The Drizzle of the Evergreen State
As if a dry and warm 2022 summer wasn’t enough, the rainy season started for us Washingtonians in late October. That cold, nagging, back day after day for weeks on end drizzle of our beautiful evergreen state marked the beginning of the so-called “Big Dark” of the Northwest.
My root in the United States began with the Midwest Heartland, before extending to the east coast in the mid-1990s. After calling New Jersey home for 17 years, my husband and I felt we were ready to venture out when our son entered his junior year in college. And to be honest, I was bored with having 4 distinct seasons every year and itchy to experience something different. Our eyes were set on the West Coast ever since the driving trip in the summer of 2002. We fell head over heels in love with the rugged Pacific coastline and driving in that part of the country became a summer family ritual. We knew that one day, we’d move to the “left coast”. In June 2014, the father-and-son duo did a cross-country trip. When they reached Seattle from the east, they were taken by the miles and miles of conifers lining Interstate 5 on one side, and the snowcapped Cascade Range on the distant horizon. “We have found our new home state!” I received a text message while sitting in a business meeting in sunny San Jose, California. The end of that cross-country trip marked the beginning of our westward “migration” to the Evergreen State.
That same year, I was invited to give a short talk at a leadership offsite, about a data analysis-based automation initiative I was leading. There was one requirement for the talk: it needed to be delivered with a personal life experience. This requirement felt handy - all the data I gathered during the home search process became perfect material for my talk.
Welcome to the beautiful Evergreen State, home to 3 national parks, over 140 state parks, 20 plus snow-covered mountain peaks, and hiking trails that total more than 700 miles! Concerned about the infamous rainy weather? Just read the data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climatic Data Center - Washington ranked No.29 in annual precipitation with 38.4 inches - way below No.15 New Jersey - with the No.1 spot occupied by the paradise state Hawaii’s whopping 63.7 inches!
My 10-minute “Ted Talk” received a big round of applause. During the lunch break, my senior VP, who was living on the East Coast but had worked as an executive at Boeing for years, caught up with me at the buffet table: “Hey were you kidding me? Whenever I traveled to Seattle, it was ALWAYS raining!” He was only half teasing. “Ha! You were just unlucky and must have been here on one of the 150 rainy days!” I smirked and slipped away with a piece of smoked Sockeye Salmon on my plate.
We found our new home in the fir country along the southern border of Washington. At elevation 1,700 ft, our house is tucked behind giant Western Red Cedars and Hemlocks, backed against a forest of native Alders and Douglas Firs, with Mt. Hood standing in the distance. It was perfect!
Good things always come with packages. Our year-round emerald green comes with the Washingtonian drizzle. That drizzle may not put Washington high on the nation’s precipitation list, it sure makes our sky seem heavy with its impenetrable grey. And when downtown Vancouver is having a cloudy day, chances are it is raining up in the clouds. When temperatures drop, the sprinkles that fell on city folks may very well become flurries for us mountain dwellers. I used to stare at pictures of cloud-enclosed valleys and misty veil-draped mountains and be captivated by the tranquility. Never had I imagined being part of the dreamy scene. It was even less imaginable that such beauty can become fatigued. That “too much of a good thing” saying can be true.
Little by little, my admiration of the evergreen was chipped away by the unyielding drizzle and grey sky, taking my enthusiasm for gardening and daily nature walks with it.
“When am I going to get a break from this suffocating fog?” I lamented.
“Honey, many would kill to get such a view on their vacation,” my husband cooed gently.
One day, I was chatting with a Seattle-based co-worker. He had been a Seattleite for decades. A fine drizzle had been spraying outside the window, on and off for hours. “It’s almost time for my daily walk,” he mentioned casually. “With an umbrella?” I teased him. “Oh, there is no need for an umbrella, it is just a drizzle. I used to hate it but now I love walking in the drizzle, it is refreshing,” his nonchalant tone turned passionate. “To love our weather, you will have to learn to appreciate it with a different frame of mind.”
A different frame of mind. The thick grey started to crack open.
I have changed my outdoor walks from a fixed schedule to whenever there is a break in the weather, and on the days when the drizzle decides to skip the break and turn into a downpour, I’d walk on the treadmill with the window open, taking in the damp fresh air with each deep breath. Years ago, the concept of oxygen bars was quite popular. I am wondering if the oxygen bars could come close to delivering this mind-clearing experience, at home, on demand.
I have learned to let the native plants thrive instead of fighting to keep the sun-loving cultivars alive - wild berries, foxgloves, lilies and daffodils effortlessly add just enough excitement to the otherwise green but wild landscape. I have come to love the wildflowers in the yard with their bright colors framed by different shades of green - I no longer use the word “lawn” to refer to what should just be called “meadow”. I have come to terms with our Pacific Northwest nature - I am no longer pining for what is not “natural” to the microclimate up the mountain.
I have made friends with local master gardeners and discovered the heirloom tomatoes taste just like the ones from the memories of my childhood, not perfect looking but make you suck your mouth with every bite you take. I have learned to plant the ones that require a shorter time to bear fruits and keep producing until the first frost, and different ways to enjoy them when they are in abundance.
And then, one morning after a long stretch of drizzling, we’d awake to an Mt. Hood lit up by the golden rays of the rising winter sun, stratocumulus clouds dotted the expansive sky – blue, red, orange, yellow, and black as if it is an oil painting palette. “Our rainy days exist so we can be captivated by this beauty,” I whispered to myself, surrendering to the awe of our Pacific Northwest sky.
There is also another kind of morning, a crystal blue sky marked only with the white contrails of jetliners. A thick blanket of clouds wraps around the waist of Mt. Hood. “Look!” I pointed it to my husband, “It must be cloudy down in Vancouver, maybe even drizzling!” I gave him an evil grin.
We are now starting our 9th year as Washingtonians, and I am still learning to love the weather. I believe in slow-developed love, love with effort. It will last longer, opposite our sunny winter sky.