I love the Pacific Northwest, I really do. Having grown up in the flat, humid in summer and snowbound in winter Midwest, I have learned to appreciate this lovely place.
It’s a treat to look to the east and see Mt. Rainier. It’s nice to be able to look out the front windows and see the Black Hills (WA, not S. Dakota.). I love that the ocean, the mountains, and the high desert are all within one and half hours’ drive.
But the weather makes you pay for it.
Usually, especially in winter, we will go months without seeing the sun. I mean it. If you even THINK you have SAD, do not live here.
And it’s usually cold, and dank, and breezy. 2011 was the 9th coldest year since they began keeping weather records. We had only ONE day where the temperature broke 80 degrees…in July. We had no summer. None. We had a lovely September, but by then, anything you tried to harvest had given up and died.
We don’t always get snow, but when we do, we get a different set of problems than just the usual ones of no snowplows, howling winds tearing down powerlines and plunging us into the dark for two weeks, and all that snow melting overnight and pushing the rivers over their banks. No, we get something extra: transplanted Rust Belters like myself who Think They Know How to Drive In Snow. You don’t have to ask where they’re from. You can recognize a Rust Belter when you see their supercilious expression. When you say you are afraid to drive in the snow, they sneer at you with a “You call this Snow? Shit, this ain’t snow. I grew up in Snow Country. I know how to drive in this.” And then they go out in their 4 wheel drive SUV’s and run dozens of Washingtonians off the road in their hubristic haste to show off that they know how to drive in snow. But they don’t, really. Even in Michigan it takes a native two snows to relearn how to drive in snow. They don’t get that here. We get something a little more treacherous than just a heavy blanket of snow: it is usually covering black ice. Black ice under even a light dusting of snow will trash the most experienced Rust Belter just as quickly as the Car Wash State neophyte.
I do not tempt the snow demons by sneering at their efforts. They may not be able to snow like it does in the Rust Belt, but they still can make your car spin like a ballet dancer before they toss it, upside down, in the ditch.
What we have most of is: rain. In 1998, we experienced the Washout Year. It rained for over a 100 days in a row. It began raining (after a killing frost) on 1 September, and didn’t stop until the 4th of July. Now, this doesn’t mean it rains without a stop, but rain doesn’t really stop here. It just grows lighter in intensity. There really IS a difference between ‘rain’ and ‘showers’, and I know what they are, now. We get rain. We get rain in amounts that a Rust Belter would pale at were it snow. Because were it snow…and sometimes it is…it would be up to your neck. Two winters ago, it was snow, and I trudged out to my bird feeders in the back pasture with snow up to my hips. In the mountains, it is snow, and there are parts of the Cascades that do not see a day that doesn’t have a little bit of snow falling.
It rains. It rains a LOT. It rains Most of the Time. The way you can tell summer from winter is that summer’s rain is a little warmer.
So when you see pictures of Seattle or our lovely coast or our lovely Cascades, think. That picture was taken in 1988, the last time we had a summer. It was warm and dry! The sun shone! Everyone brought out their children to see the sun, so that they could tell THEIR children that they saw the sun, once upon a time. I warn you. If you don’t like rain and gray skies all year long, do not move here.
This winter has been relatively dry, in that we have less than normal amount of rain. What we have had is cold, and that’s unusual, too.
Today it was 35 degrees. Patrisha and I planned to ride.
It would have been a crime not to.
It was the perfect temperature: not so cold that your fingers were freezing, but cold enough to make you appreciate your riding gloves. It was perfect for the horses. They could work without getting sweaty. . It was cold enough to make for a nice brisk day, where you were glad for your down vest and jacket and gloves, but wearing them made it perfect.
The sun was out. Only a day in a northern winter has this specific lucidity of light, an indescribable clarity distilled from sunshine and yesterday’s rain. This was the light that Ansel Adams would wait weeks for.
There wasn’t a lick of wind.
There wasn’t a cloud in the pure blue sky. It was touched only by raucous bands of Brewer’s blackbirds and a hunting northern harrier.
The Mountain, my mountain, Tahoma, or Mt. Rainier, was on the skyline, tall, majestic, snow covered. With the air as clear as ice cold vodka, he looked close enough to touch.
I met Patrisha at the arena. She was lucky to get a spot for the truck and trailer. The horsewomen came out in droves, drawn outdoors by the light, leaving their husbands home watching the football game.
Soldier and Spinner were both frisky. Both had the wind in their manes and wanted to buck, gallop, do anything fast and fun. We kept them to a nice working trot in the arena. It took twenty minutes for Soldier to come down enough for me to be able to safely trot. Spinner was being exceptionately well behaved, despite coming into heat. She is going well on the bit and was very good for Patrisha. But we were under a roof. Let’s go ride in the jumping pasture!
There’s a large pasture with jumps set up. It’s deep in grass and big enough for a full blown gallop. I’d walked Soldier out there months ago, but he’d forgotten it. He was so full of p and v that I had to keep my wits about me. I changed his “bit’ from a sidepull to an English hackamore. I have less brakes with the hackamore, but he seems a lot happier with it. Nevertheless, I felt as if I had a racehorse underneath me. I could feel him wound up tight as a watchspring. He was like a shaken bottle of champagne, just aching for the cork to be released. Had I asked, he would have exploded into a gallop.
Spinner was just as high. She has done a lot of maturing in the last year. She was excited, too, but she, like Soldier, minded their manners. They clearly wanted to run, but decided to obey us.
We trotted over ground poles and stepped over logs. Patrisha told me that Soldier had been used as a jumper when one of his owners did Pony Club, and so he knew how to jump. I don’t. Nor do I want to. I fell off a jumper years ago, despite the jumps being miniscule.
So we merely hacked outside, in the glorious sunshine, with the cobalt sky arching overhead and my mountain in the distance. With my house clearly visible at his feet!
What a glorious day! Perfect weather, perfect horse, perfect day.
This is why I love this place. We have “too” weather 364 days of the year: too overcast, too cold, too windy, too rainy, too much snow.
But once in a while, we get just the right amount of temperature, sun, wind and sky.
Today it was just too perfect to not be outside on the back of the perfect horse.
Today, 8 Jan 2012, was a perfect day to be alive.