Speaking of the weather

I suppose every place has some kind of weather reputation. One of the things that I remember about our move from Chicago to North Dakota is that I had several friends in Chicago who cautioned us about the cold weather in North Dakota. It does get cold in North Dakota and where we lived often had days that were colder than Chicago, but Chicago isn’t known for its tropical weather, either. It is called the windy city for a good reason. I remember plenty of cold days in Chicago winters. What was strange about the move is that when we arrived in North Dakota, several people with whom we talked asked us about how we had managed the cold Chicago weather.

We tolerated the cold weather in both places fairly well.

When we moved to Boise, Idaho, the locals there bragged of “360 sunny days a year.” Some of my friends knew that Boise is pretty much in a desert and warned about the dry conditions, but the city itself has access to plentiful irrigation water and doesn’t have a desert feel at all. And it is close to the mountains that enjoy plenty of winter precipitation. What we didn’t anticipate, and no one mentioned about Boise is that the wind doesn’t blow there very often. Growing up in a very windy place on the east slope of the Rockies and having lived in Chicago and western North Dakota, I was used to wind, but I didn’t know that you could actually miss the wind. I missed the wind during our time in Idaho. Occasionally, we’d have a little storm and the wind would blow 30 or 40 mph and the streets would be littered with tree branches and other debris. Even the trees weren’t used to wind. In the town where I grew up in Montana we knew that when the wind speed display on the local television channel showed 0 mph it meant that the wind had been blowing over 100 mph. Somewhere between 100 and 120 mph the wind gauge would break and the display would read 0 and that was the only time it showed no wind. But in Boise, I missed the wind. The air would get stale. I learned to drive up into the mountains to get above the inversion and breath fresh air.

Moving back to the Dakotas, our Boise friends worried that we might freeze, but as the Dakotas go, Rapid City isn’t the coldest place. There are plenty of jokes about the banana belt. We didn’t see any bananas growing, but we also didn’t suffer from extreme weather. There were some memorable storms, but weathering storms gives good stories to tell and we never really suffered even when the electricity was off for a few days.

The weather reputation of the Pacific Northwest is that it always rains. Those who don’t live here make jokes about rust instead of sun tan, about folks developing gills, and about rain that is so constant that the locals don’t even know it is raining. It is the wettest place we have ever lived, but it isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation. We walk outside every day and there have been a few days when we walked in the rain, but most days there is a break in the rain long enough to allow a good walk. And in the midst of rainy times, the sun does break forth. The last few days have been glorious, with shirtsleeve weather, sunny skies and beautiful views of the mountains. I’m not sure we’ve seen any truly cloudless skies, but we’ve seen plenty of blue skies and sunshine. It doesn’t rain constantly here and we don’t carry snorkels in our car. In fact, I think I’m beginning to become a bit of a local in that I rarely bother with an umbrella. Most of the time umbrellas are more work than they are worth. A little rain doesn’t hurt anything.

When we lived in Boise, I often had meetings in Portland, Oregon, and I used to think that the locals in Portland didn’t know when it was raining. I’d be ducking around trying to keep dry and the locals would be going about their business as if nothing was happening. I remember walking down the street in downtown Portland and realizing that I was the only one with an umbrella. I may have developed more understanding for those Portlanders in the last few months.

What we do have is an early spring. The crocuses are blooming along with daffodils in some places. The tulips are up and the fruit trees are blossoming. All around us things are green.

Our county is famous for its April Tulip Festival. All month long people flock to the fields around town to look at the rows and rows of colorful tulips. Our region produces a huge percentage of all of the tulip bulbs sold in the United States. I’ve never before lived in a place where growing flowers was a commercial enterprise with big machinery and acres upon acres of glorious flowers. When I think of tulips, I think of Holland and there is a Dutch connection to the tulip farms here in Skagit County. After European settlers began to move into the area, there was a concerted effort to attract immigrants from Holland because of their skills at engineering dikes and other systems to hold back the water. The lowlands of the county are prone to frequent flooding and some fields are flooded every year. Dikes are constructed to minimize the back flow of saltwater from the ocean and to control the flooding. Along with the immigrants came tulip bulbs and now Skagit county is a lot like parts of the Netherlands.

This year some of the tulip farms are requiring reservations for those wanting to walk through the tulip fields. Plans are in place to allow for separation of visitors to minimize the threat of spreading disease. In reality, I suspect, separating the tourists is good business. After all people come to take pictures of the flowers, not other tourists. We’ll see. I don’t plan to pay for a tulip tour this year, but we’ll take drives out into the countryside and see what we can.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the sunshine and adjusting to life in a new place with a new climate.