When I was a small boy — the year before we moved out West — I remember a summer when some Californians came to visit.
On a warm summer day, the New Jersey sky opened up in an angry cascade of warm rain. This is a common occurrence back East. The rain would crash down in torrents from the coal-gray skies, pounding the mown lawns and the tidy streets of our neighborhood.
The Californians took off their shoes and ran out into the rain, dancing in their T-shirts, shorts and bare feet in the puddles that formed on hot sidewalks and concrete driveways.
It was the late 1970s and California had been in the midst of an epic drought.
They had been missing the rain.
In 1978, we moved with those Californians to the hills above Lyle — east side of the Cascades, but where the scrub oak are like pebbles on the shore of the vast desert ocean of Eastern Washington.
It is a place where the rain quits us in early May, never to return until late October. If you blink in that early spring, the green will be gone. Cloudless summer skies and blistering heat were the norm. Sun so bright it seemed to leap up from the ground to assault your eyes. Wind was oven hot and gave no relief. It curled in dust devils a mile away.
I remember one summer on High Prairie and I had a job pulling up fence posts along a property line with a boom truck. The metal of the barbed wire burned skin. We ate our lunches huddled in a sliver of thin shadow offered under by the frying-pan-hot truck.
It was a magical thing then to even see a ghost of a cloud far off a mountain’s shoulder, even so, there was no promise of rain in it.
One summer we vacationed on the coast. Walked summer rain-soaked streets of Ilwaco, blue tarps rustling on hulls in the boatyard. Watercolor skies and swirling mists in late June when the grass back home had already dried to brown.
I married a local girl Grays River girl that I met at college. It was Amy that taught me the rhythms of the rain forest life. Past 20 years now, it has wrapped its ways around me like favored polar fleece and Gor-Tex.
In my little home among the Willapa Hills, we average more than 110 inches of rain each year, with 192 days of measurable rainfall. That is 30 inches a year more than the highest rainfall picked up in Portland and many surrounding communities. Indeed, the least amount of rain received at the Grays River hatchery — 75.9 inches in 1985 — was still higher than Portland’s average yearly rainfall. (data up to 2006) Astoria averages less than 70 inches a year — but has the same number of rainy days at 191.
Thus the Grays River valley in particular — like Pluvius and Forks and Quillayute — lies in a perfect place for precipitation — inland just enough from the coast, tucked between the first ridges of hills that harvest the fresh clouds with their peaks.
I never tire of it.
It could rain 100 days in a row here — it often does — yet it can be different each day. This is a wild and dynamic meteorologic magic to which we are privileged.
I will not go on about its practical benefits: Yes it waters our gardens, grows our trees and feeds our river songs. It washes our streets, greens our fields.’
It calls our salmon back from the ocean.
It hides our tears.
I write best, and most often in the rain. Sitting in my recliner looking out my window or stomping through the wet fields and forest brings relentless words to mind.
Conversely, I have been trained by my time on the wet side of the state to associate a rainless day with outdoor projects and work to be done.
Seize the golden day between the storms. Make hay while the sun shines.
Comes now a year when a dry summer follows a dry spring, following a winter punctuated by an unusual number of sunny days. Good for motorcycles and horseback rides, for outdoor projects that usually would not even get started until mid-summer. Not so good for quiet contemplation at the keyboard.
So it was this summer that my grass dried to brittle yellow before June had even past.
So it was that the cows and horses huddled in the shade rather than graze on the dwindling grass.
Then came a hint of a rainstorm on the weather forecast.
A summer storm at last.
I found myself in a state of anticipation, dashing around cleaning up the yard, watching the clouds gather. I could smell the air thickening, I longed for a growl of thunder to herald the coming rain.
When at last I awoke to that music on my metal roof I found strange joy in the pre-dawn hours knowing the rain had finally come. Later that morning, I went down and took up my book by the window. I smiled but did not read. I simply looked out at the gray.
I wanted to go out then, in the summer storm.
I wanted to take off my shoes
I had been missing the rain.