Well, it’s raining again. And again. This has been one of the wettest and coldest springs in Port Townsend history, and apparently we’ve got another atmospheric river riding its way through this weekend.
It’s okay. Rain quite literally comes with the territory, and provides fodder for song, literature and romance, not to mention excuses for travel elsewhere. I’ve used it for all of those, plus more. Rain is a major player in That Damned Novel I Wrote Last Year, a character with a personality of its own, as it should be, as it is in this real world of ours.
Just this morning I was pounding my head against the keyboard, trying to remedy a structural flaw in the narrative, and came across an early introduction to this friend Rain of ours. Seems apt for the day.
It’s raining when Friday comes.
It is often said that there are as many names for rain in the Pacific Northwest as there are names for snow among the Inuit. This is not true. In practice, there are fewer than a dozen, and the most frequently used all borrowed from the Irish, for whom lamenting the rain beats out even drinking as the chief national pastime in winter.
The lightest form is the evocative “soft day,” in which the air simply hangs in mist. You get the sense that you could stay dry on a soft day if you only stood still enough.
The next few levels for which the Irish have distinctions are dismissed here as “spit.” It’s weather in which parents who are new to the area will call their children indoors, while children who have grown up here will pause only to wonder what their new-found friends have done wrong. It can spit for weeks on end in winter, but no one really seems to get around to pulling out their rain gear unless they’re planning to go for a hike.
It’s only once water is coming down hard enough to feel individual impacts, or to hear through the roof, that locals dignify it with that simplest of descriptors: “It’s raining.” But the thing is that it’s almost never just “raining.” Or only briefly doing so as the sky clears its throat for a moment amid an afternoon of spit, or during an intermission between episodes of some of the more aggressive levels of precipitation.
“Pouring” is the next level up from unadorned rain. Pouring is when you can bodily feel the accumulation of water upon you. Pouring is the point when most residents will consider that they really ought to take the car instead of biking into town, or should maybe just not go. Pouring is when the ground quickly becomes sodden and rivulets on trails form streams to carry away the excess. Pouring transmogrifies inviting green fields into soft muck that will suck shoes off the unwary for the delight of future archeologists. Around here, generally speaking, when it rains, it pours.
Once it gets past “pouring” to “dumping” or “bucketing,” there really is no question. Unless the baby’s coming or the cat’s out of food, you’ll swivel the old red comfy chair to face the window, put on a pot of tea and wait it out with the crossword puzzle. Because it’s not going to keep coming down like this for long. It never dumps for very long.
Children know this and are apt to ask if they may go out and play in this weather. Unlike adults, they have not lost touch with the visceral joy to be had by letting yourself be pelted, knocked about by huge gobs of water. It’s like a water balloon fight with God, and unlike adults, children have not forgotten that in water balloon fights it’s the loser who emerges triumphant. Also unlike adults, they will not have to be the one to impound every soaked bit of clothing that is worn back into the house after a good bucketing to ensure that there’s no need, a week or two on, to track down the pungent aroma of a ripe pair of soaked skivvies chucked under the bed for safekeeping.
There are levels of precipitation beyond “dumping,” but they all involve some degree of freezing or wind and are seen merely as the addition of insult to injury. The Irish might call them “lashing,” “hammering” or “pelting.” But at this point locals, otherwise so eager to find the apt word, seem most often to just shake their heads and say, “Some weather, eh?”
It’s worth noting that the linguistic record among the area’s first people seems consistent with this dismissal. Surely we have lost much of the nuance in native languages, but some scholars believe that the Salish tended to divide their accounting of precipitation into only two levels: snas -“weather,” meaning an ordinary amount of rain, and p̓icaqʻ ‘nas – “bad weather”.