Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

Wild life | 8 March 2018

The satellite maps said the rain wouldn’t come but Nature knew better


Off Madagascar the other day the Indian Ocean gave birth to a little storm called 11S. As its gyre turned clockwise over the sea, 11S gained momentum until it was a huge vortex of thunder and lightning christened Tropical Cyclone Dumazile. Like a naughty lover yanking away the shower curtain so that everything in the bathroom is sprayed with hot water, Dumazile pulled the entire weather system of mainland Africa eastwards. The effect was to suck the clouds from the steamy jungles of Congo’s river basin across the equator and dump their entire contents over our farm in highland Kenya. There was I enjoying the dry season. ‘How’s the farm?’ asked people through February. ‘Dry,’ I said. Around this time of year I always say, ‘It’s dry.’ My teenage children get bored of hearing me say it and roll their eyes. ‘Yes, Dad, we know.’ I secretly enjoyed the dry season. It reflected my mood after three tough years. Prolonged drought suited me. I had even given up alcohol. Every damn thing in my life was dry. The rain chart I have obsessively compiled over 14 years shows we have a seven per cent chance of rain in February — and it had not even drizzled a millimetre since November. Everything was heat, dust and blue skies. Strange birds arrived from the north, as they always do in this season. The land was tawny and dead. We were using the drought to get jobs done, furiously building new fences and preparing a new field for alfalfa. The dams were empty, ready to be dredged out. Boniface fired up the tractor and was excavating a new irrigation reservoir. For months the land had been asleep, our tropic winter. In mid-February, while dressing before dawn, I was perplexed to find a toad in my boot.

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