To make a life in Portland - that is, to settle in here, to give yourself over fully to the place - you have to submit to the weather. You have to make peace with the 222 cloudy days each year, and find a kind of pensive beauty in the nine months of rain. You must adapt to the rhythms and eccentricities of the weather, and learn that the rhythms of temperature and cloud-cover and precipitation are themselves eccentric - like the way the sun comes out at 3 p.m. nearly every day, but only for an hour.
These things are not easy to do. Business Week recently named Portland the “unhappiest city” in America due to its high rates of depression, divorce, and suicide (respectively ranked 1, 4, and 12 nationally). According to the magazine, the high levels of unhappiness are due at least in part to “lousy weather.”
I happen to love the weather here. As a kid, I was convinced that all great adventures begin in the rain. And so Portland awakens youthful dreams of thrilling deeds (mostly laid away in books), while satisfying my grown-up conception of rain as a metaphor for renewal (itself a great adventure) and serving as the set and soundtrack for my carefully-cultivated melancholy.
My wife Kate, on the other hand, has a harder time of it. The rain and the clouds, the cold, hail, ice, and snowstorms are personal affronts against her. The lack of sunshine inflames her eczema (and our 18 month-old daughter’s too). Raised in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, Kate grew up tromping through the forests; given a choice, she might prefer to live in a tent and cook over an open fire. The last 18 months have been especially gloomy in Portland, and Kate has been kept too much inside.
To thrive in Portland, you also learn that weather like we’ve had since last Sunday - sunny skies, temperatures fifteen degrees above average - is an absolute gift. I’ve spent the last few days riding my bike and walking, driving with the windows down, making the transition from jeans and hoodies to shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. Kate, who hurt her foot running last week, has been homebound, but she spends hours each day in the garden, or playing with Molly in the front yard, or reading on the lawn chair. The weather returns to normal tomorrow, with a twenty degree drop in temperature, clouds, and even rain on Thursday. But at this moment, this morning, the sunrise through my living room window is a revelation, and the sky is so blue it must be received like a blessing.