I live in a city famous for its dreary weather.
People always talk about the gray. I moved here for the green. When I first visited Portland in September, 2005, I’d driven up from California on a whim. If you’ve ever done this drive, you know that you’re on Interstate 5 for a very, very long time. From Carmel, CA to Portland is about 730 miles. About 550 of those are I-5, and it is not always a beautiful drive. Much of it is flat, dusty farmland, small nowhere-towns and miles and miles of seemingly endless asphalt. Finally exiting the highway in Southwest Portland, I was suddenly surrounded by tall white trees which had yet to drop their abundant green leaves onto the streets below. For the five days I was here on that first visit it only rained once and never got chilly. The weather was nice enough to wander the city and visit the Japanese Garden in only a hooded sweatshirt. I fell in love with this place.
So I moved here four months later and didn’t see the sun for three weeks. It was an adjustment. What I didn’t know at the time was that we were in the midst of a particularly nasty winter. In the years since, I’ve learned the value of a parka, absorbed the fact that no self-respecting Portlander carries an umbrella (the wind ruins them) and nearly perfected the delicate art of driving in the rain, which takes not only skill but also great stores of nerve. I also learned that there’s a particular beauty to a freezing-cold day, that there’s a sweetness in walking fast enough to warm up and maybe rewarding yourself with a hot cocoa for your trouble. I’ve learned that the seasons, even the cold, grey seasons, are glorious and made more glorious by their contrast to one another.
On a clear day here, Mount Hood is visible to the east and St. Helens to the northeast. On a warm day people flock downtown to the riverfront and laze on the banks of the Willamette. Out of the city on 84 is the Columbia River Gorge which is the best place I’ve ever been to watch a sunset. West about two and a half hours is the Oregon Coast, which is a stunningly beautiful sight even to someone who grew up spittin’ distance from the beach. Go North the same distance and you’re in Seattle.
Yes, it rains all winter, through much of fall, well into Spring and sometimes even in summer. And that is why we have such voluptuous rivers, internationally famous gardens and rolling green hills. That’s also why we’re a booming agricultural area where the idea of sustainable local food isn’t just a pipe-dream, it’s a happy reality. I feel better knowing where my meat, dairy and produce comes from. Have you ever bought Tillamook cheese? Well, I’ve been to Tillamook.
People talk about the rain, but people don’t talk about our gorgeous summers where it’s never too humid and seldom too hot and it stays light until ten at night and you can sit outside your favorite pub (there are, after all, some great pubs here) and drink fruity drinks until 2am. Does no one notice? Before I moved here, I never heard anyone talk about how the smell of clover and fresh-cut grass drifts through the air here in April and May, or how the leaves turn gold and red in October when the days are still, as often as not, warm.
This is the time of year, early spring, when the grass is growing again and the flowers are beginning to bud and while, yes, it’s raining today, it got up near 70 degrees yesterday.
We get less rain here annually, in inches, than New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami or (get this) Houston. Compared to where I’m from in California, sure, it’s rainy here. Compared to other cities outside California and the Southwest, our rainfall is about average.
I visit California and its eternal springtime whenever I can. On Christmas day, 2007, I drove up into the golden hills near my mother’s house and watched the sun sink down on a 75 degree day. A few days later I flew back into Portland, and upon stepping off the plane into the freezing, damp air, I thought clearly and happily, “I’m home.”