Being able to get 3G in Nieu Bethesda, 35 long gravel kilometres away, came as a shock. I spent a few hours answering e-mails at a coffee, wishing I really were on holiday, wishing I really were back at Kliphuis watching the sky change and the poplars turn yellow. Real life, modern life had intruded once more, bursting its way onto my laptop screen with its demands for responses. Then I breathed, shut my laptop.
It was OK. It was all going to be OK. After two nights in Graaff-Reinet, I was back searching for silence again, my city car licking up the tarred bliss of the N9. Maybe it was a hangover, or being on the move again, but I felt a little unsettled. As the road edged past Noupoort, the clouds, heavy and brooding, spat rain at the black specks surrounding a grave. Three kilometres away from Colesberg, I turned onto gravel, juddering past outbuildings, past sheep, over a cattle-grid. And there – at the foot of a koppie, a peach-coloured house, outbuildings, trees.
I had reached Poplar Grove. Antony Osler came out to shake my hand, told me to drive round to the cottage next to the shed. Osler is many things: a lawyer, a farmer, a former monk, and the author of Stoep Zen and Zen Dust. With
exquisite poetry and gentle wisdom, these two books capture the rhythms of a life lived mindfully – a life of Zen – in the Karoo. He and his wife Margie have been hosting silent retreats at Poplar Grove since the late 1980s. Later, he will show me around – we’ll inspect the treehouse he built, the sculptures made of rusting implements and the various cosy rooms to accommodate visitors, some of them carved into the hillside. But in the meantime he heads off for an afternoon nap, leaving me to settle in.