Monday, 11 February 2008

Weirdly wonderful weather

Here in this little southwestern corner of Africa, we have a uniquely Mediterranean climate – wet, cold winters and dry, hot summers. For someone who was brought up on the Highveld (where Juno lives – see her posting below on how lekka Jozi is), this took some getting used to.

Western Cape weather is just so infuriatingly well behaved. The seasons segue into each other with bothersomely little notice (and in some areas it’s boasted that all four seasons are experienced in a single day – which I would argue is both excessive and boring, if such a thing is possible). And then, once they settle in, they just last for ever.

In Joburg, by comparison, spring comes with a fabulous fanfare of fragrance – I still can’t smell peach shampoo without experiencing a real ache of nostalgia for the extravagant explosion of densely scented blossom we had every September in our suburban garden when I was a kid.

Autumn was a time of riotous colour – for weeks, the streets were lined with trees in shades of russet so rich that when all the leaves fell and left stark, dark branches outlined against the fierce blue of the Highveld winter sky, you could almost (almost) bear it.

As a translocated Joburger I’ve always missed the tempestuous electricity of summer-afternoon thunderstorms – when my mother, who couldn’t swim and was apparently also clueless about the potentially fatal effect of lightning on water, naively allowed us to frolic in the pool while the thunder crashed down around our ears, driving us into ever-escalating frenzies of excitement.

And trading the Highveld winters, when the static electricity caused by the dryness would make my hair stand on end and shock me every time I touched a door handle, for the seemingly endless chilly damp of the Western Province, was hard.

So this weekend’s bizarre weather here in the climatically boring western Cape Boland, while causing consternated frowns on the faces of every farmer in the valley and for several miles beyond, and provoking much discussion about global warming (what else?), thrilled me to the very core of my being.

In a summer climate where dryness is the watchword and drought is more or less perennial, it was weird to experience actual humidity yesterday. My daughter, a born-and-bred Capetonian, was perplexed to discover that she couldn’t get dry after having had a shower. And her friend R was annoyed to find that her hair straightener (without the use of which she is simply unable to show herself in public) didn’t work – the ambient damp recreated her curls, whether she wanted them or not.

By Sunday afternoon a huge cloud cover had moved in, blanketing the vastness of our valley like a duvet. Under it, we stifled: the air was preternaturally still; even the cicadas weren’t indulging their usual ear-splitting mating rituals. Dips in the pool didn’t help: the water just warmed up on our bodies when we got out; evaporation wasn’t possible because there was so much moisture already in the air.

When the thunder began rolling down the valley, the animals (all, like my daughter, born and bred in the western Cape) ran around looking frightened and confused. The cats tried to crawl under the cupboards; the dog, whose neural system doesn’t operate on all cylinders anyway, rushed about the garden barking wildly.

Then lightning split the heavens and the rain came down. Crashing, pouring, driving, bucketing, roaring down. The landscape turned an eerie shade of yellowy-green, as if a bunch of glo-sticks had broken in the sky. It was absolutely glorious!

And the cherry on top was the explosion of flying ants. Who knows how long they’ve waited for these exact climatic conditions to trigger their rebirth – we haven’t had weather like this in the eight years I’ve lived here – but suddenly they came pouring out of the ground, whirring upwards on agitated wings like little tornados.

The farmers are furious: their grape-picking season has been truncated, because you can’t pick wet grapes and by the time the earth dries out the crucial time-window in which to harvest will be over. And I’m sorry for their loss, but for a few brief hours I remembered being a child again, living in the anarchic splendour of the Highveld weather. There was so fantastically much of it!

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SaintedMummy said...

"The landscape turned an eerie shade of yellowy-green, as if a bunch of glo-sticks had broken in the sky. It was absolutely glorious!" Dude, it's your writing that is absolutely glorious!

Muriel said...

You've made my day.

meggie said...

I could feel that humid weather, with your brilliant depiction in words. I sympathise with the children, cats, dog. I get frantic too, & we have so much of it.

Juno said...

I'm nominating this entry for a blog award in the Best Original Writing on a South African Blog. I think it's just brilliant Mur