Oh September rain
You drench my folded vale.
Your cold and cheerless mist
Like linen, soft and pale.
But you seduce. You persist.
And your verdant prize
Is my Holy Grail.
Gone be fawn and dust.
Out with brown and drought!
It is your sparkling stream for which I lust.
And water for my Trout.
Come grace us with your driving squalls,
And saturate us in your dew.
Oh how I have prayed for you!
August here in the KZN midlands is not a pretty time of year. At the end of a long winter, the entire province is tinder dry, and starting to heat up. We often experience “Berg winds” (For foreigners, that is winds blowing out of the North West over the Drakensberg, and not unlike the Santa Anna’s in California).
These strong winds are hot, and they stir up dust, exacerbated by the fact that a great deal of the veld has been burnt (black soot!). And that which has not burnt often catches fire, giving rise to palls of smoke that colour the sunlight a coppery yellow/brown, and “nyonis” (Zulu for birds….small slithers of grass ash that settle from the sky, miles from a fire).
Ones lips are parched, and if you are out working on a farm or fishing, your hands become like sandpaper, and skin splits. Excema flares up.
My father always claimed that after the fifth berg wind, the rain would come. I count those berg winds every year, because that is one of the most accurate predictors of spring’s first rain that you will ever get.
During this wait for spring rains, tempers are known to flare. Strangely enough the fly-fishing can actually be quite good (barring the days in which it is too windy to cast!) The water is starting to warm, and the fish are getting over their breeding. But fishing the stillwaters often means standing on a bare bank of dried out mud, fishing into a lake which has receded in water level. Again this is not pretty. And even though our rivers open on 1 September, we have seldom had rain by then. In fact I would go so far as to say that spring droughts are almost the norm. So even into September I avoid fishing the rivers. They look dismal. With low water, and the start of hot weather, algae blooms, and rocks are slippery, and as you walk the banks you positively ache for the river to be flushed out by a strong flow.
In contrast, one lives in expectation of the spring rains. In a matter of weeks the landscape will be transformed. Brown landscapes will undergo a metamorphosis , into an abundantly green sea of grass, and spring will have sprung.
Spring can be cold. September is often colder on average than August. And that cold is not conducive to thunderstorms. It is more the realm of mist and drizzle. Typically it arrives the day after the most filthy of berg winds (number five to be precise) . One goes to sleep sweaty and agitated, and wakes in the night to dripping gutters, and in need of another blanket. That drizzle is fine, and swirling, and it gets in everywhere. Even the best rain gear can be useless. But the arrival of the rain signals such a mental celebration, that most often I welcome the opportunity to go out in a boat, and sit there grinning and cold, with a fly rod in hand, and water trickling down my neck.
As for camping: try not to attempt it either during the berg wind, or what follows!
As I sit here in a hotel room in a far off, foreign and troutless place on a business trip, my daughter has just sent me a message to say “It’s raining Dad!” . I feel a sense of loss at having missed the event.