Pleasant paths

INSIDE the hard cover of the second volume of Joyce Grenfell's autobiography is a soft green sketch of mountains and farmlands. Not many readers outside South Africa would recognize the Jonkershoek Valley, which shelters the historic university town of Stellenbosch. This was one of the ``pleasant places'' of which Joyce wrote so fondly in her book and of which I like to think she sang in her song ``In the green green time of summer.'' Of all that we shared in the 15 years we broadcast together in Johannesburg and London, nothing was more precious to us both than the green time of moon daisies wild roses wild roses moon daisies and buttercups which we came to know among the mountains that dominate the Dutch colonial retreat of Lanzerac.

Joyce once wrote a verse called ``Egotism'' that began I find it an amazing thought to think That all the places I have ever seen Go on existing when I am not there. We often laughed about that and resolved together to resist such fool-ishness.

She once admitted to me that of all the places outside England whose continued existence she remained fiercely concerned about, Lanzerac was most important.

I reminded her that those giant oak trees, low white walls dividing the vineyards, Wimbledon-like lawns, and misty blue peaks had had little difficulty in existing for hundreds of years, and that many of us who lived closer to them than she did could be trusted to take care of them.

This summer -- it always seems to be summer somewhere in the world -- my wife and I decided to visit the Cape and spend a few days in Grenfell country.

I had not been back to Lanzerac since Joyce left us a few years ago except to record a broadcast tribute to her. In retrospect I realize I was possibly guilty of thinking this lovely place might not ``go on existing'' when Joyce was not there, and I wasn't prepared to take a chance.

Now, emboldened by the summer sun and a paperback edition of ``Pleasant Places'' in my pocket, I strode as bravely as I could up the long drive that leads to the front gates. The plane trees touched branches over my head and signaled to the cicadas to sing. Their piercing whistle was muted by the green green leaves of summer. Slanting sunlight seemed to filter away the highest note. The mountains leaned forward to listen. Lanzerac was still very much there ... and near. And so was Joyce.

I was pleased -- not truly surprised -- to find how many people remembered the annual summer visit from Joyce and Reggie Grenfell. A Zulu waiter beamed as he recalled with joy the nkosazana (princess) who had always occupied Room 19. ``Waye muhle,'' he said (``She was beautiful!'').

Marie Rawdon, an octogenarian whose family owns Lanzerac, chuckled to herself as she recalled the fabulous range of gowns Joyce wore to dinner in the evenings.

``When I complimented her on them, she smiled wickedly and said, `A world-class designer, my dear, very famous. But they're all the same pattern. I just wear a different color each night!'''

``Oh, but what a lovely person she was,'' Mrs. Rawdon went on. ``She spread joy wherever she went here at the hotel. And although our other guests knew how famous she was, they respected her desire to be alone with her husband. She was so undemanding, kind, friendly, and amusing.''

Soon my wife and I felt the need to get away from people, too. We followed the path so often taken by Joyce on her bird-watching safaris up the Stellen-bosch mountain. A huge boxer puppy trotted out of a house near the river and joined our expedition. In fact he became the leader ... unafraid of snakes, familiar with trails, good on shortcuts, and asking for nothing but our enjoyment. FROM the mountaintop one looks down on Lanzerac and its vineyards; in another direction, back toward Table Mountain and the sea, with the University of Stellenbosch in the foreground. Looking west one sees the granite turrets known as Twin Peaks, which pierce the setting sun and stand like sentinels at the entrance to the Jonkershoek Valley.

Even on the sunniest of days, a soft white mist cascades through the crevices and whirls into the valley, where it dissolves in the arms of silent breezes.

It was here, I'm sure, that Joyce's attitudes to life were strengthened and consolidated. It must have been here among the tall grasses and tall blue skies that she came to love Africa.

She once had the temerity to say to Walter de la Mare that she thought his line, ``Look thy last on all things lovely, Every hour -- ...'' should read, ``look thy first. ...'' And de la Mare admitted he had written the poem when he was young; had it been written later it might have been different.

``Walter,'' said Joyce, ``never lost his sense of discovery and delight ... and wonder ... which is a kind of gratitude.'' Nor did she.

But I wonder if she discovered, as we did recently, a wildflower as pink and soft as the slanting light that revealed it. It was the gladiolus crassifolius. It stood alone among tousled mountain grasses on a ledge facing the setting sun. It stood unflinching and serene in the green green time of summer.

In years to come a few things may change in the Jonkershoek Valley. But the oaks will stand firm, the mountains will adorn themselves with blue shadows and white mists, and the frail pink gladiolus will continue to smile in the face of the tall winds.

I rather like its South Sotho name, khahla nyenyane, which means ``the small thing that pleases.'' I think it would have pleased Joyce, too.

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