As a modern culture, we tend to categorize weather as “good” or “bad,” as if only one kind could be loved and celebrated. But if we only go out when the weather is “good,” we’re missing out on deep human experiences that can help put our lives in context.
Of course, to some extent it makes sense to avoid “bad” weather. For our ancestors, fall, winter and early spring could be harsh times. There was no romanticizing the colder months because they were too busy focusing on pure survival. But now many of us have the privilege of sitting inside looking out, protected from the harsh realities of the outside, natural world. It’s comfortable, and it makes survival a lot easier—but this luxury removes us from experiencing the natural cycle firsthand.
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Many years ago I read Colin Beavan’s book No Impact Man and one section has always stuck with me. Beavan is carrying his daughter Isabella (she was toddler-age in the book, from my memory) to a park, in a downpour, in the middle of New York City. It’s wet and windy, and he tries to maneuver his umbrella so that they won’t get wet. Isabella is irritated and crying, the precise reaction we adults might expect from a cold, blustery day when someone drags you outside. Soon a gust of wind grabs the umbrella, pulling it out of Beaven’s hand and removing their protection. His daughter’s tears subside, she calms. He quickly realizes that his daughter isn’t crying because she is getting wet. She is crying because the umbrella is keeping her out of the rain.
She wants to feel the elements.
I think this passage stuck with me because I, too, know that feeling. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and here, rain is less an irritant and more of a thing-that-you-live-with. Certainly, we’ll complain about the weather, but if you don’t learn to coexist with it, you’ll hardly survive. After all, if weather dictated whether or not you would go outside, you might rarely get outside.
Rain is a constant in the Pacific Northwest, and some of the best adventures can be had with your rain jacket cinched tight around your cheeks, a trail winding through moss-covered maples, leaves glistening in their wet sheen. After all, even in the worst downpour, as long as you have stashed a thermos full of a warm drink and a pair of dry socks in the car at the trailhead, you’ll be rewarded for your commitment to getting outside no matter what.
These are rules I abide by. Even in a downpour, I still try to ride my bike instead of taking the car, and a weather prognosis of rainclouds doesn’t mean I will pull the plug on an outdoor excursion. I love how a body of water looks when it’s raining, the many raindrops creating ripples that extend all across the washed-out surface of the sea. Sometimes if it’s pouring in the middle of the workday, I’ll go outside and just stand in the rain for a few minutes, closing my eyes and lifting my chin towards the sky. I have even been known to randomly run outside barefoot in the spring rain, just to feel the wet grass on my feet—a cold, damp jolt to remind me I’m alive.
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Between travel and unusually sunny weather this past fall and winter, I realized recently that I had essentially no rain time under my belt this season. So I made a goal to go out no matter what for the next few weeks. Certainly I would get myself outside on a wet day if I made it a mission. Rain in the forecast but craving a walk? Put on a waterproof jacket. Interested in camping but the forecast looks spotty? Pack some extra dry wool socks and go anyway.
Sticking to this plan, for the last month and a half, I have gotten outside whenever possible, telling myself that the weather will not determine my motivation. And yet, it has remained sunny—my plan foiled. Even one weekend when the clouds felt imminent, I still got through it with only a touch of sprinkles (the wet kind, not the cupcake kind). One afternoon when I had planned a run, there seemed to be the promise of rain, and yet when I hit the trail, the drops let up, the sky opening up with the last bits of light before sunset. At least my feet got muddy and I rubbed up against a few wet cedar branches for good measure.
I’d committed to get outside no matter the conditions, and all I had to show for it was one single, only slightly wet trail run? #pnwblessed for some, but all of a sudden I was more aware of the weather than ever before. I was literally trying to go outside in rainy weather and I couldn’t find any. I found myself starting to crave the rain.
To complain about not having rain feels like a sacrilegious act, particularly in a part of the world where sunny spring days are to be embraced and savored. But Seattle experienced its hottest March day this year, and it turned out to be the second driest March on record. Quite frankly, it felt strange. The natural rhythm of the seasons felt thrown off kilter, and so did I.
One week, work had been particularly difficult, with a lot of rejections. Everything felt like a slog. My mood was quickly spiraling downward, so I cut away from the computer early and headed for a nearby state park with my favorite trail. I knew I needed to be outside, the activity didn’t really matter. But my walk soon turned into a run, a faster pace a form of releasing aggression, and I found that what I truly wanted was that cleansing sensation that comes with plunging headfirst into the elements.
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I needed to cry my frustration out and I needed the weather to abide, giving me that moment where it’s hard to tell where the tears end and the raindrops start, washing every emotion out of me. Instead, it was abnormally sunny. I had overdressed with too many wool layers, and instead of a cleansing run I was overheating, feeling pangs of guilt for my dark mood on a sunny spring day.
Perhaps my desire for rain is in my roots. Maybe when you grow up in a rainy climate, you need rain as much as the plants around you do. You need the dark, gloomy days, because they’re what make you appreciate the lighter, drier, and warmer ones. The rainy season cleanses, gets you ready for the brighter days ahead.
I know the rain will return, and when it does, I’ll stay committed to this policy to get outside no matter what. Even if it’s just to feel the rain on my face.
I looked at the forecast today. Nothing but rain clouds for the next seven days according to my phone. My rain jacket is hanging by the door, waiting.
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Photos courtesy of Ian Keefe and TK, via Unsplash.