Sunday, 13 February 2011

We Have Weather

The road climbs out of Chos Malal, a slow steady grind, warm work, the temperature rising with the elevation. A pick-up passes and pulls over. The lady driver climbs out, all concern. She’s concerned that we are heading out into the unknown. Are we prepared, there’s no shade, no water, no services, it’s going to get hot. It’s a kindly concern and we try to reassure her. Actually we’re flooded, held down with a drownable supply of water. However, the day’s climatically events unfurled to a different script, from what was evident at that road junction.

We have had some weather.

A nothing weather day in Scotland, would typically be in mid to late November, it will be still, calm and monochromatically ashen gray. A gray that hems in a city street, that only confirms the realisation that this is just the start of the gloom season, a gray that precludes any likelihood of solar illumination. The only leaves left on the trees will be the insipid yellows of the ash, falling in a death rattle, despite the windless still silence. A day of monotone gray. A nothing weather day. A non weather day on the rain shadowed side of the Andes would be diametrically opposite to the Scots version, but would share many of the same characters. A day that starts clear, stays clear and ends clear. Blue sky from start to finish, sun up to sun down. To a northern Celt this is what you pay good money for when you booked those two weeks on the Costas, or optimistically predicted for your overseas visitor intending to go to Troon for the day .After multiple weeks of the same unvarying hot clear blue, a change, any change is welcome.
Three perfect examples of anvil clouds are marching, forging on in close order up the international border, an interesting meteorological phenomenon, but a good forty kilometres away, so of no consequence to us. Then, within what seems like moments, stacks of cumulus start building a boiling mass that bloats and inflates, billowing up to the stratosphere. Virginal white thunder heads. Purity against the blue, and a fair representation of the national flag. We’re still climbing, the road circumferencing the basal mass of Volcan Tolman, a mountain whose bulk is creating it’s own weather system. We’ve moved under the stacked up giants, moved under their shadows, the washing powder whiter than white gives way to a more ominous bruised cloud base, the innocence gives way to thunder claps. The sun loses power and we get a momentary respite. The temperature suddenly drops and hailstones start to explode on the road around us, shards of ice shrapnel ricochet across the tar, melting instantly to damp patches, releasing smells of burnt soil and hot dry grass. Now comes the wind, hurtling down and out from the mountain, but for once we’re in front of the storm, the gusts come like shock waves, powering us up the inclines, hitting us from the side, on the way too fast declines.

The following day we get a repeat performance, the same prologue, the same play, an assembly line of thunder heads are fabricated on the highlands, eventually reaching saturation point, overcrowded they start to migrate, down to the lowlands. Veils of rain shroud out the ranked ridges of volcanoes, creating soft focus cardboard cutouts, a stage prop of pop-up mountains. It’s a novelty, a concept that would normally disappoint , this prospect of cycling in the rain, now it’s a pleasure, however we still take refuge in a drain under the road. Pedalling in 26 degrees and a Gore-Tex is still akin to a sauna without the snow rolling. An over saturation of sweat and humidity.

One of the advantages of all this increased aerial climatic activity means that a few more photographs can be elevated up and away from the foreground. A succession of blue skies makes for disinterest and monotony, it also engenders envy and jealousy for a recipient who is staring out from an artificially light office, at a drab, damp, monochromatic, shadowless Edinburgh street. The fact that the photographer stopped to take that picture, that it was but an excuse for a breather from hauling a loaded cycle up an incline, a bike that has been recently augmented with a top up of water is of little interest and can’t be exposed in a few megabytes of pixels.  Oh, how we suffer for our art.

With advantages come disadvantages, from blessings come curses, with the wet come the flies. Little black sand flies, big brown horse flies, blood sucking mosquito flies and they all bite. Some have a sixth sense and perceive the swatting hand, others are slower and their desiccated little bodies are now being feasted on by a swarm of ants. Such is nature and it’s occasionally nice not to be on the bottom rung of the food chain ladder.

We did thank our concerned benefactor, I thanked her in absentia several times more, later that day and on subsequent occasions, for tempting the weather gods and any other arbiters of fate, my doom mongers of destiny. For not only did we get weather, we got contrasts and shadows, fleeting red puddles and nascent streamlets. Fugitives, who even now are in denial, effervescing to tide rimmed muddy holes and shiny braids of ghostly rivulets. Food for a camera, nourishment for a soul, both of whom who had been promised a tedium of hot blue skies.