Itjanu Summer

My nose had picked up the scent as I drove back home in the evening – nectar from faraway flowers.

Now, on our way to Kata Tjuta, the fragrance was much more intense. Massive storm clouds had been gathering and the long-distance fragrances of hundreds of different desert flowers curled itself around petrichor – the perfume of rain on dusty rock. We could even smell the oils in the leaves of the trees — recent days have been very hot and the brewing storm was dispersing the eucalyptus and acacia oils. All these mixed with the smell of hot rubber from the old van that Claudia was driving at the speed limit.

We were chasing lightning. Claudia has long wanted to photograph lightning at Kata Tjuta, the dome-shaped, conglomerate mountains an hour’s drive from our place. On my way home from work, I had noticed a dense grey cloud — like a wall of water — fill the sky to the west. Lightning was jumping sporadically. I had hurried home to gather Claudia and drive out to the mountains.

The clouds were now so piled up that there was only a single small patch of blue visible in the huge sky. All last month, tremendous uncharacteristic rainstorms have been pouring down in this part of the desert. The flooding rains filled up the brick box (where people usually sit to eat their take-away food) that we call our Town Square. Firemen had to pump the water out. The bank was flooded up to the counter.

My garden, however, enjoyed this bounty. The little tomatoes, a gift from a horticulturally inclined patient, are growing well. The basil, chives, comfrey and borage are all coming up again. The tiny mizuma lettuce is acid-green and spikey. One of my green-thumbed friends tells me the little corn plants will have nowhere to go — I planted them too late. The kale is copious though. The slender, bowing pomegranate tree (another gift from a friend) had her exquisite pale orange flowers eaten by a hungry visitor — a very tall rabbit perhaps— but has delighted me by growing a solid green globe of a fruit, slowly ripening secretly -- down low under the tall kale leaves.

Thai basil flowering in my garden. Pic by Claudia Jocher (c) 2017.

Thai basil flowering in my garden. Pic by Claudia Jocher (c) 2017.

“Is it for eating or is it ornamental, that pomegranate?” asked my practical wife. It never occurred to me that such a gift might be inedible.

The last four tomatoes to ripen were eaten by something, perhaps that cheeky round-eared native mouse that hops through the comfrey forest. Or perhaps it was that tall rabbit again.

The lime tree, a transplant from a departing friend, had sweet flowers and budding limes a season ago. The cheeky birds ate them all. I put a net over the tree. There is a lizard as long as my hand that likes to sit under the net, ready to catch beetles.

While the summer heat in the desert has been hard to bear, these unseasonal rains have created an explosion of life all over. There are burrows all around the garden and babies of everything.

When it rains and the animals’ burrows are filled with water, they look for higher ground. So a spot on the young lime tree looks good. I love the idea of this lime tree supporting all these life-forms. It’s the intensive care unit of my garden. So what if its guests are eating all my limes?

I don’t feel this kindly about all life forms though. We had a 4 mm juvenile scorpion in the kitchen the other morning and a 10cm centipede on the bathroom tiles the same day. We chased and caught a tiny black gecko on the living room ceiling last night. Claudia doesn’t like the suction-footed gummy lizards, after a couple of them dropped on her when she lived in the Maldives teaching diving.

Years of standing on the prows of boats in the Maldives and Indonesia have also made her an astute observer of the weather. Now, as we drove to Kata Tjuta, she pointed to the clouds. “See that kind of tail hanging down from the clouds? Those clouds circling around? If that comes to the ground it’ll be a tornado,” I thought about what our little old van would do in a tornado and decided to stop thinking about it.

By the time we got to Kata Tjuta, it was already raining. There was no lightning after all. The dense bright green grass was still swept over, bent by the recent floods. Claudia stomped as she went into the grass, to let the snakes know where she was. The stone mountains themselves were a dark blood red from the rain. Waterfalls ran white down the rock in branches and tumbles. Stepping out of the van, the rushing sound of the water was exhilarating.

Reflections at Kata Tjuta. Photograph by Claudia Jocher (c) 2017

Reflections at Kata Tjuta. Photograph by Claudia Jocher (c) 2017

We had missed the lightning. But the rain on the tin roof and the vibration of the thunder and the sweet fragrance of unseen flowers seeped into my sleep that night. Itjanu has begun. The storm season, when the grass has grown lush after rain.  It’ll be a rich one this year, full of seeds, fruits and animals. There is lots of lightning to chase yet.

Thumbnail picture of Janelle Trees at Kata Tjuta by Claudia Jocher (c) 2017