We should really check the gutters

The seasonal rain has begun. This year, we intend to be proactive.

Don Ryan/AP/File
Rainbows are frequent over downtown Portland, Ore.

It started raining the other day, and since we live in a state that has been more or less on fire for months, everyone was happy about it, even those people of weak character who are inclined to whine when the sun disappears for a while. 

Longtime residents looked out and muttered “Here it comes,” referring to winter, when supposedly it rains all the time, even though it doesn’t. Actually, we don’t know what it does anymore. Like everyone else, we’ve been told to anticipate a new normal.

But the gentle percussion of rain on the roof puts us in a contemplative mood, whose main feature is relief, and then gratitude, and then the notion that we really ought to start thinking about checking the gutters for leaf clogs. Maybe not yet, but soon. Maybe when it stops raining, or when the leaves finish falling. But soon. It’s not too soon to begin thinking about it, anyway. We certainly don’t want a repeat of last year, when the tenants of our rental house called during a particularly torrential downpour to report a flood in the basement.

“How wet is it?” we asked.

Well! Our tenants didn’t want to be a bother, but the walls were all drippy, and there was a cascade coming down the stairwell, and they’d started to put their possessions up on blocks, and a lot of the water seemed to be welling up from the center of the floor for some reason, and they weren’t sure that there hadn’t been tadpoles.

Thanks to cellphone technology, we were a thousand miles away when they called, rather than next door, and we hemmed and hawed for a while to give them a chance to admit it wasn’t that bad, but they didn’t. So we called another neighbor who is handy with a ladder and got him to go over in the pouring rain and shlorp buckets of leaves out of the gutter, and we really ought to remember to send him a fruitcake this year.

Anyway, we’re determined to be proactive about those gutters.

The weather people around here like to comment on what an interesting area we are in, meteorologically. By that they mean they really wish they were in Los Angeles or somewhere you could type out a forecast for the next month and go on vacation. But here in Portland, Ore., we have a peculiar confluence of topographical features that results in great natural beauty, world-class snails, and meteorologists with nervous tics.

The ones on TV look uncomfortable when they’re pointing at the map. “We’ve got moisture coming in off the ocean,” they’ll say, beginning to shrug, “and an arctic blast surging in from the north” – their shoulders are now just below their ears – “and it’s all going to turn on what the low pressure sweeping down the gorge decides to do.” The forecaster is now noticeably shorter as measured against the latitude line on the map behind him, and he has punted, as usual, phrasing his forecast in such a way that it will all be the fault of some anthropomorphized cold front with an agenda and a poker face.

But it’s tough. There are so many microclimates here that the precipitation map looks gerrymandered. One day we noticed it was pouring rain in the front yard and sunny in the back. So many things happen at once that the most common weather feature downtown is rainbows, which is what most of us would have voted for anyway.

It can get cold. Not by a lot of people’s standards, but once we’ve put on our good raincoats, and then added the shreddy ones from last season, we’re kind of out of options, and we’re chilly. Normally, any batch of winter moisture drifting into this valley doesn’t know whether to pellet up, blow over, or smack into a mountain. So mostly it piddles apathetically, day after day, out of sheer bewilderment. 

The phrase used here is a little different from most places: If you don’t like the weather, wait six months. Oh, we’ll get rain. The weather people cross their fingers and count on that.

And we’ll get around to checking those gutters. In January, during a particularly torrential downpour. You can count on that, too.

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