After the desperation of the dry season, the rains finally arrive. Samantha du Toit marvels at the changes a touch of rain can bring.
The rain has finally arrived. The dust has gone, flattened into mud by the pounding drops. At first the land just looked wet, shiny and dark but then the changes started. Slowly, to begin with, the small shoots started pushing their way up through the earth with a strength that seems slightly incomprehensible for a plant. Within days, the land had turned green as the first little responders, commonly known as the devil thorns, opened up their tiny leaves to the sun.
Then came the grass shoots. Places that had been bare for almost two years started turning a vivid green, almost too green to look at directly. Walking across the plains behind camp, the children and I took to guessing what the shoots would ‘grow up’ to be. Was it a small thorn shrub, some grass or perhaps wild flowers? We marvelled to see that the little devil thorn plants turn their leaves to trace the sun throughout the day, facing east every morning, straight up in the middle of the day and west at evening time.
Mushrooms, mushrooms and more mushrooms started sprouting everywhere. Small orange ones, tall umbrella ones, squishy pink ones and round balls peeping out of the undergrowth.
Then came the insects, coming in waves of different types. First to appear around the evening lanterns were little golden beetles. Then came the moths. The bats started to hang out, literally, in the dining tent, picking up their dinner of moths from the roof of the tent. Why do all the ‘dudus’ like to fly into the candles and lanterns asks Seyia, our six-year-old, as we sit watching multiple apparent suicide attempts into the candle at the dinner table.
A quick consultation with a fellow researcher who has a passion for insects revealed that, amazingly, scientists still have not found the answer to that question. During the day, caterpillars wiggled their way across the paths, millipedes came out to mate and the most extraordinarily bright red velvet mites appeared everywhere, standing out in stark contrast to their green surroundings.
And then the noise. I had not realised that the dry season was so quiet in comparison. Now a cacophony of frogs, toads and insects call all night, and the dawn chorus seems to be echoed back to us, bouncing off all the fresh leaves on the trees. The river itself is much louder, swollen from all the rain upstream, and, carrying natural debris in the form of logs and dead trees from far-off places, deposits them in the swamp downstream of us.
There have been a few tense evenings spent watching the river, which had been dry only a few weeks before, rise and rise until it almost overflowed its banks. The baboons were stranded in their sleeping sites up in the trees on one occasion as the river had risen around the base of the trees. However, it was good to think of the swamp being recharged and imagining the water spreading across the land downstream, bringing much needed life to the system.
Our Maasai neighbours have started to move, signalling that indeed change has come to the ecosystem. Every day, more and more families are packing up their donkeys or motorbikes and making the journey with their livestock across the river to settle in their wet-season homes, allowing the dryseason area to regenerate for the first time in many seasons. Happy as they are that it has rained and that there is fresh green grass for their animals, the hardship does not end immediately for livestock keepers. Animals, weakened by the drought, continue to die from bloat caused by the sudden change in diet, and many animals are limping due to foot rot from the muddy, damp conditions.
The wildlife, too, are finding their way to the plains of short, green grass behind camp. Wildebeest and zebra who have been locked into the swamp for the past months have returned, and many of the wildebeest have given birth, a sure sign they feel the rains are here to stay.
And we hope they are right.