The curious absence of rain

If there is one factor that defines the West Coast — its flora, its people, its atmosphere, its zeitgeist — that has arguably got to be rain.

Here in Tofino (actually at the airport, 20 km south, where the official rain gauge is) we get an average 3.3 metres (11 feet) of rain every year (source). Clayoquot Lake, among the mountains about 24 km east of town, gets a whopping 6.5m (21 feet) a year (source).

All this precip is cause for depression, commiseration, exultation and deep civic pride, for those of us who live here. Grey, dripping sky is the torture from which we long to escape (half the town decamps to Mexico come winter) and our badge of honour, certifying our superior mental toughness.

Rain is our Rorschach test and our social glue, our waterboarding and our baptism. The Wet Coast IS rain, and everybody knows it.
A Chief’s Dream [Roy Henry Vickers]

It has always surprised me to find so little local art that deals with rain. Our photographers prefer the sunny days (they do happen) for the light. Rain is rough on expensive cameras, and the technique for taking meaningful pictures of a formless subject like rain must be devilishly difficult.

Our writers sometimes use rain as a plot device — nothing spells ominous like a full-blown “pineapple express” — or cast it as a backdrop (Joanna Streetly’s novel Silent Inlet has plenty of water plunging from the sky). But rain itself rarely features as a character in our stories. Even i, on whom this lacuna weighs heavily, seldom write about the stuff. (One exception: my short plaint 365 Names for Rain.)

Fourth Street Dock in the Rain [Mark Hobson]

For our painters … well, i’m no art curator but it seems that it rarely rains in our art galleries. Wild creatures, yes; sunsets in droves; sweeping ocean vistas, dramatic clouds against the mountains, even the occasional fogbank: check. But rain? Not so much. Roy Henry Vickers is probably the premier rain auteur on the Wet Coast, with slanting streaks featuring in his prints fairly often (e.g. Chief’s Dream [above] and Frog, Fish and Rain). High-profile Tofino painter Mark Hobsonmakes it explicit in a few paintings, e.g. Lake O’Hara in the Rain and Fourth St. Dock in the Rain (left).

But a web search, and memory search, show up nothing else in the way of visual “West Coast rain art.”

In the face of all this denial, i am pleased to see, hanging boldly in the front window of SoBo Restaurant, what may be the only piece of rain sculpture on the whole Wet Coast (below). It’s a large planar mobile of sheet-metal stainless steel — cloud-shapes above, with raindrops aplenty dangling beneath, falling into an ocean of swirling waves. The entire hydrological cycle in one elegant, wall-sized package. If you fancy it, it’s apparently for sale; inquire at SoBo.

Water by Susanne Hare. Sheet metal and wire [photo S. Hare]

The artist is long-time Clayoquot Sound local Susanne Hare (here’s her 2004 artist profile in Tofino Time). Of the piece, she says it is “simply called Water … one of the five great forces which give us life here on this amazing planet, of which the rain and clouds, ocean and rivers are a conduit.”

The piece is energetic and celebratory and unapologetic. It’s also waterproof, rustproof and probably wouldn’t be torn apart in a southeast gale. In short, it’s a perfect reflection of the Wet Coast. I wish it were hung outside in some public place, shimmering in the sun, trembling in the wind, and dripping with rain itself.


GREG BLEE lives in Tofino. This piece first appeared on gregblee.ca.

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