Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “winter”

Fire and water

Nature is amazing.

Last week water began running down the gutters on both sides of the road that runs past our house. It sometimes does that after heavy rain, but this is winter, and we live in a summer rainfall area with dry winters. There’s been no rain for at least two months.

Was it a broken water main? I went up the road to have a look, and there was no sign of such a thing. The water was coming across the road all along, from the empty veld by the railway line across the road from us. Why would it come when there has been to rain? What would cause the water table to rise so that that dry veld would turn into a swamp?

The entrance to the vacant land beside the railway line -- water in the dry season

The entrance to the vacant land beside the railway line — water in the dry season

Then we recalled that a couple of weeks ago there had been a fire over the road. Every winter there’s a fire there, and some of the grass is burnt. But this time it was nearly all burnt. Between our house and the railway line was not a blade of grass, just black stubble. With no grass to suck up the water and transpire it into the air, the water rose to the surface, flowed under the concrete fence and out into the street where it ran down the gutters.

That's our house with the red roof, seen from the railway embankment, with nothing in between but blackened burnt grass/

That’s our house with the red roof, seen from the railway embankment, with nothing in between but blackened burnt grass.

It’s hard to think that the dry grass that was there before the fire sucked up so much water. It is brown and dry and brittle. Yet somehow cattle eat such grass and thrive. It gives them both food and moisture.

Burnt, dry and dead. With grass gone, the water flows

Burnt, dry and dead. With grass gone, the water flows

A little way off was a clump of trees. They too are dry and leafless, winter-brown. But somehow the fire has not penetrated the trees, and there is a clump of aloes where the fire stopped.

A clump of aloes hides a ruined habitation, a relic of a troubled past

A clump of aloes hides a ruined habitation, a relic of a troubled past

But when you go to the aloes, you see that they hide a heap of stones. And beyond it there are more heaps of stones. And then I realise that these are houses. Perhaps this is an archaeological site. Who lived here, and when?

And then I realise that this is a relic of the ethnic cleansing that took place under apartheid. Kilner Park, the suburb where we live, used to belong to the Methodist Church, as did the neighbouring suburb of Queenswood. Across the railwayline to the south-east is Weavind Park — all named after luminaries of the Methodist Church. On the hill was the Kilnerton Institution, where many black South African leaders were educated. But it was too close to white Pretoria, so the black people had to go, and all that remains are these piles of stones.

And now the suburban trains of MetroRail run past here. There is no station, nothing to stop for. They are going to Mamelodi, 15 kilometres to the east, far enough from white Pretoria for the black people to live.

The trains rush past, taking commuters to Mamelodi, farther east.

The trains rush past, taking commuters to Mamelodi, farther east.

I marvel at the interaction of fire and water. The old elements of the ancient Greek philosophers, earth, air, fire and water. The fire comes, and brings the water. Modern chemists will say that these are not real elements, not the chemical elements of the universe. But they are the elements of human life, of the human world. We need them all to live. In three weeks time spring will begin. Green shoots will appear in the grass, the trees will sprout leaves. The water table will recede again until the rains come in October, and the fire of the sun will enable the grass to suck up the water from the earth, and the life of the world goes on.

 

In the deep mid-winter

When do the seasons begin and end?

There seem to be various answers, depending on who you ask, and Aquila ka Hecate recently discussed this question on her blog, here.  I wanted to comment on it, but the new Blogger commenting system, which seems to be broken, would not allow me to do so, so I’ll quote the post in full and comment here.

A colleague at my (new! 3 months only!) place of work mentioned this week that there were only 12 weeks until Spring.

Being the new girl in the district, I hesitated to make a ‘thing’ of it – although I was tempted. You see, it’s one of my triggers : how we mark the seasons of the year. It irritates me that many people can’t see how beautifully simple it is.

We have 52 weeks in a solar year, with 4 seasons. That’s 13 weeks per season When each season starts appears to vary from person to person. Here in the southern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is celebrated on or around June 21st. Now here comes the nub of the whole “season” matter: If you call this day “MidWinter”, you have just fixed a point around which you will have to configure all the other seasons.

I have no idea what’s so hard to understand about “mid” and “Winter” coming together in one word. It’s the mid-point of Winter, right? So in another 6 and a half weeks it will be the end of Winter, right? That’s around the first week in August, and I get to call it Imbolc.

Unfortunately for me, most Seffricans believe that Spring starts either at the beginning of September, or else on the Vernal Equinox, around 21st September. But how can that be? Unless you are counting Winter as starting either at the beginning of June or at the Solstice…which we’ve agreed to keep calling Mid-Winter, OK?

“Mid” does not mean “start”. It means the bloody middle, people. So, figuring from this fairly rock solid premise (and assuming 4 seasons of roughly equal length, unlike the Celts, who really only had Summer and Winter), the Vernal Equinox would be the middle of Spring, the Summer Solstice the middle of Summer (or MidSummer!) and the Autumnal Equinox on around March 21st would be the mid-point of Autumn. That leaves 4 points as ending/starting days for each of the seasons.

And as luck would have it, many Pagans already celebrate on these days – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnassad and Samhain. The start of each season. So pardon me while I revere the very depth of Winter – when the apparent Sun reaches its lowest point in the heavens as seen from Earth – as MidWinter. That’s in just one week from today.

And Imbolc, the start of Spring, a scant 6.5 weeks later, in the first week of August. Makes frighteningly proper sense to me. More sense-making goodiness here.

My comment, if I had been allowed to make it, is this:

As a child, and until about the age of 15, I thought of the seasons in exactly the way that Aquila ka Hecate describes. Winter was May, June and July. It made logical sense for exactly the reason that Midwinter was just after the middle of June. To be strictly accurate, one should say that winter lasted from 7 May to 6 August, but the May-July reckoning was close enough.

Then when I was about 15 we had a geography lesson at school in which spring was defined as the period whe n the days were longer than the nights and getting longer, while winter was when the days were shorter than the nights and and gretting longer. So winter began in its middle.

So there was the scientific meaning of winter, and the popular meaning of winter, which didn’t quite coincide.

But there are lots of things where the scientific meaning of something and the popular meaning don’t coincide.

CreationIkon1Then, about 20 years ago, people started talking about the first day of September as “spring day”. Well, I think the media started it, and it sort of spread from there.

I’m not sure where that started, because the media must have got it from somewhere. But I accepted that because in the Orthodox Church the church year begins on 1 September, and it seemed quite appropriate that it should be on the first day of spring (though that doesn’t apply in the northern hemisphere). It is linked to the idea of the creation of the world, though I’m surprised that in the northern hemisphere they didn’t pick on February or March for that rather than September, which is the northern Autumn.

CreationIkon2In recent years there has also been a tendency for Orthodox Christians to observe the first few days of September as days to pray about and be concerned for the environment, which also seems appropriate for the beginning of Spring.

But if we are going to regard the First of September as the first day of Spring, then perhaps we should think of mid-winter as occurring on 15 July. That’s probably when it’s coldest, anyway.

But going back to my childhood, when I was 9, 10, 11 years old, June and July were the cold months, when we had chapped hands and legs at school. August was the windy month, the kite-flying season, and we could expect the wind to blow up the first rains.

I used to sit in class looking out of the window and watch the cumulus clouds sailing from north-west to south-east, and grow taller as they moved. I used to daydream about jumping around and sliding down the slopes of the clouds. The teachers thought that that was a Bad Thing, and mentioned it in school reports as Day-Dreaming in Class (DDIC). Nowadays they call it ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and they use drugs to try to suppress it.

Anyway, the clouds would build up on the south-eastern horizon and then come back, towering cumulo-nimbus clouds, and at 4 pm they would drop their load, as rain or hail, with thunder and lightning. From August onwards you could almost set your watch by it, and it was called the civil service rain, because it always seemed to fall when civil servants were leaving work at 4 pm, and stopped by 4:30.

Climate change has changed all that, of course. Now they say “Rain in September, drought in December” and everyone looks for the first rains to begin in October. So perhaps the popular seasons are moving closer to the scientific ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Football fever and winter chills

Winter arrived today, with snow in several parts of the country. They say it’s the first winter World Cup for several years. We watched Italy playing Paraguay last night, in Cape Town, in pouring rain. Cape Town, having a Mediterranean climate, is in the winter rainfall area, so the Italians must have felt right at home. I’m not sure about Paraguay, though.

We live in the summer rainfall area, so no snow around here (the picture below was taken in the Eastern Cape, and someone there e-mailed it to my wife). So we had bright winter sunshine, but there was a chilly wind, and no warmth in the sun at all. So it’s a good time to test our new solar geyser. And the water was warm, but not very hot. Good for a quick shower, perhaps, but not a long soaking bath.

Meanwhile, our daughter in Athens wants a vuvuzela. Apart from tootling it when South Africa scores a goal, she wants to use it when her noisy neighbours have those parties that go on till 4:00 am. She said the ones they sell in Greece have mutes in them.

And they are spreading to other sports as well. Our local rugby team, the Blue Bulls, were playing in the final of the Super Fourteen tournament, and their home ground, Loftus Versveld, has been taken over for the soccer World Cup, so they held the final in Orlando Stadium in Soweto, accompanied by the droning of the vuvuzelas.

Next thing, they’ll be playing them in church. The Orthodox Church doesn’t normally use instruments in worship, but in Greek churches they have a sort of droning base called ison which sometimes sounds like a swarm of angry bees, and vuvuzelas make a very similar sound. The difference between a soccer stadium and church is that in church there is also a melody that goes above the ison.

Equinox

Today is the equinox, and Human Rights Day, 49 years since the Sharpeville massacre.

I wanted to do a screen capture for my world time program, because today is the day when the day and night lines are closest to vertical. Next week they’ll look quite different.

The leaves are beginning to turn. Is it autumn or winter? The geographers’ winter, but our autumn.

The line on the map, and the line opn the ground — photo taken about 6:00 pm on the N1 highway through Centurion going towards Johannesburg. The construction is for the Gautrain, the new express train service that will be crossing the highway at that point.

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