Newlands Forest is a storehouse of all things exquisite, invigorating and soul enhancing in creation. It’s a refuge and a sanctuary to more than just birds, trees, fynbos and bugs. It’s also a sanctuary for the human soul.

Situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, the Forest is considered to be one of the country’s protected areas, housing at least nine plant species not found anywhere else in the world. Some of them endangered – a couple critically so.

The trees reach far into the sky and are densely gathered together in large areas of forest shouldering steady pathways. The pathways, too, are far reaching and criss-cross each other in a maze of inclines and declines that stretch the imagination as far as it stretches the muscles. It’s a treasure trove for dogs to run loose and free in.

We often go to Newlands Forest to take in some stealthy exercise. Usually on Sunday mornings when hubby isn’t working. We park in the designated parking area, take up our roughly carved out walking sticks, and then mingle with the crowd that’s usually there. It’s always friendly – greeting strangers like they’re friends and coming together like community ought to. Even the dogs like each other.

Sunday past, we were there again. And again it proved to be a sanctuary for the melangé of hikers, runners and strollers decorating its pathways. Hubby and I were intrigued by the almost limitless amount of reasons to walk around in pure wonder and awe at the abundance of beauty surrounding us. Hubby was relieved I hadn’t brought my camera with me this time. I was too. For this time there was no stopping to capture this and capture that and capture, capture, capture. This time I simply wanted to see and capture with my soul.

What I didn’t want to see, though, was the unfamiliar. The risks, and the danger and darkness marring the image of pure and tranquil captured on the pin-board of my soul. I didn’t want to see a woman, face spread in dread, approaching us to ask if we had seen Darby, the pet-dog she had just lost!

She was anxious and flustered and understandably so. Darby wasn’t hers. He was her sister-in-law’s little, black Doberman Pinscher. And she couldn’t find him. She had already searched and re-searched all Darby’s familiar spots, but he was gone, seemingly lost.

We helped search. We called his name, whistled for him to come out in the open and away from the density of the forest so we could see him. But there was no Darby. We, too, treaded new ground on years-old pathways hoping he’d come jolting out of the thicket of trees, plants and weeds, as fast as he bolted into them. But he was silent – absent.

Others searched too. Soon we were crossing paths with them, each asking the other if we had seen Darby. But still no one had.

My heart hurt. I didn’t want to imagine Darby lost, in the dark of this forest and the freezing night air. So I climbed higher still along the slope of the mountain, calling, whistling and hoping he would just growl or something.

Sadly, it soon became time to leave. As we sauntered down the exit pathway, Darby was still not found. I prayed he would be, for the sake of that sweet pet being rescued from ravaging fear and probably freezing to death.

I also prayed for Taryn, who had innocently released him into freedom from the leash and was now terrified for him and for her. What would she tell his owner? And what would she tell herself, if Darby was never found and she never knew if he even survived the Forest? Darby had bolted away from her, suddenly, and speedily. She had followed in haste, but he had already disappeared into the wild. Something had startled him, unexpectedly.

My heart hurt. Not only for Darby, but for the many lost he represented. The many human souls who, in fear, had bolted from the pathway that leads to the sanctuary of the soul. From the safety of the Hand that tugged at the other end of the life-line, calling – calling – to rescue them. I imagined them lonely, crippled with hopelessness, suffering a torment beyond that of the cold of the dark night in a forest situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

My heart? It still hurts. I still search. I still call. Too often, they’re still silent. Absent – like Darby.


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