming rates and alcoholism was rampant. The result was a happy but less than healthy population.
So, is it any wonder the nineteenth century became known as “the good old days”?"
Charlene Raddon is the award-winning author of five historical romance novels set in the American West. Four of these are now available as e-books. A fifth, Taming Jenna, will be released in November. Charlene’s paperbacks can be found through used book stores. Her e-books are available at Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and other e-book stores.
Well, despite the lack of electricity and having to try to write the next adventure via a generator, it's a beautiful day, I have more "likes" for my page and another five star review. This one is special.
Traditionally, historical romance, as far as I am aware, falls solely into the domain of a female readership. Which means one is missing out on 50% of the population.
So it's especially gratifying to get not only a review from one of the other 50% but also a five star one to boot! Thanks Mike!That makes 3 five star and 2 four star reviews on Amazon! And 2 five stars and 3 four stars on Goodreads. So, yeah! Whoohoo!
Stand back! I have an imagination and I'm not afraid to use it!