The song of the mountains
by Herman Labuschagne

Eden Express article, 14 July 2013


We were crawling up the Montagu Pass in Johnís Rolls Royce. She was a 58íer with hardly 100,000 km on her. Thatís not much at all. But she was old. And hereís the thing about old cars: they are thirsty, their brakes are scary Ė and they only run when they donít break.


We watched her needle anxiously as it poked a stabbing finger into the red. By the time we reached Amandaís Grave she was holding her head back and puffing steam from the bottom of her throat. We stopped and got out to give her a drink and let her breathe. The mountains were very quiet. All that could be heard was a gentle whisper as the breeze caressed the fur of the hills with long, loving strokes. And the patient ticking of her six cylinder engine block.


Somehow I got lost up there at the summit. Lost in a world of old memories. Memories of smoking up the Lebombo mountains in an ancient diesel Landrover in a thunderstorm. Leaking like a sieve. The floor pan a bowl of swooshing red water. My small naked feet burning on the gearbox beside it. I remember hauling maize from the fields in dadís old 1940-something Chevrolet truck. The sing-song gearbox sound as you worked your way to the third and highest gear, and the grating protest at every shift.


Looking through my family albums it struck me how many pictures there were of breathing moments. Like one of great-grandpaís 1930ís Buick in the hunting fields Ė with kudu horns tied to the back, grinding through the thick sand of Portuguese East Africa between cooling-down intervals.


Itís a good thing that old cars have to breathe sometimes. They allow the mountains to sing songs back to you that you have long forgotten.