Ode to My Mountains

My mountains. They’re not my mountains and I am not Isak Dinesan my-farm-my-people-my-Africa Karen Blixen . But they are the mountains I see every day from my home. My children grew up in their shadows and I grew up in the shade of one over the other side of the border; our farm was fed with the water that ran from the ice that capped Kilimanjaro. So. Indulge me: my mountains.

This evening my footfall fell hard. No dust rose as silky plumes as high as my thigh so  there was no need when I got home to bang my tackies hard on the kitchen step and watch clouds fly, no need to wonder if tapping were enough of if I ought to chuck my Converses into the washing machine for a proper wash. No dust today. Two days ago rain fell long and hard and unexpected. It caught me short on another walk. First a breath of cool air and then the run of something like spray. Individual drops that tipped to that dust so that I could identify where each one had fallen. The breeze blew and dark clouds rushed in and real rain came so that drops all joined up, dot-to-dot and wet the earth with a million tiny kisses so that the ground puckered and was left quite wet cheeked. And I soaked through and joyous. The dogs had to shake, often; halos of water rose around them. I wished I could catch them slow-motion.

So the rain that fell that evening, softly and kindly and with decorum – not like the storms that used to blow up where I lived in my western outpost, those bustled in with blacked coated bossiness, hurling arrows of hot light and stomping about grey-booted and showing off to thunderous applause – the rain that fell here, that evening, with soft kisses and dainty skips, did not strip the earth bone bare and leave it ribbed with gullies. It just came and went and politely laid the dust and rinsed the air.

So that the next morning the sky was bright Persil-for-Coloureds Blue and the mountains stood all clear headed and fresh faced.  They were still there this evening.  A wisp of cloud gathered at Meru’s summit, as if it were enjoying a quiet evening smoke. A ribbon of jet-stream so frayed that its threads are pulled loose and white against a pale sky. Soon it’ll vanish.

Meru having a smoke

And I thought, again, how lucky am I? To walk this walk at the soft end of the African day when the light is all mellow-kind and the night steals softly in. I think of an artist when I witness this expanse of sky and earth and mountains. I imagine she unfurled a canvas, pulled it tight, pondered before washing her background soft blue and punctuating it, at either end, with these two extraordinary mountains which face one another across a valley where Africa spills, where urban sprawl bleeds to scrub and smallholdings and acacia and giraffe. In the Outpost my sky was huge. Huge. But there was nothing to break it. To lend perspective. It was clipboard flat. The occasional outbreak of kopjes the only elevation that pimpled an otherwise, mostly, uninteresting complexion. This is different. This is dramatic!

When the first explorers spied Kilimanjaro, they rubbed their eyes, they thought they were seeing things: a snow cap hovering as a mirage over equatorial savannah.  I grew up beneath one of the mountains and have lived for much of my adult life within sight of her; Kilimanjaro has been a beacon, an anchor, an exclamation mark, You’re Home! I can pick her out from miles away. I point her out to a visitor, she hovers, my mountain, a ghost.

See it, I say.



No, they say, squinting, frowning.

I lean into them and point, arm outstretched, there, I say, see there.



My visitor tips forward, eyes screwed together, flattened palm to brow.

Maybe? they offer hesitantly.

There, I say, there (trying not to sound impatient) see, look between those small hills, to the right of the big tree …


And then she reveals herself, she ripples forward, her icy head thrown back, her blue shoulders shrug, she doesn’t care if my visitors sees her or not. She wears a ra-ra skirt of cloud about her waist: that’s what gives her away.


Oh! Oh! I see her. Oh my.  And in the setting sun, Kilimanjaro blushes with all the attention.

Even pretending to be invisible Kili is glorious. Majestic.

So my walk takes too long because I lose track of time and take picture after picture. But nothing in my tiny screen mimics this enormous sprawling masterpiece I’m tiptoeing through as I step up my pace and turn for home.

Daylight is nearly gone when I get in and the mountains wrap up in velvety black and the sun slides slowly off the edge of my world.


3 Responses to “Ode to My Mountains”

  1. hatsofftosantiago Says:

    truly stunning piece of writing x

  2. Addy Says:

    Beautifully put. Kay has pictures of these majestic mountains and has climbed Kili. They are truly stunning.

  3. Sabine Says:

    This is gorgeous. Pictures and words. I really like your mountains, I feel the same when I see my river.

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