Going Home – Part 1
Strathalbyn, South Australia
His eyes were fixed on the eastern sky as the first tinge of steel-grey light defined the jagged teeth of the darker peaks. As the canopy warmed his father’s voice brushed his ear, sotto voce, lest he defile the silence.
‘Here she comes.’
‘Eos, of course. She’s just dropped her misty veil from the shoulders of the mountains.’
‘I can see pink streaks: is that her?’
‘They’re her rosy fingers drawing back the curtain of the night. Her acolytes are following. See? It is said, by those who know such things, their sable cloaks are made from the finest gossamer.’
‘It’s a thread spun by very talented spiders.’
‘Are they the ones carrying the pots of gold?’
‘Who: the spiders?’
‘Ah, Dad! No! The acolytes!’
‘Liquid gold, it is, to gild the ridges: they work fast, though by my reckoning, they’re cutting it pretty fine this morning: they’d want to get a move on.’
‘Because Helios is on their heels and they best not be in his path.’
‘Will he run them over?’
‘He very well might. He’s in a fierce hurry and he’ll stop for nobody, especially in these champagne months of long days and short nights. Consider this: if he was to pull up his fiery steeds for every Tom, Dick and Harry who ran across his road, sure he’d never get through the day.’ His father pointed: ‘There they go, sailing west; just in the nick of time, too.’
Silver clouds flared to vermilion as their billowing sails drifted across the molten pinnacles of rock. Refracting shafts of soft melon light spun upwards and outwards, while the valley lay breathless beneath, waiting for its share.
The boy stood transfixed as a brilliant blood-orange disc rose above the ink-blue summits.
‘A wee bit red in the face this morning, don’t you think: age must be catching up with him.’
‘Is Helios old: will he die, like Grandpa?’
‘No, it’s only people who grow old and die: gods are immortal.’
The sun cleared the massif to flood the valley with light and stir the air with its warm breath. Grasses bowed and whispered their welcome: a spear of gold noiselessly splintered the lake below. Moments later, the sward was hushed, as if by a gesture; the lake’s mirror repaired and a curlew greeted its reflection with a plaintive cry. The disc mellowed and rose higher.
Andrew, the man, lifted his gaze from the water. He had made many journeys here from his home as a boy when he and his father would tiptoe from a slumbering house. Quiet as mice they’d set off, the pre-dawn dark gathering them up and delivering them onto this very escarpment, where the storyteller would spread his oilskin coat on the cold turf, take his flask of tea and two cups from his satchel and declare: ‘Sitting in the cheap seats is a good place to be: right at the centre of the drama.’
Andrew had come a long way to reunite with the spirit of the place and with the man who had evoked such an illustrious cast of dubious pagan players to people his play. His boyhood interrogation of his father had been a well-rehearsed ritual: he knew by heart the answers; the mix of myth and meteorology, geography and geophysics and, as he found out later, the sheer, delightful distortion of classic sagas expounded by a man who could weave magic and fill his fledgling son the food of wonder.
The stories told taught him to be acutely observant: to seek in the landscape the subtle changes wrought by light and shade, heat and cold: the waking and the waning of the seasons. He learned to see Helios as an expert in fine art restoration, skilfully working to remove the night’s grimy varnish from masterpieces placed daily before him: sponging away the opaque veil of morning mist; bringing forward the vivid colours, the subtle hues and tinctures, the tones and shades of the sedges, reeds and grasses, the bushes and trees, the blossoms and the layers of brown bog that lay beneath.
His father would strip a rosemary stalk of its pines, crush them in his fist and scatter the scented needles skyward in a sweep for him to catch their savour. He would conjure images of Helios stirring the saffron and violet heads of the gorse and bell heather with his brushes to coax the blooms into their gaudiest gowns, then, fanning the canvas with his breath, he’d release the heady aroma of coconut and the earthy fragrance of moss and herb to mingle and waft on the perfumed air.
These pictures, Andrew reflected, had hung in the attic of his mind for so long they had almost entered the realm of unreality: exaggerated imaginings to be dismissed as the saccharine sentiments of a home-sick tragic; a placebo to suck on to conceal the pain of displacement. On his long journey across the continents his dread had been that it wouldn’t be the same; that recall and reality would present as two fighting cocks flung into a pit, knowing one had to die when the other was confronted. Now, standing down the years among the bog cotton, he was bearing witness to his affirmed memory of childhood when he had stood here, solid and rooted and sure of his place in the world.
To be continued tomorrow …
Bio: Anthony likes to call this piece a collection of memories from afar of an Irish childhood.