05 December 2007
Dreaming of a Gray, Soggy Christmas
One of my favorite about-faces in history occurred just over two hundred years ago and is revealed in the journals of Lewis and Clark. After two years of slogging their way across some of the most inhospitable terrain in North America, they had finally reached the Pacific Ocean, a feat that many had thought impossible. On November 7th, 1805, Clark expressed the elation felt by the entire expedition in the most famous phrase he ever penned: "Ocian in view! O! the joy!" A few days later, the realities of a Northwest winter (and a particularly wet one, at that) had set in, prompting a drenched Clark to exclaim, "O how horrible is the day!" Lewis and Clark were among the first to record their complaints about Northwest rain for posterity, but they have certainly not been the last. I have always argued that gray skies and steady rain are vastly preferable to snow as winter weather, with of my central points being that water is generally much more disruptive to daily life in solid form than as a liquid; I can understand how people might get depressed by the lack of sunshine and might want to dry out, but rain (with the obvious exception of hurricanes) usually doesn't shut down cities the way a snowstorm does. The key word in that last sentence is 'usually.' Last weekend, nature chalked up another big victory in its ongoing struggle against mankind by drenching the Northwest with a truly impressive rainstorm. Here in Eugene, the rain began to fall in earnest at exactly the moment Oregon State beat Oregon in double overtime (Coincidence? I think not...) and continued unabated until some time Monday night. This wasn't your typical Northwest drizzle, either. These were torrential, Noachian rains made all the worse by 100+ mile per hour winds on the coast. The results have been spectacular. Highways and railroads across the region are flooded, including Interstate 5, the region's main artery. The logging town of Vernonia was first cut off from the outside world by landslides and then had to be evacuated by National Guardsmen in inflatable rafts. The world's tallest Sitka spruce is now a great deal shorter, and I think I speak for most people here when I say I'm skeptical that my house and yard will ever be dry again. For anyone who thinks I'm exaggerating, I suggest you check out The Oregonian's excellent photo gallery of the storm. After all this, though, I'm still sticking to my guns: give me a rainstorm over a blizzard any day!