When the Rains Come

Bill’s cousin and her boyfriend who live in New Jersey came through the area in October during a long driving vacation through the West. We couldn’t really plan for their visit and, as it turned out, during their one day in Seattle, I had arranged a horseback riding lesson. I couldn’t change it, I explained, “because in a few days it’s going to start raining for the next four months.”

“Why do people around here keep saying that?” the boyfriend asked.

“It’s kind of like the way you know sometime in December it’s going to snow,” I told him. For years, we planned around that in Woodstock. “I have to do [X] before it snows,” was a common sort of statement around November and early December back there. In my case, I usually wanted to get all the leaves up, get the gutters cleaned, and move any lawn furniture into the garage. Also, sometime around Christmas I would bury the outdoor bonsai in my fenced-in vegetable garden. One year the snow piled up early and I couldn’t get inside the vegetable garden so I buried the bonsai in the front yard instead where they were mercilessly chewed on by deer. Back there, the snow would fall, the ground would freeze, and it would be game over for a lot of gardening and yard work activities until March or April.

Here, it’s the same idea of having to time your maintenance work to the seasons, but the seasons themselves are very different. It doesn’t snow in winter, at least not much near sea level, although snow is never too far away. An hour or so drive from here is Ice Caves, a hike to view some caves made of snow that form every year when the snow falls off the mountainside, freezes solid, and then melts from the inside out in the warmer weather. We have friends who wake up early and drive a couple of hours toward Stevens Pass to go skiing every winter and I keep thinking that someday I’ll wake up early and go with them.

But in our house and yard, winter is another matter. There’s the gloom and the rain, my only real concerns about moving here before we did it. I know I need daylight to function well so in the gloomy months, I make a point of sitting in the living room next to two big picture windows every day, absorbing whatever light there is. Those big windows made me especially eager to buy this house.

Outdoors, things get muddier and muddier. Last year, I had to stop parking my car in the carport after a couple of months because I couldn’t get to it–the lawn had turned to slippery mud. On the other hand, the softer earth makes weeding easier again. And blackberry mitigation, one of the constant challenges of Pacific Northwest life. I’ve waited till wetter weather to tackle the thorny things because now it’s possible to dig them out by the roots. That doesn’t prevent them from coming back but it does slow them down a bit.

This morning, Bill, who likes drowsing in his gigantic leather chair, especially when he has a big gig coming as he does this weekend, said that he always liked gloomy, rainy days. “You can have them,” I said. On the other hand, when my world-traveling cousins visited this summer and we hiked the woods of nearby British Columbia, they said they had never seen thick vegetation like here outside of the tropics. “What this region has in common with the tropics is a dry season and a rainy season,” I told them.

So perhaps it’s true that the lush forests and the soft moss everywhere and the towering conifers and the way everything is so green, as well as the endlessly beautiful summers when it never rains and so the mosquitoes all die and go away–all that is bought and paid for by the winter months of gloom and rain. And you know? If that’s true, I think it’s a pretty good trade.

Image: Robe Canyon Trail in summer. Maybe if it didn’t rain through the winter it wouldn’t look like this around here.

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