Our tale takes place at end of a long summer. The aging artist is in Mpumalanga, near the hillside town of Waterval Boven, looking for the waterfall pictured belowIMG_20130607_0002 (897x1024) (2)

Boven is your proverbial one horse town. It awaits gentrification. Shabby old buildings in need of a lick of paint rub shouders with new, hopeful ones like the Madonsela Library. We had coffee in a rustic establishment overlooking the grasslands on the edge of town. It is owned by Michael Tellinger, who believes he has found evidence of an ancient civilisation in the vicinity. New Age pilgrims to the African Stonehenge hold trance parties there. The nature reserve around the Waterfalls is a popular rockclimbing site, and so the town lives on as a getaway. But in Pierneef’s day, the centre of town was the extensive railway siding, built by Paul Kruger in his quest to build a line to Delagoa Bay, away from the meddling hands of the British.

Just down the road from the town, we could see the falls, but  accessing them was a problem. The official  entry to the nature reserve wasn’t exactly inviting

Is this where I get my ticket?

Is this where I get my ticket?

Puzzled, we headed back to the town where we spoke to a rockclimber who advised us on a roundabout route. Now we had the right approach to the beast, but there were still challenges

why didn't I bring the Jeep?

why didn’t I bring the Jeep?

We drove our little rented Polo as far as we could then headed into the thick grass, all the while keeping a wary eye out for wild beasts or two legged predators. We made our way through fragrant grasses in the balmy heat with only the sound of birdsong to bother us. Here men had toiled mightily to lay the tracks alongside us, many of them falling to fever. And then we saw the mighty Elands river plunging over the rocks.

white waters ahoy!

white waters ahoy!

We were tantalisingly close to ground zero, to the exact spot. We just needed to be a lot lower down. And here, at the end of summer. the way down was overgrown by a mass of dense shrubbery. Perhaps this explains why, of all the panels, this one, with its ochre grasses, depicts a winter scene. Had agile Pierneef, aged 43, and younger and more determined than your aging scribe, slithered down that slope knowing that the most dramatic composition was there to be had? Or had he got at it from the other side, easily crossing the low winter waters? We spent a couple of hours perched on the edge, drawing and chewing over these questions. We noticed too, that the waterfall has considerably widened since Pierneef painted it; in the 1940s a weir was built at the top of the falls to widen them. And then we turned back, elated at having found the place, and as so often happens, a little frustrated too. We were so very very close….

Watercolours from the edge

Watercolours from the edge

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