Ledig House (March – April 2015)

I spent the end of winter at a Writing Residency at Ledig House in Ghent which is in upstate New York (about a two hour train ride from the city). At different times of the year they host musicians, artists, writers and dancers. It’s been running since 1992 so with over twenty years of history it’s a place that feels full of creative energy and memory of past residents. 

Ghent is a small town near Hudson and it’s basically a small farm town with all American charm. Rolling fields, the best steak and friendly people who leave their doors open. It was snowing when I arrived and while everyone else just couldn’t wait for the cold weather to shake off, I was mesmerised. I’ve lived in Durban all my life and the lowest average winter drops to is around 18 degrees. Ghent was – 8 degrees when I arrived. I had my own room with an attic – although I’ve heard that the artists who arrive in summer sleep 2 – 3 people in a room because their studio is the barn). Breakfast and lunch is at your own discretion and you’re provided with a well stocked kitchen and leftovers, supper is cooked for you by chefs who take your dietary requirements into consideration. You have wifi, a laundry room, a library and bikes to cycle the many farmlands. You can also just walk and meet the friendly neighbours. There are usually ten other writers from around the world at the residency and in the weekends, publishers, agents and editors from New York are invited over to visit.

It is silent except for the crunch of snow beneath my boots. The flakes flying into my eyes. I am a character in a story. This is London. This is the Never Ending Story. I am Bastian Balthazar Bux reading a stolen book in an attic. I trudge past the grave through the trees and into the sculpture field. No sound except the silence of snow. The distance is hazy. Snow falling on cedars. We walk here by starlight almost one month later. The snow is melted by then and my heart, a little softer.

The water is frozen. The lady at the house, Claire Darling, tells me a man drowned here swimming one day. She said they didn’t find him for four days until someone thought to drag the pond. The kids listen as she talks, wide eyed, blonde-haired, sucking fingers. Later they laugh, throw dead leaves in the air, take my hand, show me tulips pushing through the ground.

The Loop: a daily 5 km walk passing farmlands and rural suburbs around Ledig House. Once I passed four vultures pecking away at a dead beaver in the middle of the road. Later I found a letter in a puddle. ‘Bill Inside!’ it said. Soggy. Eternally unopened. Its fate undetermined.

It all happens as it should. Every leaf has its place on the ground. Still somehow my eyes shift, flutter, look away, wander. My pulse in my throat, beating like the first sparrow in the trees.

The Abandoned House. March 2015.

The truth is everything is beautiful if you love with all your heart.

One day Okwiri and I hid in the other house. We waited in the darkness. Jaques made jokes about bananas. Salma went back to her room. The sky had a a light in the east. Alien. New York city, we joked.  It couldn’t be, too far away. The Northern lights? Something, as big as a calf streaked across the drive way. Later we discovered it was a giant cat.

That night, my birthday, the outside was not dark enough to match the brightness inside.

She and I, one night, tied his shoes up in a tree. ‘They went for a walk, to see the world’, he said. At night, I could hear the rain on my attic roof.

One evening, while the sun set over the Catskills, recalling another moment on the beach, I rolled down the grass on the hill. Straw stuck in my hands and hair. It felt painful to relive. That was the first night I got sick.

The memory is a blur. Already I’m picking up the corners, turning over edges, trying to find what I missed. The sole solitary figure of a man against a tree.

Nostalgia is something dreadful with beautiful edges.

Hudson, the nearest big town to Ghent is quaint, lovely, charming. It’s also overpriced because rich New Yorker’s have their holiday homes here. It has tiny little train station where the train master brings you bottles of water when you’ve run after the train that you’ve just missed. The town is filled with overpriced antique stores and a main street that leads down to the Hudson River. We read from our novels in a studio on Warren Street. Next door was a tiny Bangladeshi van. They said their beef was halaal but not their chicke.. Later, I heard from the taxi driver that the Bangladeshi community here is large.

This beauty was hidden away behind the hedges in someone’s garden. Ruined history is a beautiful lesson.

‘I recall once, the stumble, the long, long road to summer,’ is something I know I will say two years from now.

Black dog bounding. The horse that wanted carrots. The kids that played in a moving house. The big dark skies. The crunch of snow. The squeaking screen door. The vegetables cooking. The desolate air of a stagnant winter. These are the things I will carry.

‘Come climb our mountain with us. Come watch us ride our bicycles. Come dance with us. Come unbreak yourself.’

Ledig House, April 2015

And then Spring came. With little signal. Just small signs of life dotted across the landscape.

Posted in Art OMI, Chatham, Ghent, Hudson, Ledig House, New York, Residency, Winter, writing, Writing Residency.


  1. Ah, you mean I didn't mention a first moment in the piece? And now I talk of 'another'? I think I meant 'recalling A moment on the beach.' I'll adjust it.

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