Forget the California Sun, Dark and Drizzly Days Soothe the Northwest Soul

Embrace your inner "pluviophile" and leave the umbrella at home.
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Are you only happy when it rains?

Some people believe it to be a pose, but I really do love the rain. Fall has always been my favorite season, and not for the colors. And it’s not the rain per se, but the moist cool air, the chilly humidity, the fresh winds cleansed by their trip across the Pacific and brushed by our forests.

In mid-October, the weather forecasters showed us satellite images of a “river of rain” extending 1,000 miles from China to the Pacific Northwest. Some braced for the “storms,” but my response was “ahhhhhhh.”

I recently learned there’s a name for people like me. There’s a new book out from Mountaineers Books, A Sideways Look at Clouds by Olympia writer Maria Mudd Ruth. What better person to write about clouds here than someone with the middle name of Mudd?

We all know that Seattle is known for rain, even though it rains more elsewhere in America, elsewhere in the state. Seattle gets on 37 inches of rain per year, Forks gets 120. But the city’s reputation for rain rests more on the number of overcast days than the number of truly rainy ones. In other words, it’s not so much raindrops as the cloud cover and the feel of fresh moisture that forms our damp security blanket, and our identity.

Ruth says there’s a word for people who feel that way: “pluviophiles.” She writes that it’s a new word coined on the internet. It means “someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days,” she writes.

I am a pluviophile. I learned that 40 years ago when I was living in Palo Alto, California in the heart of Silicon Valley and it was sunny and 70 degrees outside every damn day. I felt like I was trapped in a terrarium. I was used to weather. You know the kind of climate Seattle has, which can be described by the saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”

It doesn’t have to be raining to satisfy. On a recent Sunday evening, I rode the ferry between Bremerton and Seattle in an evening fog. It was gentle, not too windy—a cool vaporous cocoon encased us in refreshing oxygen. The world was gray-blue with some high pink clouds scrawled in the upper atmosphere as if by a giant toddler. I have seen many combinations of clouds, temperature, wind and moisture, but nothing quite like this. It didn’t fit the textbook definition of a rainy day, but it was nourishment to the pluviophile.

Pluviophiles are one reason we argue about things like whether true Seattleites carry umbrellas. The staff of Seattle magazine offered a guide to correct usage and umbrella terminology in an October column (“do not call it a bumbershoot”). Charles Mudede at The Stranger raged about large umbrellas, which seem to be proliferating—and guess who was to blame? Amazon, natch.

Umbrellas signify pluviophobes—those who value their fashion sense more than common sense and cower under the clouds. Umbrellas crowd pedestrian walkways, they turn inside out in the downtown wind corridors and are left useless to flutter in the streets, they symbolize an attitude that sees rain as hostile, not as essential. Sure, there are occasions where an umbrella makes sense—say a spring rain if you’re going to a wedding. But hoods, parkas, hats, raincoats, sensible shoes: these say the rain and wet is a companion.

I’m eager to read more about the clouds in Ruth’s book, but just dipping in has convinced me that it’s the perfect read for us pluviophiles on Puget Sound.

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