Today there is smoke in the air. Heat has been building for the past few days. We hope it will lead to rain. The air is thick with dust and smoke. Mountains have retreated behind the blue haze. The rolling tree canopy of our view to the south is defined in coloured layers like two-dimensional theatre props fading into blue.
A gusty wind has been fanning the heavy air. Grass is tinder dry and somewhere a fire is raging- hanging smoke over a wide range. Today we can smell it; yesterday it was just haze.
We are in the north eastern ‘lowveld’ of South Africa. This ‘lowveld’ stretches out beneath the benign gaze of the Drakensberg Mountains. It is a gently undulating heartland of ancient creatures. Harsh and unforgiving in the late dry season when the bones of the earth are laid bare by drought, and the bones of the animals protrude hungrily through dusty hides. It bursts into exuberant growth with the first rains – sticks and stones are cloaked in a soft canopy of verdant green. The air becomes torpid with heat that shimmers off granite boulders and koppies, and there is movement of a myriad life forms everywhere.
It is impossible not to be affected by the seasonal changes here. Tension mounts in people and animals, as all gaze skywards waiting for that build up of clouds that heralds the first rains. People are edgy, fights start easily, neighbours and friends find cause to argue. The temperature climbs, squashing us flat with its fierceness and burning our bare feet when we move on pathways of mirages.
Then the rains come, drenching the hard earth, and pouring off the surface – racing in rivers along roads, filling the dams once more. The smell of first rain should be bottled and sold. It is sweet, and heady – the very breath of life. Our primate souls rejoice in the presence of water once more and the world around us feels invigorated by the gift of water from the sky.
But for now we wait.