ANOTHER SIDE OF FAVORABLE WEATHER


It started to rain as the last car before mine left the clearing, deep in the Willamette National Forest. My car was idling, because It’s a good rule in the woods to make sure that all cars can start before the second to last one leaves. 

We had hiked in 2 miles that morning, with packs, heavy tools, including chain saws, up some nasty uphill sections, worked another 2 miles cutting out logs, cleaning up debris, and then returned the same way, up where we had gone down, down where we had gone up, the last part a barely marked trail steep uphill and eventually to the cars.  As usual, the trail had more ups than downs. 

I took one last look at the forest across the North Fork River and headed back to the car.  The rain began to be a little more insistent. I had cooled off while waiting for others to arrive up from the trail, and I was cold, but as I drove out the bumpy, barely passable road, the heat came on, and my shivering began to abate. I had a 6 mile drive back to the main road, which was a Forest Service road, and then several more miles to a state road. We hadn’t seen anybody out on the trail the whole day.  The rain was serious now, and I smiled.  We had gotten our logging out done in favorable weather to do it, and now we were getting rain.  

Part way out, an annoying branch stuck out into the muddy track. I had hoped to remove it by hand on the way in, but it was wedged in with other branches.  I stopped the car, took out my hand saw, made sure my gloves were on, since I was alone, should I cut myself, and cut it back.

By the time I had finished driving back down the long downhill grade, getting out of the car twice to throw some large rocks off the road, and a third time to cut off another a branch that was impeding traffic, I was warm and drove across the bridge over the roaring North Fork on the gentle downhill into Westfir.

Another time, I wouldn’t mind having my tent pitched somewhere out there, my teepee style cook tent nearby, be making dinner so I could finish the dishes before dark, and then retire to my tent to read or just listen to the patter of the rain. But not tonight. 

I’m one of those who likes short days, darkness, clouds, and rain.  I called today’s weather “favorable” for logging, because rain does make cutting more difficult and dangerous, but it is not “bad weather.” Today, an article appeared in the Times about the dark days coming and of winter in general, and most of the comments were about the days lengthening, soon to be brighter times, spring, and then summer.  

I remember years ago seeing an ad for Venezuela as “The Place with Eternal Spring.”  I cringed. Who would want eternal spring? Many do. Not me. This year, I walked every morning during the early days of the pandemic. I would circle Alton Baker Park, about 5 miles, and I counted the wildflower species I saw, 65 one day.  Spring is nice, but it always has summer hanging over its head, sometimes butting in early (April in Tucson, and in 1989, March, when it hit 99 the second week).  

Summer is frankly overrated. Three years out of the last four here we have had west Cascade fires, last summer having them so bad that we were housebound for 10 days with air quality about 700. We were the lucky ones; ten miles to our east, there were evacuation orders; over 400 houses were destroyed. The daylight was orange when it wasn’t dark.  It was supposed to be 95, but it was 25-30 degrees cooler—one silver or orange lining—because of the blocked sunlight.  We limited going anywhere to a quick trip, wearing a face shield for the pandemic and an N95 for protecting our lungs from the small particles, and then closing up.  We actually opened the house into the sealed tight garage, which hadn’t been opened in days. It provided cleaner air. In 2017, I slept out in smoke in the North Cascades for three nights, on a camping trip. I wonder what it did to my lungs.

One summer, only a month passed between not being able to hike because of snow in the high country and not being able to hike because of fires.  One month. Record heat comes in summer more than winter, and it is worse.  To me, it isn’t fair that we can have our rainiest month be dry because of a blocking high pressure ridge. This is not uncommon.  But to have July or August wet because of persistent storms?  Only one year I can remember; the post-Pinatubo year of 1992, when the Boundary Waters had three days over 80 and a lot of rain.  I learned that summer how to work comfortably in the rain for days at a time.  I’ve been cold doing trail work in the winter, but I warm up.  In the summer, I have to be sure I carry a lot of water and drink it. I don’t cool down as easy as I warm up.

In Tucson, I looked forward to June 10, when the earliest sunrise occurred, and from then on it would rise later; to the solstice, when the day length started to shorten, and to July 6, when the sunsets started to become earlier as well. More people die from heat than cold, the body can deal with ambient temperatures 140 degrees below its inside temperature but only about 20 above it.  I can hike, snowshoe, or just walk in pouring rain, heavy snow, and freezing temperatures and be comfortable.  At 95 and humid, I have a great deal of trouble carrying gear uphill and cutting out logs. I’ve already drunk a liter of water, and I need to be careful.

No, when in December the sunlight drops in the afternoon, clouds move in, it gets dark, and I know it will rain, I like it.  I know people have Seasonal Affective Disorder and they use light therapy.  It’s a good idea.  

For me, enjoyment seeing the dark skies to the west that are coming, or the sudden darkness in the afternoon that presages a brief, heavy shower.  Being in a tent at night in the rain, dry and comfortable, nothing to do, nowhere I have to go, is how I help myself fall asleep at night.

Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

Times Pick

I will be a contrarian and say I like the rain and the dark days. They belong, too.

I think summer is overrated; last summer came with wildfires, smoke that kept me in the house for 10 days, and a concern of evacuation. Three of the last four years there have been significant west Cascade fires. I led a volunteer crew yesterday into the damp woods to repair a trail, creeks and rivers roaring with the water that finally came.  It was lovely.

Mind you, I counted 65 different species of wildflowers on my  spring walks, I am an avid canoeist, and autumn is my favorite season. But leaving the trail yesterday with dark clouds overhead, an early sunset, and rain starting to fall, I was happy.

Reply745 RecommendShare

21 REPLIES

Julia

Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

…And this post is making me smile, too. Thank you, Mike. This column is eliciting many lovely responses.

Reply49 RecommendShare

Claire Elliott

Eugene

Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

I’ll be a contrarian along with you.  My backyard is a cathedral of old Douglas firs.  Standing amongst them in the rain and mist is wonderful, a sparkling infusion of sight, sound, that intoxicating aroma of fir.  The air is so crisp and cold and sweet.  I remember, looking up at the dripping branches, the 10 days of hazardous air that kept so much of the Willamette Valley housebound in September.  Cold rain and freshly washed air works for me.

Reply121 RecommendedShare

Aubrey

Alabama

Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

I love your post.    I also love the dark cool days with  

rain and drizzle all day.    It is a great time to spend sitting by the fire,  reading and listening to some good music, and doing lots of thinking.

The  best time in Alabama is October until about January 1.    Spring is nice but the worst time is the middle of Summer when it is hot and humid.    The only thing good about Summer is flowers and butterflies.

With best wishes.

Reply59 RecommendedShare

Patrick Henry

USA

Dec. 18

I’m from Maine and feel the same way.

Reply19 RecommendShare

Theobroma

Normandy, France

Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

Greetings from Normandy, 

We too have those aplenty, and indeed they are quietly beautiful days of introspection, slow & awesome in their own priceless way.

Wouldn’t swap them for extra sunny days.

Be well.

Reply29 RecommendedShare

Alex

Dec. 18

@Mike S. Me too!  I love cold, cozy days of rain…summer is fine, but winter is a time when all of the glories of theater, crafting and cozy reading come to the fore.  A walk in the rain is one of God’s glories.  Hail, Winter!

Reply19 RecommendShare

PB

Canada

Dec. 18

@Mike S. I agree 100% My teenager today told me that he loves the mist and the rain and prefers it to sunny days. 

Looking out at my misty december afternoon, i am grateful for my warm house, and plenty of food and drink. and the privilege of loving the rain.

Reply21 RecommendShare

Patty

Sammamish wa

Dec. 18

@Mike S. I love the fresh clean air that comes with the rain,   It gives us our beautiful cathedral of evergreens.  Tea, a good book and intermittent walk in the misty rain isn’t half-bad.

Reply22 RecommendShare

Jon

Washington

Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

I like rain too when I have a warm house to return to. But try surviving in a camp during cold weather, foraging your own food, if it’s raining all the time. You have to start a fire just to dry out your firewood!

Reply8 RecommendedShare

Deez Eyes

Dec. 18

@Jon And that Egan’s point. Rain, cold, wind, and clouds are easier to enjoy when you know you have a warm house and food in the cupboards to return to! The explorers were rugged and strong characters. Can we imagine getting through what they endured?

Reply15 RecommendedShare

Susan

Eastern WA

Dec. 18

@Mike S.–Here in NE WA we don’t have very many rainy days, but many cold cloudy and/or snowy ones in winter.  Perfect for walking the dogs up the mountain and then reading by the fire.  

When my son, raised here, lived on the Big Island of Hawaii he emailed me the first fall that it didn’t seem normal to live in a place without seasons.  Maybe it’s genetic.

Reply9 RecommendedShare

Flaneuse

Dec. 18

@Mike S. Unite, lovers of winter! You’re right; it belongs, too.  I’m sorry it makes some people depressed (are they sorry that I suffer from allergies and inflammation and too-muchness all summer?) but there it is – the weather has never arranged itself for our convenience.

Reply9 RecommendShare

Marie

Oregon

Dec. 18

@Mike S. As  fellow Willamette Valley resident, I agree.  We can’t have our gorgeous springtime without the dark days of winter.  Politically we could never have imagined how valuable democracy is without the last 4 years.  Only a few more days before our days begin to get a bit longer.  I will treasure every day instead of wasting the moments I have.

Reply18 RecommendShare

Siebert

Tenseven

Dec. 18

@Mike S. Three days to winter solstice on Dec 21st. Likewise, I revel in the sparkle of it.

Reply11 RecommendShare

AzSunflower

Dec. 18

I agree that summer is overrated. With continuous temps over 110 degrees and the hottest July and August ever reported; the driest year in decades; and forest fires in June and July, all here in Southern Az, yes it is indeed overrated.

Reply8 RecommendedShare

Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

@Jon Yes, but to have it start to rain after dinner is eaten and the dishes cleaned is a real treat.  I had that in the Boundary Waters a couple of years ago, and I lay in the tent reading, dry, nobody within miles of me, and totally at peace with the world.

That said, I’ve been where you mention, too!

Reply4 RecommendShare

Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

@Susan I lived in Tucson 37 years before coming to the PNW. I missed the seasons, which were warm, almost hot, and awful hot. What amazed me were the occasional rainy days that people complained about….

Reply6 RecommendShare

Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

@AzSunflower I lived in Tucson for 37 years. I saw it get hotter and hotter.  This year sounded like it was awful. I figured 1989 and 1994 would be beaten, but their records were smashed.

Reply5 RecommendShare

Peter

canada

11h ago

@Mike S. I am a rain person I like the fresh air and it is nice to be out when the fair-weather humans are not

Reply2 RecommendShare

Mike S.

Eugene, OR

@Aubrey You understand 🙂

PacificNWesterner

Vancouver WA

Amen brother.

The North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River

From the forest clearing from Highway 58, then 19, then 1919, then 660.

Technical C class log out on the North Fork Trail. The log did not slide, much to our surprise and good fortune.

Incoming rain in late afternoon. It would rain again later that night. Fall Lake, BWCA, 2018.

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