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Hibernating in the PNW ☔️ ?

Hibernating in the PNW ☔️ ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


This morning I donned a puffy jacket and took the dogs out to our little ramshackle dog run on the side of the guesthouse. Once we were outside, I noticed something odd. The little area of concrete where I stand and wait for the dogs was dry and lightly colored. There was no drip from the roof onto the top of my head. It was chilly and windy, but dry.

That sounds unremarkable. But for this time of year in the pacific northwest, dry concrete is hard to come by. I noticed the same thing when we lived in Seattle. We get so used to wet roads and sidewalks that we notice when they’re dry. They seem so fresh and clean.

I’ve always looked forward to the arrival of the rain in October of each year. After a long, sunny summer, I’m ready for a more interior lifestyle. I want to build fires and light candles and finish the evening with a thumb of whisky. It’s the season of hygge, the Danish tradition of coziness and togetherness in winter. 

This winter is different for most people, but not because of the weather. Usually, the refuge from the rain is not only the warmth of home, but people. I have such fond memories of dinner parties and game nights that felt extra cozy with rain beating on the skylights and fire in the fireplace. We will surely return to those days, but for now, they seem far away.

We recently had a spontaneous evening beer on the porch of a local brewery. We hadn’t been there since the pandemic started and purchased beer from a walk-up window into what was formerly a small indoor bar. It was pleasantly dark and we sat on cold wooden benches, between puddles and drank a pint that remained cold and refreshing from top to bottom. It felt like a treat. Just doing something, even in the cold and without friends, felt like a step in the right direction. Look at us! We’re not at home! 

When we returned, the dogs greeted us and we settled in, just like any other night, snug in our chairs. I’ve started to think about our little guest house as a den, where we wait out the winter, the pandemic, and the house project. 20 months in, it feels like home, but I’m sure we’ll look back on these days with a sense of wonder. It’s one thing to be quarantining. It’s yet another to be quarantining in a tiny apartment set on 18 isolated acres, on a rural island, during a PNW winter, while building a house. 

We’ll hibernate for a bit longer and then emerge ready for spring, which can’t arrive soon enough. My only concern is emerging with thicker insulation than when it started. We won’t be alone. 

For now, from our den, we can anticipate a spring spent living in the house we’ve thought about for so long. It’s hard not to imagine quarantining there instead of the guest house. Part of what’s missing today is a place to be outside that’s comfortable and dry. It would be the only way we could have had friends over this winter. Of course, that space exists just down the road, but it’s not quite ready.  

Now is the season of anticipation for us all. No matter what happens with public health, the days will get longer, the temperature will slowly creep up and the flowers will bloom. We can always count on the change of seasons to change us, too. When we finally emerge from the winter, we’ll have lived through a dark period of history that will serve as a contrast to the light. This hibernation is one for the ages.

My hope is that there is still time to salvage the 2020’s. After a rough start, I’m hoping that all the uncertainty and fear will be replaced by a widespread sense of hope and optimism that’s been pent-up for too long. Once it’s released, the 20s may roar, just as they did a century ago. I, for one, will be ready. 

A Cabin the PNW Woods

A Cabin the PNW Woods

It’s a familiar story. Two friends decide to build a cabin in the woods where they can get away from desk jobs and spend time away from the city. These stories often cover the same territory: the dream runs headlong into reality. The story below is no different, but has a happier ending.

In Outside magazine, Bryan Schatz and Patrick Hutchison tell their story of building a cabin from scratch on the slopes of the Cascade Mountains outside of Seattle. It’s called “We Quit Our Jobs to Build a Cabin—Everything Went Wrong (and it was Awesome)”

Photo by Bryan Schatz

What I love about this article is that it’s about inexperience and things going off the rails. It’s about effort, strife, and pain. But what really stands out is how much they enjoyed the experience. To me, the magic in projects like this is the feeling, when the day is done, that you have put in the work and learned something new. As they write:

That night, exhausted but content, we jumped in the river and had a fire on its banks. We got good and drunk and temporarily forgot about the fact that we still had to cut and attach the rafters, build out the roof, install the door, finish the siding and windows, construct the kitchen and bathroom, put in the wood-burning stove, finish the loft, insulate and clad the walls, wire and plumb everything, never mind the finish tasks of trim, tile, light fixtures, and on and on.

That’s the magic.

We’re putting real work into on our house project, but most of it is being left to the professionals. We still return home sore and exhausted…and it’s awesome.

The article also contains a a delightful description of backwoods PNW personality:

One time, we were both on the roof when a guy known as Hermit Gary showed up. We’d only heard tales of him, and then one bright day, he emerged from a sea of ferns like a landlocked Poseidon. He wore sweatpants, no shirt, and earmuffs; he held a chainsaw running in his hands. Without saying a word to us, he started sawing a tree at the bottom of our property, which wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that it had grown to hold up a much larger, precariously situated tree that could have obliterated the cabin in one violent collapse. It took a full minute of our screaming before he finally heard us, looked up at the trees, said, “Oh…ha!” and went about his day somewhere else. Sometimes our cabin felt like a house of cards.

Thanks to Newley’s Notes for the pointer to this article.

Where is the Salish Sea?

Where is the Salish Sea?

Since moving to Orcas Island, I’ve become fascinated by the geography of the area, which is quite complicated. The island is part of an archipelago in an inland sea stretching across two countries and hundreds of islands. To describe the region doesn’t do it justice, so I created this animated GIF.

The Salish Sea extends across the U.S.-Canada border, and includes the combined waters of the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. The name Salish Sea was proposed in 1989 to reflect the entire cross-border ecosystem. Both Washington State and British Columbia voted to officially recognize the name in late 2009. The name honors the Coast Salish people, who were the first to live in the region (Salish Sea: Naming, n.d.). 

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