Overcast, but not downcast

After any random social gathering we end up with an umbrella or two. They belong to the newcomers, freshly arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

Don Ryan/AP/File
A rainbow arcs over the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, in May 2017. Rain, natives say, is better than no rain.

It’s raining. Often, and a lot. This is rain with purpose, intention, and stamina. We haven’t had to top up the birdbaths since October, and if anyone around here had been Dreaming of a Wet Christmas, they got their wish. There’s no rolling a decent snowman out of any of this, but here in western Oregon, we’re not complaining. In fact, we’d been a little worried about whether we’d get our rain at all.

Who can tell? It seems as though all around the world, lately, everyone is getting someone else’s weather, or getting their own at the wrong time of year. Last June, we got some heat that didn’t belong anywhere you weren’t planning to bake a pizza. All the old jokes about the Oregon climate – we don’t tan, we rust! – were starting to sound quaint, like something your great-grandmother rattled on about while you smiled indulgently.

Last I checked, we had three umbrellas in our coat closet. They’re not ours. Like a lot of longtime residents, we don’t own one. Most of us don’t have much to protect: We’re a study in flannel. We don’t dress up. If we’re going to the symphony, we just try to remember to take the bicycle clip off our pant leg. 

Also, umbrellas are kind of a bother: all that opening and closing and shaking out and blowing away. If you’re going to get fussy about a little rain, you’ll never get anything done around here. Just pull up your hood and get on with your day.

Nevertheless, after any random social gathering we end up with an umbrella or two. They belong to the newcomers. 

People have been moving to the Pacific Northwest in droves over the last few years, and the umbrellas come with them. Umbrellas are an invasive species. Maybe we should all get together for a party and swap things around until we all have our own weather back. We could recover our missing food-storage containers while we’re at it, and the umbrellas could find their rightful homes.

I was a newcomer once, too, but that was 45 years ago. I was one of the fortunate ones: It turned out I’d landed in the right spot. I’d seen enough heat and humidity to last me a lifetime. I enjoy sunshine, but – I have to admit – not as much as the next person. A little of it goes a long way with me. I like to order my thoughts and words against the soft felt of an overcast sky. My imagination is stored on an actual cloud.

The newcomers, at least, don’t bring their old weather with them, but it’s possible they would if they could. They usually keep their game face on for a couple of months, but by January they’re starting to squint up into the gray sky – frequently so low they can touch it – and wonder aloud if the occasional spot of sunshine would be too much to ask. “Oh well,” they say, feigning pluck, “that’s what makes everything so nice and green.” 

By February they’re holed up inside, anxiously trying to hang on. By March, they’ve taken on a plaintive tone, and if nothing changes by April, they start to get downright ornery and reach for their luggage.

That, of course, gives us old-timers the opportunity to demonstrate our composure. We suspect that the inability to emotionally withstand months of low light is a sign of weakness of character, a weakness we stalwarts do not share – not in public, anyway. Our imperviousness to gloom is our own peculiar virtue. 

It used to be we might grumble a bit among ourselves by the time April showers brought, well, May showers, but with all these new people around, we have to shoulder our burden cheerfully. It sets us apart.

Yes, we get a little smug about it, but we might just as well. It was a rough summer last year, and we know that ’tis better to be smug and wet than never to be wet at all.

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