We know it’s winter because this is when the sardines “run” past our village on their way to KwaZulu-Natal. We know it’s winter because this is when the snakes hibernate and I can really get into parts of the garden I otherwise won’t fiddle with. And we know it’s winter because things get quite dry in this summer-rainfall area. Right? Well, no.
I’ve had two snake experiences in the past couple of weeks. First, we watched a nightadder lolling on Hanlie’s lawn in the village. Then, a friend stepped right over a long brown snake next to the strelitzia clump where I’d been cutting flowers just hours earlier: this was a harmless grass snake, we think. Still, I leapt away so fast that I almost collided with a tree. “Go back to sleep,” I yelled.
As for the sardine run, if it’s happened, I have missed it completely. I’ve noticed small clumps of activity in the sea, with gannets diving, and there are schools of dolphins most days. But it is nothing like the spectacular frenzy of previous years.
A friend who keeps an eye out for the sardines from her beachfront home in Durban says she hasn’t seen them either.
Maybe it will still happen – July is not over yet. Or maybe it won’t. It’s rare but apparently becoming more common for the sardines not to run, and the reason is that the sea water has to cool below 21C for the migration to take place.
And the rain, oh the rain … it seems it will never stop. In fact, this is the third year in a row that I recall heavy falls in winter. We are fairly close to the winter rainfall area – it starts just south of Port Elizabeth – so small amounts of rain are not entirely unusual here in winter. But not deluge after deluge.
So there are few certainties, it seems. One of them is our winter fires, which we make most nights in the small fireplace in our lounge. In a junk shop, I found an ancient metal grate that fits (we’d actually been using a baking tray!) into the smaller than usual space. And I covered the boring old surround with a mosaic. It’s made staying warm quite a pleasant affair.