Tag Archives: west coast

Pondering the Pineapple Express

The “Pineapple Express” isn’t just a stoner movie that’ll have you hitting the Cheetos, it’s a weather phenomenon that instills dread in the hearts of West Coasters.

It’s days of unseasonal warm weather coupled with dreary heavy clouds, battering rains, and sometimes winds. It’s not like monsoons in the tropics, it’s just medium-to-heavy rain that seems endless, for days. With the humidity between 90-100%, it feels like you’re walking around in a wet paperbag for three to six days straight.

There’s some localized weather phenomena that affects where I am, Victoria, BC, where “the shadow of Mount Rainier” is said to save us from about 50% of the rain that falls in Vancouver. We might be just across the strait, less than 100km from Vancouver, BC, but they’re a rainforest, and downtown Victoria ain’t. Half the rain, baby.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria's Clover Point.

Between the rain, back in 2013 on Victoria’s Clover Point.

But you wouldn’t know it on days like these. Not because of all the rain, but because all the clouds sock us in and that moisture’s still THERE, it’s just holding out to put out for Vancouver. I guess Victoria doesn’t drive a flash enough car to woo the likes of this rain.

Still, like a school boy on a hot date, those clouds are fit to explode, and I feel the pressure as it slowly rolls overtop this island, starting its dump further up the coast as it lays into Vancouver.

It pounds behind my eyes and the back of my head. I can even feel the little shifts. Clouds clear in a patch above me momentarily, and so will my head. Rain resumes, so does the foggy brain. It’s baffling.

They call these “low-pressure fronts.” It’s evident even in the people. We trudge and grumble. There’s a “rainy-day hunch,” too. We don’t even know we’re doing it — it just happens when walking down the street in heavy rain. It’s a forward slouch with a hunching of the shoulders, and it effectively ensures more like a 60-40 rain-split, where your back gets most of the wetting action.

‘Cept those days where you’re walking into a headwind and then you’re just screwed, bro. Done. Those are the days you get rain-soaked straight up to mid-thigh. God help you if you’re not wearing water-resistant clothing, or better yet, Goretex. I’m not the only former Vancouverite who’s had 2-3 layers of clothes all get soaked under a “rainproof” jacket on the very bad, no good, wrong rain day.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

One of THOSE days. I dared to shoot photos in the wind and rain. Luckily *my* gear worked. But 95km winds will give you THIS face.

We grumble and whine and moan, but this rain becomes a part of us. Day after day it grows prohibitive and inconvenient, not to mention mind-numbing and depressing, but the odd heavy rain becomes something we almost cannot live without.

I loved to the Yukon in 1994 and spent the year living in Whitehorse. When you think “Yukon,” you think endless snow, so naturally it must get quite a bit of moisture, right? But you’d be wrong. It’s incredibly dry. It snows in October, then pretty much just stays dry and sunny and cold until April, when it rains a couple times and the snow finally melts.

I’d moved there in October, after Vancouver’d had a three-month dry spell. By the time I saw and smelled rain again, it was the following April and I hadn’t seen rain in 10 months. I cried, I was so happy to see it.

So today as the rain pounds and batters the streets, and I sit with all my windows open while enjoying the unseasonal warmth, I’m loathing the dreariness despite enjoying its idle, and dreaming of when I will live in a place with more sun than rain in winter, and wondering if I might miss these Pineapple Expresses one day.

After all, there’s a catharsis that comes with rain. Like if it rains any harder it’ll even wash away my sins. It’s soul-soothing and permissive. My inner-Catholic is a big fan of rain and all its symbolic cleanliness.

I feel I’ll be betraying all my lineage by escaping this climate. From the Barra Islands Camerons in the Outer Hebrides to my Viking MacNeills, Irish Monks, and my Breton line, they’re all foul-weathered people. They overcame the challenges of the land, sea, and skies, and thrived in it.

I have the luxury of failing them all and wimping out. City-folk. Pah!

As a result, I’ll be letting the rain dictate my weekend. Food, cleaning, writing, sloth, Netflix, drinking, reclusion. All fine and glorious things. All behind the rain-streaked windows, wearing comfy jammies and sporting bedhead.

No shame, man. No shame.

Victoria's Dallas Road. Sun, storm, turbulent ocean -- it ain't clear sailing, but isn't it fucking beautiful? And that's life.

For the Love of a Storm

The Pacific is a vast and daunting thing. All the world’s continents can fit inside it with more room leftover for an extra Africa. 99% of the Pacific is water. 1% is land.

Living on its edge means a constant barrage of weather rolling in over the winter, all that turmoil brewing over those high seas. Today we’re warned of an “incredible series” of subtropical storms that have set sail and will land here shortly, the first of which is expected dump within the hour.

The novelty of incoming storms never grows old for me. Inside, I completely understand the unbridled rage and joy with which Lieutenant Dan screamed into the hurricane from the crow’s nest of that Bubba Gump shrimping boat.

There’s a primal sense felt by those of us who are storm fanatics. We feel a storm brewing on the wind. We can read it in the ripples on the water. We smell rain on the breeze. The stormfront’s pressure throbs behind our eyes as the changing, charged airmass nears us. In the day leading up to it, a dull pain hits the joints and we creak like the Tin Man before he got his oil.

It comes. Slowly, but it comes. The skies are blackening and a strange eerie calm has descended. These are the moments when one turns and sees a spider scurrying up a wall. Nature understands nature. Even dogs can feel an earthquake before it comes.

We humans, not so much. We invented clocks and then we let machines do our natural thinking for us.

Still, there are those who do feel and see nature like the animal world does. Like natives who listen to the wind and smell the earth. They can tell you when a storm comes. We can see it in nature — the bugs skitter, squirrels panic about nut-gathering, birds seem to vanish from the skies. Nature knows when the skies are due to unleash fury.

Us, we fall into ruts of Westernized life. Clock-watchers, weather-forecast-readers. So plugged into the digital world that we’re not in tune with things from nature that our forebears could read for generations before us.

So few people notice when a first gust of wind rises, signalling a shift in climate. They don’t see when clouds appear menacing all of a sudden or their direction seems to change. They don’t feel a sudden drop or rise in temperature that signals an onslaught of wind or rain.

But some of us do.

Weather, for me, is something I feel in my bones. My head throbs, my throat gets scratchy, my eyes grow heavy and pained. And yet I watch out my window like a kid on Christmas, for I know, when that storm hits peak and rages like a woman scorned, I’ll feel an utter release of all those barometric head systems and I’ll be sharp and alert and happy again.

“Weather migraines” are a curse for some folks. I’m usually not fond of them myself, but I am deeply grateful to be one of those people who “feels” the climate.

It’s satisfying when I feel like I’m of the Earth and privy to what it’s going through. I love this bursting sense of anxiety that pulsates under my skin as a storm draws near. I understand the skittishness and apprehension of the natural world — the squirrels who panic, the birds who take cover, and the ants running for their hills — because I feel it too.

Unlike them, I have the luxury of knowing my phone and flashlights are all charged up, and the noodle house is a short walk away. I have a nice comfortable home and warm socks and blankets. For me, a storm is a chance to bundle up and be witness to something greater than us.

And so, like Lieutenant Dan, I say bring it. I promise you, at least once tonight, I will shout out my window into the wind and rain, “IS THIS ALL YOU’VE GOT?”

Then, like a pussy, I’ll batten down the hatches, bundle up, pour a whiskey, and watch Netflix until the power craps out. If it does. And then it’s book time.

Because: Storms.

Hot and Bothered: Thoughts on the Weather

It looks like a lovely day, but the graffiti added during a recent heatwave reads "Fuck the System." I've dubbed this mound Malcontent Rock.

It looks like a lovely day, but the graffiti added during a recent heatwave reads “Fuck the System.” I’ve dubbed this mound Malcontent Rock.

Some people never look at the weather report. I do not understand this. I’m the opposite. Daily, maybe several times a day, I turn to the weather sites or my barometer and see what the numbers are behind the world I’m presently living in. Yeah, I’m a nerd.

I think some of us (meaning me) are more in tune with the fact that we’re on this planet, we’re a part of this whirling gig in the sky — a constant flux of pressure and moisture, ebb and flow.

Weather isn’t just incidental to life, like we somehow think it to be in our cushy modern times. Take a look at the Dust Bowl of the ‘30s, those massive sandstorms people said would “black out the sun” and turn day into night. The furious wrath of nature barreling down in biblical proportions. Tales are told of one late-’30s dust storm that blew for three days, so high and so hard that dust from the Midwest blew clear past Chicago to the Big Apple.

Hell hath no fury like Earth and her stormy portents. These days, the dust storms are rising again. Twice in a month I’ve seen Phoenix’s dusty blowers making a little viral noise with videos showing dust enveloping everything in sight. The hottest and driest it’s been since records have been kept, the Midwest and Southwest might be just starting what’s cooking in those big dusty storms.

Mostly Cloudy and Hot

I’m thinking about weather today because, for the first time in a few days, my wrath-of-God anger is subsiding. That “Everything is Stupid” post has been my prevailing wind since the weekend, and it’s only now letting up a bit.
I think often of Joan Didion’s story on the Santa Ana winds and the murderous, violent mood that can consume Southern California when they blow, sending divorce in the stratosphere, escalating violence and suicide, and spreading a general malaise through the populace. Experts surmise it’s an abundance of negative ions on the wind, but then again, who knows? The essay opens with the following:

There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension.  What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point.  For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night.  I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too.  We know it because we feel it.  The baby frets.  The maid sulks.  I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air.  To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.

It feels like those wrathful winds have been blowing here. Even my hippy organic “buy local” storeowner friend yesterday told me she wanted to face-punch a little do-goodie moaning about Walmart earlier in the day. I laughed. If she wants to face-punch people, then I’m not evil — I’m just a reflection of my environment. Literally.

For this fleeting moment, our heatwave is enjoying the slightest of breaks but the heat’s forecast to continue for weeks. I’m sure I’ll hear of at least one divorce in my circles by its end, if not a stabbing.

photo 2

Nature isn’t Opt-In

We’re spoiled. We live in lovely homes, drive weather-proof cars, ride covered buses, carry umbrellas, wear Goretex, and seldom experience weather we can’t choose to ignore.

Now and then, the Earth decides otherwise. Maybe a storm blows through or flood hits or three weeks of snow falls, but most of us living in the modern world experience little of nature that isn’t an opt-in situation. Hell, I work from home. Nature’s pretty much an opt-out for me, most days.

And so farmers laugh at us. We think weather’s like ordering extra channel packages on the cable service.

The farmer knows otherwise. “Oh, look. Little city girl is ‘choosing’ to ‘walk to work’ in the rain. How cute. Aww, an umbrella that’s so big she’ll be lucky if she don’t blind a pedestrian.”

photo 1A Furious Vengeance

Ever since the first human began farming, we have lived and died by the moods of Mother Earth. Whether you ate comfortably for the year all came down to the crops you grew in the harvest seasons. Weather wasn’t an incidental, it was everything.

Volcanoes erupting, sinkholes gaping, tsunamis rolling ashore, dust storms engulfing whole regions — all of these leave us pretty much powerless when Earth decides it’s having a shitty day.

Beyond the Santa Ana winds, weather affects us more than we realize. I’m one of those “human barometers” who can tell you just by the way my head feels if there’s a shift in the barometer coming. If vertigo hits me, a big bank of fog threatens to roll ashore. If rain for days is coming to land, I’m struck a general funk and low-energy mood that mirrors the “low-pressure” front impending.

I don’t consider myself a freak, I’m just really living on this Earth. I feel it. I sense when things are changing. And I like it. I like knowing that my environment affects me in all kinds of ways. Life, to me, feels like a dynamic thing I’m in the middle of, and sometimes the ride is unpleasant, but that’s just how the low pressure front rolls.

Next time you wonder why you’re in such a funk when it’s “perfect” summer weather, remember there’s way more to that hot air than you think.

When Winter Looms, Wet Coast-Style

Rain’s slamming Vancouver sideways, as heavy winds batter windows and fill me with dread about the day’s errands to be run.

Days like this, the so-called simple life of living without a car feels like punishment.

Photo by me, November in Vancouver, 2009.

It’s true Wet Coast glory on a stormy morn like this.

You cannot run, you cannot hide.

Living on the Pacific coast becomes a chore this time of year. It cuts into me. The endless oppressive grey is the bitterest tonic to swallow for the seasonally-affected, like myself.

Endless rain’s like inertial dampeners for the soul. Slows the pulse to a dull echoing thud.

Today’s sky is deep grey, lacking of any definition. Just a mass of smooth charcoal oppression stretching between horizons.

It’s part of who we are, here, though.

There’s something about the rain that, when you’ve been in Vancouver or on this coast long enough, becomes a part of what you exude emotionally and how you absorb the world around you.

All the Sufi mystics will tell you the height of joy we feel for life can only be measured by how much we have suffered.

If the same is true meteorologically, my Vancouver brethren know a sunny day’s glory better than any one, any where.

I’ve long thought the climate in Vancouver to be almost a psychological aspect of who this city is. We’re bipolar. Full of life and passionate in sun, bitchy and isolate in rain.

It’s not like we’re the most populated region in North America, but look at the prolific serial killers we’ve had between Seattle and Vancouver — the Pig Farmer Willie Pickton, Ted Bundy, the Green River Killer, and child-killer Clifford Olsen.

The darkness affects some people a lot. It can fuck with the sturdiest of minds when it’s going on three-plus months of 65% darkness, oft-filled with cloudy skies the other 35%.

The rain, the wet, the isolation, the wind, the chill.

It’s a gruelling place to be come the doldrums of winter.

Early explorers up the coast called it a special dreary kind of hell when the rains began.

I’ve lived in the Yukon, and even with less daylight and Arctic-like temperatures, it was a far cheerier winter — sunlight came nearly daily, and the snow blasted light everywhere.

Days like today in Vancouver, I feel like I’m living in an Edgar Allen Poe tale, with bleakness around every corner.

Fortunately, I’m literary, so that kind of works for me.

Until I step outside.

I sometimes wonder how much where we are is who we are. Much of this town makes me ponder who that makes us. Takes a strange breed to suffer through most of nine months of being a battered duck just to enjoy a brief summer.

Yet, I stay. Like so many others.

It’s hard not to love this part of the world, despite the bleak and endless grey that finds us so easily.

I might’ve found the Yukon a cheerier place in the winter, but my heart dropped through the floor when I saw a sunny day picture of Vancouver’s summer in passing on television that spring, and weeks later my soul felt a blanketed peace when I got caught in the first rain I’d felt in 11 months, since arriving in the Yukon.

I may bemoan the cold, wind, rain, and endless oppressive air, but this is who I am, too.

A Vancouver chime-rattling windstorm, the endless drizzle or pelting rain, and the mottled variations of grey will always, always evoke home and comfort to me. It’s visions of blankets and warm beverages, soft crackling lights, heaters groaning in the night.

It’s Canada, Vancouver-style.

And as much as I hate the idea of leaving and plodding through this for the better part of my day, I’m already enjoying the idea of getting back home again.

Because that’s winter, Vancouver-style.

And that’s why we have warm beverages, fluffy slippers, and breathable waterproof raingear.

Whatever it takes, Wet Coast-style.