EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in October 1991.
About this time of year the love-hate relationship Oregonians have with rain begins to manifest itself in what is said and unsaid.
Hot, dry summer days dull our memories of overcast days and rain for months on end. The brown hillsides and the hard, dusty, cracked earth cause us to long for the lush green hillsides that are so much a landscape trademark in Western Oregon.
It is the gentle rain of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest that creates this emerald landscape.
“I think rain is as necessary to the mind as to vegetation,” wrote naturalist John Burroughs. “My very thoughts become thirsty, and crave the moisture.”
There must be some truth in what Burroughs says, because people have been talking about the weather:
“I wish it would rain,” says the man pumping your gas.
“The dirt around my place is so hard it would bend a pick axe,” says your barber.
“That drizzle we had the other day was like spitting on a hot griddle,” says the sun-browned farmer standing beside you at the feed store.
“Think those clouds will bring rain?” asks the cashier at the supermarket.
It is the annual ritual played out every fall when the human soul longs for the refreshing sounds of rain to cool and replenish the parched earth.
It rains most everywhere on this planet. Sometimes in some places it rains too little, too late. Sometimes it rains too much, too soon. Sometimes it rains just after you’ve cut the hay and it’s still on the ground. Sometimes it rains just days before the harvest and it spoils the fruit.
There is an old saying: “Vexed sailors curse the rain for which poor shepherds pray in vain.”
While some may cuss it, including myself after 40 days and 40 nights of rain, there isn’t a farmer alive who, after a long dry spell, isn’t thankful for the revival of life rain brings.
I have not always lived in Oregon. When I first moved to the state, I was from Southern California, where rainfall was rare and when it did come it was in torrents that flooded streets and caused gully washes in the dry streambeds.
So naturally when it rained I thought one was supposed to stay indoors and if forced to venture out, to swaddle oneself in waterproof raingear. Certainly one would not drive on the freeway during a downpour for fear of hydroplaning on an oil slick.
The more I ventured out the more puzzled I became with Oregonians. I live just down the road from a golf course and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw golfers playing through 18 holes despite the rain. At the tennis court nearby, crazy Oregonians were out in force too. The strangest thing of all that I saw during my orientation to Oregon was a work crew pouring cement in the rain.
I often muttered to myself that Oregonians didn’t have sense enough to come in out of a shower of rain. Finally, I got the message that Oregonians do it in the rain, else they’d never get it done.
Perhaps, I thought, it was just me. I took off my rain gear and discovered one hardly gets wet in a rain.
It puzzled me why I got soaked in California and hardly damp in Oregon until I read that Oregon raindrops are 1/20th of an inch in size or 1.4 millimeters in diameter. In Iowa, for example, the raindrops are 1/4 inch or 6 millimeters in size.
It didn’t say what size the raindrops are in California, but any fool knows that everything is bigger in California.