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Q Is For "Quintessential Karoo"

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “quintessential” as perfectly typical or representative of something.

What is more quintessential than a “windpomp” (wind pump) in the Karoo?

The “windpomp” is planted firmly in the soil, witnessing everything that happens on the seemingly silent stretches of earth called Karoo. It doesn’t whither in the sun or hide from fierce thunderstorms. It doesn’t require a blanket when the frosts arrive or an umbrella when the sun beats down on the land. It reaches down into the belly of the earth to bring life-maintaining water to the animals that roam the plains. It’s always willing to work when the wind arrives, and rests patiently in pacific periods when the air is void of any breeze. It doesn’t require words of gratitude or accolades. No edification is necessary to keep it serving where it is. Without the trusty “windpompe” of the Karoo, very little agriculture would be possible in this arid part of South Africa.

There were two “windpompe” in the yard of one of the houses we rented when i was a child in the Karoo. It pumped water for the alfalfa patch, the grapevine and the fruit trees in the back corner of the garden. It filled a big zinc dam with water, and sometimes we would cool down in that dark pool when the summer afternoons left us wilted like the handful of flowers that braved the sun’s rays in the garden. When the sun set, somewhere between the heat of the day and the evening coolness, you could lie down in the alfalfa, wait for the sky to be dyed from blue, to gold, and then a faded copper before it’s darkened. In the blue hour that hovers between dusk and evening, you’d spot the first star, and you’d think about the day that had passed, and you’d feel thankful.

Thankful for the hot summer sun, the fruit on the trees in your backyard, your loud and chaotic and loving family, and the beauty of the first star in the purple-hued pre-nocturnal sky. Years later you’d think about days like those, and you’d be thankful that you’d been able to have known an uncomplicated life, simple pleasures, fresh air, clean water and sleepy little towns.

You’ll be reminded how the “windpomp” would suddenly creak its blades through the air when the wind caught it after a particularly long hiatus, and how you’d rush to the dam to see how it filled up again, just before it ran out of water to nourish the garden. And you’ll never forget exactly how cool the water was as you held your hand beneath the stream that gushed up from the deep belly of the earth.

The “windpomp” taught me many valuable lessons. For one, it taught me that the things which are essential for nourishment in life are often the most ordinary of things; things that you can hardly see; things that are available to all, but sometimes hidden from plain sight. How elegantly all of Creation was made, that simple things like water could make such a difference in our lives.

And in an arid place such as the Karoo, how simply extraordinary the work that “windpompe” have done in creating oases for man and beast.

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