HELLO CLOUDS

After months of beautifully clear blue skies, we finally had some cloud cover this week.

The temperature dropped and a cool breeze began to circulate around the valley. There was a delightful smell of dampness in the air.

These ones held a definite promise of rain. By now the wind was whipping the trees into a frenzy as I turned for home.

The first drops splattered onto the windscreen as more clouds came barrelling over the hills. From the shelter of home I looked down on my garden buckling under the wind as thunder rumbled and lightning flashed.

It was all over in minutes … the clouds drifted away and the sun shone brightly once more … we had received 4mm of rain.

 

AND THE CLOUDS CAME

The temperature soars to 41°C. A slight breeze fans the oven-like air around, rustling through the leaves and even transporting a few in a soporific dance towards the heated ground, where they settle limply. Not a bird stirs or even makes a sound. Only a few butterflies flap lazily from one dried out flower to the next. The heat has sapped even the slightest comfort from the shady spots in the garden. The bricks bake. Light clouds form teasing clumps in the enamelled blue sky, only to disperse and regroup in thinner, more distant layers than before.

A Laughing Dove settles on the edge of a bird bath set in the shade of some trees. It bends to drink then looks around; bends and drinks then flies up to settle among the top branches. The heat is like an invisible wall for the air feels thick with it. Clouds cluster a little more closely, the taller sections catch the late afternoon light, while the ragged bottoms laughingly suggest a heaviness of moisture within.

A Laughing Dove burbles softly, experimentally, from within the foliage of the White Stinkwood, then halts abruptly. There has been no reply. It tries again; still no response. The heat prickles as a female Southern Masked Weaver perches on the rim of the feeder to peck at the seeds spilling out. Mercy: clouds dense enough to filter the sun’s rays have an immediate cooling effect.

A Laughing Dove, is it the same determined one, burbles intermittently, while another flies across the garden to the bird bath. The cloud moves aside and the sun blazes again. A hot wind begins to whoosh around the garden, the sky darkens, and the tree tops sway in a mad dance as the sun disappears towards the horizon. The fading light sets off an eerie reflected glow as the earth turns towards night here.

We sit in the darkness of Eskom load shedding and listen to the unfamiliar sound of thunder rumbling across the dark night, and blink at the unfamiliar flashes of sheet lightning. The air smells damp and sweet as we are entertained to the thrilling sound of raindrops splashing on the hot bricks, touching window panes in a light staccato, and make bubbles on the surface of the pool.

The clouds came, this time they stayed – and have given us 20mm rain!

DUTCHMAN’S TROUSERS

I have grown up with drought. My father, a farmer, used to look up at an overcast sky and shake his head sadly saying “There’s enough blue sky to patch a Dutchman’s trousers, so it won’t rain.” I was always intrigued by this expression, which I never heard being used outside my family – although I have passed it on to mine. He explained that ‘Dutchman’s trousers’, was a nautical term referring to the patch of blue sky that appeared when the weather broke, indicating fine weather to follow. The phrase refers to the very wide-legged blue pants that Dutch sailors used to wear – and which obviously needed to be patched from time to time.

While searching the Internet to verify this, I came across this interesting and informative song composed by Tom Lewis:

Dutchman’s Trousers

In the times when I was nothing but a lad,
I never did see much of m’Dad,
Oft’times that was reason to be sad,
For him and m’Granddad too were deep-sea sailors,
But m’Grandmother took me for walks by the sea,
To teach me the ways that the weather can be.
She’d study the sky and say to me:
“There’s just enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.”

“In the wintertime when the North winds blow,
And the sky takes on a silvery glow,
That’s a certain sign that it’s going to snow.
You must be ready to chip the ice from the rigging,
But if the wind is from the Southwest,
And the spray’s being blow back from the wave’s crest,
Batten down the hatches and hope for the best,
If you’re lucky you’ll see the blue of the Dutchman’s trousers.”

Chorus:
The Pilot gives us a “farewell” hail,
Haul on the halyards of the mainsail,
The wind is steady, there’s a following gale,
With just enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.

So when I became an Able Hand,
I remembered the lessons that I learned from m’Gran
The mates would call me: “the weather-man,”
On each ship I was the one with the reputation,
Who knew if a breeze or a gale would blow,
When I came on deck from down below
The Skipper would always want to know:
“Will there be enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers?”

Where the saying came from I really don’t know,
The Hollanders used to be our foe,
That was a very long time ago.
For centuries now we’ve sailed the seas together.
From the great Southern Ocean to the Mediterranean,
On a sailing ship or a submarine,
The days are few and far between
When there’s not enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.

AN APPROACHING STORM

This is a sight we have seen far too little of during this summer:

So often clouds like this build and bubble and then flatten out and disappear. Not on Friday though. As we neared home the clouds looked even more promising:

The sky darkened, the wind rose quickly, sending dry leaves scurrying across the garden. We received hail warnings as the thunder began to roll across the sky. The first raindrops were loud enough to have us rushing to the window to check for hail – we did a double-take upon seeing what looked like hailstones floating in the pool only to quickly realise they were white petals from the clambering rose! There was no need after all to cover the vehicles parked outside: we actually got more wind than rain. The following day we heard that other parts of town suffered from large hailstones that dented cars – for a change it was good to be on the edge of a storm.