"There is a plume of moisture entrained in the system." What to most might be bewildering weather-speak from an official government forecast is poetry to author David Laskin's...
“There is a plume of moisture entrained in the system.”
What to most might be bewildering weather-speak from an official government forecast is poetry to author David Laskin’s ears. A self-professed rain nut, Laskin lives for the Northwest’s famed drippiness.
Standing on the madrona-studded bluffs above the beach at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park in late November, Laskin scanned the low horizon, hopeful for the least hint of precipitation. To that time, our autumn had been so painfully dry that he’d begun resenting Californians for hogging “our” storm systems, and checking the National Weather Service page obsessively. But when you read his rain poetry, it’s hard not to long for a healthy drizzle yourself. In his book, “Rains all the Time: A Connoisseur’s History of Weather in the Pacific Northwest,” Laskin writes, “Rain is balm, holy oil, lullaby, and gray the most mystical color in nature’s palette.”
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So instead of seeking refuge in hotter climes this season, step outside to experience rejuvenation Northwest style.
“People get all cobwebby in the winter and claim it’s too dreary to go out,” Laskin says. “But when they do get out in the rain, they feel cleansed. Besides being endlessly fascinating, weather is the most beautiful thing on our planet.”
Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may instinctually balk at immersing themselves in what they see as the crux of their problem, but doctors advise SAD sufferers to get out in the light — even if it is cloud-filtered and wet.
As for why this particular spot is lovely for a moist walk, Laskin starts with the voluminous sky. Along the bluffs behind us, crows hurtle insults at a lone red-tailed hawk, while to the west a 180-degree wall of clouds sighs like an expectant gray mother.
“Some people watch whales, others watch birds — I’m into convergence-zone watching,” says Laskin. And this is prime zone-watching territory. The Puget Sound Convergence Zone is active when Pacific winds rife with oceanic rains sweep north and south around the Olympic Peninsula through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Chehalis Gap, respectively. After rounding the mountains the winds meet — or converge — and are forced upward, causing rain to fall. The main area affected is from Everett south to the King-Snohomish county line. It’s a chance to see rain in the making.
“The interesting thing about a convergence zone is that skies can be clear to the north and south while, in the zone itself, rain comes down in buckets,” Laskin writes. Charcoal-colored drapes of heavy rain can be flanked by sunny patches, sometimes accompanied by rainbows.
Although convergence-zone activity is more common in the spring and early summer, Richmond Beach Saltwater Park is a great weather lookout year-round: “Many people might complain about just another overcast day,” Laskin says. “But by becoming a weather connoisseur you can learn to appreciate the subtle gradations — keep your eye on the sky and you’ll notice how often it changes. Terms like cloudy or overcast are so unrevealing about how changeable and how beautiful it really is. There’s a constant parade of different kinds of rain in the Northwest. I would compare it to hiking through really varied terrain.”
The park road winds steeply downward to trails leading to a pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks, where the scent of saltwater mingles with creosote. Golden-crowned kinglets and bushtits flit between brambles with the lightness of butterflies, and marshy areas along the tracks are home to red-winged blackbirds. Across the bridge, a sandy shoreline scattered with beachcomber-tempting pebbles and punctuated by driftwood forts stretches promisingly in both directions.
This particular walk is one of Laskin’s favorites because of the interplay between salt and rain water. “I love the glaze — how things shine in the rain. And what it does to the water, how rain pocks it and puckers it, the texture it creates on the Sound,” says Laskin.
A soggy solitude
One benefit to a walk in the rain is the solitude — sunk deep within a raincoat hood, wrapped in your own thoughts. Although human company may be sparse, there are plenty of other creatures with which to celebrate a squall. Winter bird visitors including golden-eyes, mergansers, scoters and buffleheads cling to these shores seeking fish in sheltering eel-grass beds. Harbor seals sneak peeks at beach walkers from a safe distance, their knowing stares making believable the Irish legend about silkies — seals that shed their skins and walk among us in human form.
At low tide it’s possible to walk a little more than a mile south to the mouth of Boeing Creek, a salmon stream where you might spy late-returning chum or coho. (Warning: Check tide charts carefully before attempting this walk because it is extremely dangerous as well as illegal to walk on the train tracks, which might be the only other option when the tide comes in.) If you try a night rain walk at low tide, bring a flashlight and poke among the rocks directly out from the picnic shelter to look for intertidal creatures such as orange sea cucumbers, chitons and sunflower sea stars.
On a stormy day you can imagine yourself on a Pacific Ocean beach, where these same rains were born possibly hours ago.
In addition to its variability and beauty, Laskin finds the weather a useful antidote to the front-page blues:
“The world situation is so bleak, but there’s always the weather to keep things in perspective. It’s going to go on beyond our control and understanding. That’s both reassuring and humbling.”
Kathryn True of Vashon Island is co-author with Maria Dolan of “Nature In the City: Seattle” (The Mountaineers Books, 2003) and a regular contributor to Northwest Weekend.