Last week, for the first time in 40 years, Koos Burger wept.
He’d had to stand by and watch helplessly as the living labyrinth he had meticulously planned “Path to higher plane”, Echo, December 10, 2015), planted and nurtured, was burnt to ash by the fires that ravaged the far south.
He is a grounded man, and he met with the False Bay Echo days later; but the pain of it was alive in him.
He showed the last photograph he took of a little bloom, just the day before the fires. It is going to be added to the flower boards he has created which showcase each month’s flowers in bloom, with their proper names.
Kooshasphotographed every flower in that field. About R100 000 was spent on clearing the area of alien vegetation. And now it is just black ash.
At 3km long, that labyrinth wasn’t just the longest in South Africa, it was a labour of love - a “labourynth” if you will - which gave 3 200 people access to nature, and themselves, in ways they had not experienced before.
And it is these people who have picked Koos up. In the way his labyrinth did for them, when they walked it.
“You know, you just live your life and you do what you think is good, but you never know what the real impact is on others. They tell you, but I am a doing man, I don’t talk about things - I do them. And now,” he pauses to regain composure, “now these people are coming back. And every one of them has pledged help. Money, time, plants...” he said. “And now they are here, doing things - for the labyrinth.”
This groundswell of support has soothed the scalding loss for Koos, whose hands have shaped the way for more than 1 800 plants and bushes, of a staggering indigenous variety, to take root in that land.
The original labyrinth was medieval in design, and hewn by one man’s vision.
But there is wonderful news: there will be another. Koos will rebuild.
“I am now carried on the good spirit of the people who have called and visited and pledged their hands,” he says. “I also know something now about losing something that you have made with your own hands, the value of that.”
We sit on the cool balcony of his home on the Rotary campgrounds, and from where we are, the remains of the labyrinth are hidden from sight. It took a couple of days before he could face it.
“I’ve sort of had to let the ground mourn, too,” he said. “We can be in shock and we have brains. But how must the field feel?”
He said he understood now that what had been created in the labyrinth was a living thing, that it had its own energy. “It wasn’t a paved thing, it was growing thing. The bush definitely has its own energy,” he said.
He highly praised the NSRI team which fought the flames and saved the Rotary camp, and then told the story of the wind change, much later in the afternoon, which turned south-west, and pushed the flames towards the laby- rinth.
“I stood and watched it, and all I could think was, nou-ja, tonight the fire is walking the labyrinth.”
But two days on, Koos is heeding the call of the people who have walked his labyrinth.
He places a photo taken by a drone in front of me. “Now see here, I want to plant trees along this area, here and here,” he says. And this corner here, no man, I must do that again, it’s not perfect.”
He pores over the design, and already he has plans to improve on the original.
There is a fund that has been set up by locals who want to see the labyrinth take root again, and Koos has been asked to produce lists of what is needed in terms of plant donations.
His list is short: Coleonema album; confetti bush, Muraltia spinosa; tortoise berry skilpadbessie, Helichrysum petiolare; everlasting kooigoed, Searsia crenata (Rhus crenata) dune crowberry, Searsia lucida (Rhus lucida) glossy crowberry, Eriocephalus africanus; wild rosemary, kapokbossie, Leonotus leonurus; wildedagga, Salvia africana-lutea; brown sage and Salvia africana-caerulea; blue sage.
The rest he plans to structure and buy from cash donations closer to the plants’ individual planting times.
And there has to be a fence.
A fence? That’s new.
“Well you see: most of what is burnt won’t regrow. Some bulbs may survive. But most of what can regenerate, will grow from seeds. Those seeds are under the ash. When the first rains come in April, they should settle and grow,” he said.
So, why the fence?
“Because people are walking on the field - right over the burned labyrinth, with their dogs. This will dislodge any surviving seeds, and add to soil erosion: and then we will have lost everything,” Koos says.
That, more than the fire, has tested his hope.
He is going to put up signs to discourage the walkers and their dogs, but if this does not work, he will be forced to build a fence to save the last vestiges of regenerating his dream.
“I am so humbled by the goodwill of people who have offered their help. The first labyrinth was mine. But this next one will be the people’s labyrinth,” he said. And for the first time, there is a look I recognise on Koos’s face.
He has layers of plans, formulating.
“I think,” he says, nodding gently, “The next labyrinth may just be much better than the first.”
Gen Pagpa of the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre is part of a Buddhist group who have walked the labyrinth many times.
“The labyrinth is a precious jewel in the heart of the deep south and Koos worked so hard, with humble dedication to provide this wonderful gift of peace and inspiration for the local and wider community. I am very glad to hear that the labyrinth will rise again - go Koos and team,” he said.
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