I come from waterlogged stock, I suppose. Born and bred in western Washington, where it is rumored that children are born with webbed feet and mildew is every basement’s middle name, I grew up accustomed to the proprietary blend of intense green and hazy grey that is the trademark of the region, a badge of honor of its own kind. The Evergreen State was not called that for nothing and earned the moniker by the bucketful; as a child, I may have feared that the immensity of the rain’s reach might require us all to develop gills, especially if Mount Rainier also decided her geologic pregnancy was complete and blew off the entire west coast into the ocean. There were times when, of course, I doubted the mountain‘s very existence because it had disappeared behind a rain-cloud bank so persistent that we hadn’t seen that glorious white diadem on the state’s brow in ages, but eventually a good shaker or at least a seismic cough would confirm that behind the cumulonimbus wall somewhere lay the spectacle of the mountain in wait for the return of drier skies.
Don’t mistake, as much of the Outside World has done, that this is indeed the whole Northwest experience. Children, perhaps, would contend that there is nothing but rain their entire lives, but I know from a much longer stretch of years, not to mention a gradually shifting climate over the last number of decades that has seen a skew toward somewhat later seasonal changes all ’round and definitely a degree-or-two of push in the direction of both the warm and cold extremes (among other things): the northwest is gorgeous, The Mountain does grace us with its presence pretty often, and the sun DOES shine. With true shimmering spectacle, in exaggeratedly cerulean skies. Sometimes whip-creamed with piles of white landscape-painterly clouds and sometimes just in that fabulous bowl of uninterrupted enameled sky inviting eagles to slide across it if they dare.
As a transplant in Texas, I’m learning a whole new vocabulary of extremes when it comes to things meteorological and geological. I spent a couple of brief, mountain-less years living near Chicago in my youth and had made enough family road trips to know a bit about how much terrain and weather could vary even over short distances. Moving to Texas, even north Texas, proved something of a paradigm shift in that regard, especially as we arrived seemingly on the cusp of some rather spectacular worldwide change when it comes to things weather-related. So it was an intriguing and, well, oven-crisped adventure to face a summer where our county officially slipped into drought right on the heels of all the other counties in the state, most of them throughout the region as well. My roots, accustomed to their abundant if not excessive access to cool clean water, began to protest. The arrival of the first low enough temperatures, accompanied by the first blessed misting of rain, well into October, and the appearance then of early summer blooms as though they thought it was just hitting mid-May seemed slightly ludicrous but nonetheless as welcome as a long-awaited prison pardon.
Today the temperature dropped, thanks to a sudden “cold front”–sorry, I just had to put it in quotes when it referred to 12C/52F degrees at the end of October; that’s the Northwest in me talking. Since we had had pretty solidly insistent summer temperatures until yesterday, this seems like rather high drama! It’s a firm reminder, if we really needed one, of our being composed of such a high percentage of H2O ourselves and having not just an inborn affinity then but a core-deep need for water, water everywhere. The problem is distribution. There’s so often too much of it in one part of the world and too little in another. Balance, by planetary measure, is not the same thing as our sense of balance as tiny little individuals and groups upon that planet, so we’re almost always wishing, wherever we are, that Ma Nature would set up a much fairer sharing system. Least she could do is let one of us kids divvy up the water and the others choose which glasses to grab for our shares.
That’s what makes it seem like such a benison when the floodwaters recede, the monsoon season ends or the hurricane relents and dissipates. When the parched clay gets a sip of rain, the stream-bed feels that first trickling, slaking return, and the blurry looking cloud that’s been hovering just a hair too far off by the horizon finally acquiesces, rolling in with its bellyful of soothing eau-de-vie. Today we’ve had a bit of rain again at last, and the grey lid over the oaks looks promisingly like the skies I knew in my “northwet” youth, and I am comforted by it all. Sun fills me with hope much of the time, I’m moved by the legendary promises of rainbows whenever they bend across my view, but when it’s been long enough between squalls and spritzers for me to miss them so, nothing is more beautiful than the dirty mashup of colliding clouds as they commence spitting their payload of rain on house and garden and me, umbrella or no umbrella. Let it rain!