Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America


As a young man, way back in the mists of time, I had a dream of a landscape of rounded, rolling green hills, treeless and covered with a short, richly green grass, that went on forever. Small, clear streams wandered through the valleys between the hills and the sky above was always cloudless and blue. Many years later, I found that landscape in the environs of Pietermaritzburg in Natal, the easternmost province of South Africa. Not only were the hills exactly as I had imagined them, they continued for long miles all the way into Zululand, far beyond the horizon. There is a place near Maritzburg that is called the Valley of a Thousand Hills and that is an underestimate.

When I had the opportunity to walk those beautiful hills, however, I found that it was not quite as I had imagined. Although verdantly green, the grass was tough and hard, too prickly to sit comfortably upon. The soil between the grassroots was also stony and sharp, conflicting with that first impression of a soft, somnolent landscape.

Some time later, my dream of grassy hills was replaced with another. This was of a dry, cold planet where the wind whipped fiercely across the plain, eternally wearing at the land until the planet became a featureless, smooth globe, an endless landscape of leveled and polished rock. There were a few imperfections, however.

In just a few places there remained cracks and deeper valleys beyond the reach of the wind and in these were small streams that could support a sparse vegetation. Here, too, I imagined that people could live, scratching at the bottom of the valleys to raise just enough food to ensure survival. Above them, the jet stream howled its way across the crack, knowing that time was on its side - that one day it would erode down to the level of the deepest valley and all would be left unblemished. The planet would become a perfect stone ball-bearing, rolling forever around a pitiless sun.

On very rare occasions, however, the wind would drop and would allow the people to climb up to gaze across the empty plain. At these times it would be possible to journey across to visit other small communities in other narrow depressions. The people would have to hurry, knowing that the wind could return at any time. To be caught by that wind on the exposed plain was death.

Perhaps this dream explains my apparent obsession with flat landscapes. You may have noticed how I become animated when describing each new approach to a flatter plain than the one before. It may even be possible that somewhere in these Great Plains, the prairie, I might find a land that satisfies this strange urge towards utter flatness. In South Africa, just north of the Cape, there are two semideserts known as the Great Karoo and the Little Karoo. Both are areas as flat as can be desired, yet they cannot fulfill my yearning as the horizons are ragged with distant mountains.

I have been told that in Western Kansas the land is as flat and smooth as a giant's billiard table...


The crazy rich millionare (Charlie Marsh, I believe is his name)that buried a row of late-model Caddies nose-first into the landscape west of Amarillo (which may or may not be call the Caddilac Ranch) must have shared your strange dream, for he also installed a billiard table somewhere in that same vicinity which can only be viewed from the inside of an working aircraft. And ask Kathy if she knows of his Floating Mesa, which is located further west.
Date Added: 01/12/2004

tell me about zambia
Date Added: 27/03/2005

Why do I think I see a story in this dream of a flat planet? Does one lurk somewhere ?

I think of the ocean as flat and ongoing forever and this is beautiful, but in land I like variations. A few hills, some trees, some depressions, marsh, pond, lake, whatever. Flatness that goes on and on sounds very lonely.
Date Added: 27/03/2005

Gone Away
There's a science fiction story waiting to be told in it, Ned, but I doubt that I'll get the time to do it. In a way, that was the reason I did this post - I felt that the landscape had potential and I was happy if it inspired someone else to do something with it.

Yes, there is a lonelines to very flat landscapes but that is a part of their appeal, I think. Travelling around America has taught me that I feel very much at home in such landscapes; it is always a relief to emerge on to the Great Plains when going home to Lawton. Trees get in the way - they prevent you seeing the bones of the land around you.
Date Added: 27/03/2005

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