Notes on the weather

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I’ve heard a lot of jokes about how much it rains in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve told a lot of those jokes. For a decade we lived in Boise, Idaho at the northern end of the great American desert, and traveled regularly to Portland, Oregon, where our conference office was located. At the time, my sister lived in Portland and I used to collect jokes about the wet weather.

“I once thought I saw a Portlander with a tan, but I realized it was rust.”

“Bicyclists in Oregon have to take precautions to avoid dying from drowning.”

“If you live in the northwest, any day in which the mist slows so that you can see across the street is a sunny day.”

“Did you hear about the guy from Seattle who invited his girlfriend to watch the sunset with him? She couldn’t understand the invitation. She’d never seen this mythical thing called a sun.”

I could go on and on, but I don’t think you want me to.

The truth, however, is that we have just had three days in a row with truly cloudless skies. Spring weather has been beautiful and we have enjoyed being outdoors, taking walks without jackets, and driving with the windows down. I commented to Susan the other day that it was interesting seeing some of our neighbors, who have lived here longer than we, being forced to mow their lawns when it isn’t raining. Being a newcomer, so far I haven’t mowed my lawn in the rain, and it still seems strange to me that my neighbors do.

Clear skies mean dramatic views of the mountains. The big mountain around here is Mount Baker, a 10,700 foot volcano. It is an active volcano, but we haven’t seen any of that activity. It has been covered in snow all of the time we’ve lived here. We haven’t yet driven up to the ski resort on the mountain, but it must have been incredible skiing there in recent days with blue skies and unlimited visibility. Since you can see Baker from the coast, I’m sure you can see the ocean from the mountain.

Many of our friends who live here speak frequently of the joy of living in a place that has access to the ocean and the mountains. I have to admit that the scenery is beautiful. I am frequently struck with a sense of gratitude that I get to live in this place and see such gorgeous views.

We were frequent visitors to the Pacific Northwest for all of the years of our active ministry. We have had family in Oregon and Washington for all of our adult lives. This has been one of the most common areas in which we vacationed when we were working. Our career, however, led us to drier places and we didn’t mind it a bit. Despite growing up with some prejudices about the Dakotas, we really enjoyed living there. Our Black Hills home gave us reasons for joy every day. It was a great place to live and work and play.

One of the things that we have been learning in the past few months is about the importance of wetlands in coastal areas. There are huge fields that were covered in water back in February. They appeared to be lakes, covered with swans and geese. When we drive by those same fields today they appear to be grasslands with no lake in sight. I know, however, that if you were to walk across those fields you’d better have you waterproof muck boots on and you might struggle to walk as it is. You wouldn’t want to drive in such a field. You’d become hopelessly stuck.

The rapid transformation of the land from season to season was a problem for early settlers to this place. Indigenous people were amazed that European settlers wanted to locate the city of Seattle in the place they chose. The boom town soon discovered that it had a tremendous water problem. Eventually they filled in a lot of the area with soil hauled form other places. There is a tour offered in downtown Seattle of the underground areas that once were at ground level before they built up the city.

There are several places that have boardwalks through wetlands so that people can visit and explore the areas. There is a lot to see, with muskrats and beaver and hundreds of birds. When we walk by Tennant Lake, we get glimpses of Eagles and Osprey fishing in the shallow waters. There are all kinds of plants that are not familiar to us. Water skimmers slide across the surface of the water. And when it is clear, the view of the mountains is spectacular. We have a lot to learn about the wetlands and the creatures that live there.

There is beauty in other places we have lived that we miss. I can close my eyes and remember the amazing sight of thunderclouds moving off to the east with rainbows stark against the black sky as the sun draws low on the horizon behind me. It is a sight we won’t see in this place. We have mountains to the east, and I realize I’ve lived most of my life on the eastern slopes of the mountains. My perspective is reversed here. But there has been great beauty in every place we’ve live and I feel most fortunate to have had a life’s journey that has taken me to such different places.

So, it doesn’t really rain here every day. We have days of sunshine and blue skies. Perhaps we appreciate those days more than we did when we lived in Boise, where clear skies are constant and rain falls only about 5 days each year. I’ve been trying to come up with a few jokes about the weather in the Dakotas, since we lived there so many years, but the weather itself seems to demand a certain sense of humor. The cold air was blowing over the hills yesterday and snow was falling in our former home. I’ll probably notice those days when it is beautiful here and snowing there for a while.