Meteorological prediction is pretty important for us – whether walking in the heights or planning work on our land. We live at 850m/2788ft on the south side of the second highest mountain range in Europe and our walking routes take us right up to the peaks, with Mulhacen at 3482m/11,423ft crowning the top. An unexpected cold snap can shrivel newly planted seedlings, a dry hot summer means lots of extra irrigation in the heat and a sudden change from warm and still to windy and cold can mean (at the least) that you sincerely regret not packing that extra woolly in your back pack. Believe me, weather can change scarily fast at high altitides this far south! One minute, comfortably dressed in a vest and walking shorts, you’re staring at an approaching cloud, the next you’re diving for your waterproof, zip-on legs of your troos, gloves and snood while battling a wildly flapping pack in a white-out complemented by sideways icy rain.
Local Alpujarra folk often use a truly arcane method of weather prediction called the Cabañuelas, based on observation of daily conditions throughout August. This is then related to each month of the following year. I’ve had the system explained to me several times by my friend Ramon, the gardener at Cortijo Romero, who understandably puts great store in planting almanacs and such things. The cabañuelista predicts for his or her local area in a radius of up to 80km. Predictions are derived from assorted phenomena like types of clouds visible, wind direction, characteristics of the sun, moon, stars, or the appearance of mist and morning dew. Animal behaviour can also count as a sign of rain to come; for instance the appearance of flying ants or doves bathing. The rooster crowing during the day means a change of weather. while cats running and jumping are a sign of wind (or an invasion of field mice?). In a further attempt to hedge bets, other indications of rain include creaking of furniture, soot falling in the chimney, smelly drains, damp appearing on the flagstones and weeping grape vines. (They’ve been to my house!)
The Cabañuelas are cunningly designed to give several shots at predicting the hoped-for rainfall: weather for January 2015 is not only predicted by conditions on August 1, 2014, during the Cabañuelas de Ida from 1 – 12 August, but also on 24 August, during the Cabañuelas de Retorno in the next 12 days, when you count backwards through the months, according to my Alpujarran sources. And THEN the next 6 days count for two months each day – so the morning of 25 August also corresponds with January 2015, the afternoon to February 2015 and so on. The last chance for the agriculturalist to bolster his confidence in the security of favourable weather to come is on 31 August which… Yes! – you’ve guessed it, divides into 12 two-hour-long slots and counting backwards again, means that January 2015 is predicted by the last two hours of August 2014. Gottit?
Although there is a great deal of skepticism about this highly empirical system, most agree that it is ancient – some claiming that it dates from as far back as 35,000 years BC. More scholarly sources refer to an 11th century document which mentions the placing of 100 cabañuelas throughout a neighbourhood of Toledo during the festival of the Tabernacle. As prediction of weather has been traditionally associated with Jewish feasts, including this one, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the superstition comes via the Sephardic Jewish community in Spain.
I feel I need to put on record that this year the 1st of August in the Alpujarra dawned bright and clear, but surprisingly cooler than the last few weeks. There was a lot of wind late afternoon… and the kittens have been running about a bit.
For those who read Spanish: more confusing information including date charts at Cabañuelas es. Wikipedia
For those who read English: some confusing information not including date charts at Cabañuelas Wikipedia in English
Q. What do you call a person who speaks many languages? A. Polylingual
Q. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? A. Bilingual.
Q. What do you call a person who speaks one language? A. English.