Offbeat – 24 August 2012
Ghost Valley is urbanised and has been sold and developed in extra-large, heartburn-mortgage chunks. The fairy circles are tourist attractions, a couple of minutes to gawk, snap and stretch legs between here and way, way over there.
Facebook keeps my mind busy. There’s always something interesting. A while ago there was a post about a stretch of road where dogs freak out and bark at nothing. It sounds a bit like the stretch of road outside my house, but as the rocks on the pavement don’t move inexplicably, my guess is that the noise outside is just my dogs talking to the neighbours’ dogs or to passing shadows and leaves commuting in the wind.
I can absorb the idea of rocks taking a walk every now and then. Maybe they get bored with the view. A change is as good as a holiday. I wish the dogs would converse in a quieter way, perhaps a couple of soft comments every now and then instead of incessant barking.
There are a lot of strange places all over the place, not just outside my house, and you don’t have to go far to find them. There are a whole bunch of places in the Namib Desert where nothing grows in small, round patches, the ‘fairy circles’. Explanations have ranged from gemsbok resting places to insect excretions to methane gas emissions. Most recently a bunch of scientists discovered the patches were moving, sort of like that computer simulation of pixels, called ‘Life’, the one that got boring for everyone but the geekiest of geeks after about less than a minute.
We don’t have a single hippie with a plank and a length of string, trying to communicate with aliens after one too many brandies either. Those bits are genuinely bald and nobody can be that precise with a spade and a rake when they are drunk. Or that industrious. There are hundreds of thousands of the things.
None of the explanations for the Namib fairy circles quite work out which is fine with me. It’s better to have a strange and inexplicable phenomenon to show to tourists than to have to tell them that all these neat, round, bald patches in the desert are where termites piddled or where the earth broke wind.
There’s also that place just round the corner of the hill in Ludwigsdorf, where the three shadows used to run at night, even when the wind wasn’t blowing. My guess is that the place where we used to sit and watch for them is one of those upmarket houses now, with a big swimming pool and, maybe, lights that inexplicably dim every now and then.
Ghost Valley is urbanised and has been sold and developed in extra-large, heartburn-mortgage chunks. The fairy circles are tourist attractions, a couple of minutes to gawk, snap and stretch legs between here and way, way over there. It doesn’t matter much. It’s the mystery that is important.
I wouldn’t want anyone to solve the riddle of the fairy circles. Nor, I suspect would the tour companies. The person in Ludwigsdorf can call in a handyman or an exorcist. It’s not my indaba.
Mysteries are important. They are the beginning and middle of good stories. What happens when the butler or the wealthy heiress is led away in disgrace, with the hot glares of the ensemble burning on their backs? The world becomes a little less colourful until the next book is opened or another movie is put on to play. Too many mysteries leads to familiarity, and familiarity breeds contempt. After a while the story is a known thing. Without solutions we don’t have to go looking for new mysteries.
Look at the stars. Are they the lights of heaven, souls or gods? Or are they galaxies and stars, balls of burning gas? Look at the mantis. Is it a god, a wicked, lascivious man eater or is it an arthropod with a segmented body, jointed limbs and copper instead of iron in its blood? Sometimes solutions kill the magic as well.
We have amygdalas for a purpose, to make us jumpy and aggressive when we have to be. A little bit of mystery and imagination give those glands a workout, wake us up. If everything were left to science, not magic and fear, the way bone dry scientists who have forgotten Hermes and the Emerald Tablet would have it, life would lived without expectation, need or interest.
Next time our dogs go out to bark at things in the night, I’m going to leave them outside for a minute or two longer.