Mike Rossi

Caesar Head, Clocolan – Eastern Free State

I arrived at the Clocolan turn-off. The air-con kept me cool on this hot dusty, blue-sky Free State afternoon. The shimmering haze bent the countryside – windmills were distorted into a house of mirrors – cows like mutants from a far flung star in a distant galaxy.
Keep to the left and you’ll pass the head of Julius Caesar, neatly beheaded and placed on top of a sandstone hillock. For this sombre occasion Nimbus cast her shadows into a prevailing wind reflecting Caesar regal ending. He looks east, reviewing his African empire, all the way to the majestic Lesotho Maluti Mountains. A blanket of wild flowers lay in front of me – what a good time to have leftover turkey sandwiches. I like mine, simply with fresh chives, mint and seasoning.
And since today was a day of recovery, a healthy cool drink was in need.
It was an extraordinary day. Every ninety minutes Nimbus would change her clothes, and then pour her eyes out. Saddened by my days of waiting, she would build up her dark wings and gush forth again and again. She spent the day rebuilding herself. Her personalities varied according to her mood. Charging across the skies like Nzingha, Queen of the Matamba’s, slaying all her enemies in her path. By early evening she was spent and I was on my way. Blue skies were fading to grey. Not a Dorper or Merino in sight – this is mielie country.

Departing storm over dolerite outcrops, Loxton – Northern Cape

This is sheep country, baaa!! The first summer rains have not arrived – it’s three months late. The land is grey and brittle – farmers are desperate. The dorpers have chewed the karoo bush down to their roots – when the rain arrives, the roots will thrive again.
The weather forecast says today is going be a beautiful black Nimbus day. The itinerary is set. A trip down the R356 to Loxton. Rocky outcrops are strewn along the way. I’m told Bud Spencer’s ex wife, or ex girlfriend now lives in Loxton and grows the most delicious garlic – I’ve come to buy. I open the window to see if my senses can pick up the pungent flavours of Allium sativum. Two hours later, no garlic, but dust is everywhere, killing my taste buds.
As we drove back, storm clouds were gathering. Nimbus was waking up. Her huge black presence is magnified in long rolling balls across the flat Karoo veld, and in ever decreasing sizes as they reach the horizon. Black dolerite outcrops break the horizon line – the pitch-black rocks are a sharp contrast to the tones of grey above. Unexpectedly Nimbus explodes. The torrential rain poured down pummelling the Mercedes. Within minutes the water level was half a meter high, rushing, pushing, shoving, left then right – straight down towards a river we travelled, that now runs through the road. The engine, spluttered, choked; smoke now poured through the bonnet. Then a loud bang . . . silence . . . only the thunderous noise of the downpour pounding the roof as we floated along the Karoo veld with water-filled shoes. Another bang. The Merc was caught on a tree stump. Nimbus was in an unforgiving mood but the tree stump is a lifesaver. I always thought that the definition of insanity was, Chicken Vindaloo vs. Chicken Madras – now it was being tossed around in a German metal box half-filled with rainwater.
Aided by the local police, eventually help in the shape of Conrad Nel arrived. The few hours of rain had turned the brittle earth into a lush green blanket, stretching to all corners of my eyes. The dolerite black rocks gleamed in the dapple light. Steam drifted up from the rich red earth. The Karoo vapours now mingled with the smells of wet dorper wool and the sweet Karoo bush – leaning out of the cab I took several mouthfuls of the air.
The dolerite outcrops looked magical – unable to explain myself I asked Conrad Nel to stop. This moment was never going to be repeated. I felt Nimbus breath as it gushed passed me, bringing the scent of torn grass and ravaged wet earth. Her smile promised redemption. And when it came, her blackened face descended from the heavens in twist and turns as she spiralled corkscrewing across the landscape between exploding lightning bolts. Totally oblivious of my recent life-threatening experience, I stood there, wishing Nimbus would never go away.