Winter In Oregon

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I’ve lived in Oregon for all of my life. My youth is punctuated by the outside I worked & played in. In the summertime, all of our moments were allocated for work or for play.

The place where I grew up is so green—all year long. It’s a big ring of trees which we lived in the middle of, with a river running through the west side of the trees.

Pretty nice, right? Picturesque. In the summertime we woke up earlier. Summertime is when you do projects with the animals. Fences are mended in the summertime. Hay is grown & then stored for winter in the summertime. Forts are built, friends are seen, food is barbecued, things are cleaned, plans are made, barns are built in the summertime. Games are played with cousins & friends outside, into the bright 9:00pm sunshine and beyond into the darkness that only comes way after bed time—in the summer.

But there’s one thing every Oregonian knows:

The winter comes.

When you grow up in Oregon you learn quickly to toe a certain line, and that line is as follows:

We love Oregon all the time!

What we’re really saying is that we love the Willamette River Valley all the time. Which is really saying that we don’t mind the rain at all.

And that’s really unfair because the weather patterns in the Willamette Valley are hardly ubiquitous throughout the Grand State of Oregon. But it’s certainly true that the greatest concentration of people is in the strip of rainy-in-the-winter valley between Portland and Eugene.

We learn a series of great jokes that all culminate or have as their humorous portion a line or idea about Oregonians having webbed feet or gills. From a young age we learn to call the rain “liquid sunshine”.

We laugh to keep from crying.

We laugh to keep from crying because the truth is that most of us find the rainy season really dreary. And while we don’t all suffer from a seasonal depression, we all look forward to the spring in Oregon with it’s unfettered greenness. And we all know—we sense—Mother Oregon’s intrinsic greatness and so we find our duty to defend her from the slings & arrows of people from elsewhere crying out that she’s all wet. That’s the reason we unreasonably defend the rain. It’s because of the state we love. The valley is a puddle. But it is our home.

The saucy vixen I live with is from Canada. Her formative years, (birth through about 10 years old), were spent in Winnipeg which, in the wintertime, is cold & clear & bright. At about 10 years old she moved with her family to northern British Columbia where it was more mountainous, certainly more treed, but similarly cold & crisp & clear.

It’s easy for a boy from Oregon to imagine a wintertime wonderland in those places. Everything crisp. Crisp, crisp, crisp. Things can feel soggy in Oregon in the winter. I’m attracted to crisp. Baked goods & fresh snow. Well-equipped people with appropriate footwear & coats made for keeping warm with, bundling appropriately into one another’s hearth-warm houses. A series of smells you can hold onto & hang your hat upon. Not of candles but of fires. Not of pies but of a half-a-year’s baking. Not of pine needles, but of the whole of the outdoors, warmed & mulled for our enjoyment.

It’s easy to love these ideas, regardless of their basis in reality. It’s a Rockwellian understanding of what life is like on the other side of the fence.

I’ve been thinking about this coming winter a lot lately. Last winter was hard for me. It was just a really emotionally frustrating time regardless of the weather. Business was tricky, and neither my wife nor I were as prepared as we are now to handle those specific stresses.

we’re in a pretty magical time of growth in terms of our learning to be at peace with our surroundings & situations.

I want this year to be different. I want this year to be a little more honest, and a little more Rockwellian. I want to change my heart & my attitude. I want to adjust my approach to the wintertime.

It’s going to rain. This is true every year. It happens here every year. And I’d like to take the rest of this blog post to do two things. First, I’d like to remind myself & others what we’re “buying” when we endure rain. Also, I’d like to make some modest proposals for a better winter for us all.

First: some pertinent thoughts on wintertime in Oregon. I recommend bookmarking this page, or perhaps copying & pasting this list into a document for easy printing, & then posting on your refrigerator.

  1. Winter does not last for 9 months. We have a beautiful summertime, followed by a short but gorgeous autumn. Winter sets in admittedly early here. But it’s not as though the rain begins to dump in September & doesn't quit until May. It begins intermittently in October. It continues & gets heavier into December. The days are the darkest and the clouds the grayest throughout December & January.
  2. In February, we often have a nice cold snap. It’s a bundling time. It’s true that Oregon’s moist cold can be piercing, penetrating through your cloth & then your skin & down into your bones. But in January & February we often see a truer cold that carries beauty & crispness.
  3. Remember that we often have a set of very sunny days in March. It’s not uncommon to have a full week of beautiful, shorts-wearing, “where the heck are my flip-flops”, humming “We’re having a heat-wave”, honest-to-God sunshine in March.
  4. Remember that Portland is a short distance away! Go have a day in Portland! Or if you can afford it, a whole weekend. Pretend you’re a tourist. Portland has a lot to offer & it’s used to keeping people dry. I could spend a day in Powell’s books anytime, but a rainy, dreary day might be the best.
  5. The Cascade Range is one of my favorite places. It’s cold there in the winter. Go skiing! If you’re broke, fill somebody’s suburban with people, split gas & just go slide around on inner tubes. There’s a great spot right across the highway from HooDoo. It costs a little money, but you’re not throwing it away or wasting it! You’re “buying” an experience to be shared with friends, you’re gathering some much needed Vitamin D, you’re seeing something you don’t usually see. You’re making a memory.
  6. Breathe the air. Find someplace clean.
  7. Visit Bend! Visit Redmond! Visit Prineville! Visit Sisters! These places are uniquely Oregon, and I’m always shocked at how many people I meet here in the valley who have never experienced, (or rarely experience) the sweet scent of the Larch/Pine forest at Camp Sherman, or the breathtaking calm of the junipers and the lava flows.
  8. I’m going to schedule times to connect with people throughout the next 6 months. I’m going to redeem the time, because the days are evil.
  9. I’m going to have people in my home. I’m going to structure conversations.
  10. I’m going to speak life into the cold. I’m not going to pretend it’s not raining or that I love love love the rain. But I’m also not going to spend the next 6 months griping about the weather—verbally or non-verbally.
  11. I’m going to spend a little bit of money and a good amount of time decorating. I want Rockwellian. Rockwellian is all about people & atmosphere. Hospitality. I’m going to make popcorn strings with my kids in the evenings. I’m in the coffee business, so I have access to about a million milk jugs. I’m going to come up with something snow-flakey to do with those.
  12. I’m going to avoid the media. Because it’s poisonous to me. There’s something nice about snuggling in with the girl I love for a movie on a blustery, dreary winter night. But Nexflix & Hulu & Amazon Prime make it too easy for me to binge-watch the winter away—self-medicating the months by, avoiding a terrible, terrible season, (that’s not half as bad as I think it is), in anticipation for a beautiful, heavenly season, (that I never make as nice as I could).

The truth is that all of our seasons are wrought with excellence if we find it. The rain makes mud, it’s true. But heralds new life. Without the rain, there’s no daffodils, no crocuses. Without the rain, the sun doesn’t feel as sweet.

Invite me into your space this winter! I’m feeling optimistic right now, early September, the sunlight pouring in through my kitchen window. But my resolve will falter! My persistence will waver. And we need each other.

Set your mind toward optimism! This is going to be a great season!

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