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The Most Wonderful Time of Year ? ➡️ ?

The Most Wonderful Time of Year ? ➡️ ?

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

The summer plants are dying, or at least fading away. After a season of production, they’re slowly disappearing into compost. Brown leaves blow about and crunch underfoot.

Clouds of dust swirl around the dogs when they play chase in the garden, powdering them with invisible grains that dull the color of their fur and our floors. It’s noticeably cooler, but the sun continues to shine, sometimes through a screen of wildfire smoke.

According to my weather station, it has rained 0.83 inches since August 1st and it’s not an anomaly. Summers in the PNW are almost always bone dry, in part, because we don’t get hot enough to produce thunderstorms that would be a reliable source of rain.

Annual precipitation for our county

For weeks and weeks at a time, the sun shines bright and dries everything to a crisp, including the people.

I love a nice day in the sun, but by this time of year, I’ve had enough. The world outside is a tinderbox that needs moisture before it’s too late. Wildfire is our biggest risk. If we can get through September, we can relax with the knowledge that the rain will finally arrive in spades.

Right now, I’m a little anxious, or maybe just full of anticipation. Each year, I plan for the famous PNW rain to arrive by October 15th. Then, storm season commences and the sun disappears along with the risk of fire. It’s fascinating how quickly and reliably it happens.

I plan on the transition each year, and for now, I wait and watch for signs of change. The weather models are unsure of what will happen. It’s like the dry PNW summer is battling the north pacific currents trying to push into Washington for the winter. Forecasts this time of year often say there is a 58% chance of rain, which is frustratingly noncommittal. They might as well admit they have no idea.

It’s the forecast of rain that feeds my anticipation. I want commitment and confidence. I want a sure thing. For the last couple of days, I’ve been watching a prediction for rain on Wednesday. On Sunday, the Wunderground app showed an 80% chance of 0.20 inches of rain and it allowed me to relax. Rejoice! It’s coming! ?

Then, I checked the weather as soon as I woke up on Monday. Overnight the forecast dropped to a 74% chance of 0.11 inches. It ruined my day. ?

This morning it was 68% of 0.04 inches. ??‍♂️

At the time of publishing this afternoon, it’s down to 49% of 0.03. ?

I’ve seen this happen so many times. The models get you all hyped and hopeful, only to crush your dreams. At this point, I expect a perfectly sunny day on Wednesday without a drop of rain. What have we done to deserve this? Why do they torment us?

Perhaps, I am addicted to the drama of not knowing. Or, maybe I’m just fascinated by the machinations of weather and the difficulty of getting it right. What gets me through is the confidence that the autumn rain will arrive… eventually. It always has.

As much as I complain about the sun at the crunchy end of summer, I love and look forward to this time of year. As I’ve written here many times before, I believe happiness lives in anticipation. Right now, it’s bright and dry and the summer weather seems interminable. But I have so much to look forward to. The cool misty air, the sound of rain on the roof, and fires in the fireplace. I miss seeing our property in its more natural state: wet and verdant. For me, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Permanence and Permaculture ?

Permanence and Permaculture ?

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

Saturday was supposed to be rainy, which is the norm for this time of year. I thought we’d do indoor house projects, like organize the garage or get to some painting touch-ups. Then, the weather cleared except for a brisk wind that was perceptibly warmer than it had been in days. 

Sachi decided to head to the grocery store and we loaded up the car with trash and recycling for a trip to the transfer station on the way. I couldn’t help but think of the connection between her trips. Old food containers would become full again. My plan was to walk to a nearby nursery that was having a plant sale and she asked twice about dropping me off. I wanted to walk and she relented.

Not far from home is a wetland area that is often flanked with birders in the summer, who park on the side of the county road and lug long lenses along the shore. The wetland and its views are so commonplace to us that we don’t notice it often. But on this walk, I did. 

Across the road from the wetland, I noticed a little trail leading up the hill that I’d never seen before. Long branches were arranged lengthwise on the sides of the trail, which I took as an invitation. After a short hike, I found a bench overlooking the wetland and a sign that marked it as public property. 

bench overlooking wetland

I stayed on the hill for a while and took in the view. The wetland below has a story. In the 1970s, a neighbor, who was a professor of ornithology, noticed that the area was attracting a variety of birds. He worked with several neighbors, who owned the land, to create a conservation easement with the aim to establish a waterfowl preserve. They flooded the former fields and the fowl came in droves. Today, the preserve is managed by the county and is a permanent part of the island that is open to the public. 

On an island like Orcas, there is always pressure to develop. Over time, much of the island, and especially the properties with shorelines, have been purchased and developed. But there are exceptions. Multiple organizations like the San Juan Preservation Trust work with property owners to preserve wild spaces so that the island can continue to offer access to the public and provide homes to wildlife. The waterfowl preserve is one of those spaces; a permanent slice of wildlife. 

I walked back down the hill and by the preserve and eventually arrived at my destination: the nursery. Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead and Nursery is no typical nursery. It’s a destination that’s known around the world for expertise in the field of permaculture. They have been developing the property for over 35 years to be an example of a permaculture system at work. People arrive from all over to attend their design courses, become farm interns, and experience the homestead. 

Bullocks Sign

If you’re like me, you’re asking: perma-what? It’s a good question and one that seems more difficult to answer the more you learn about it. Any attempt to explain it is a risk and I’m sure some may take exception.

Permaculture is an approach to agriculture and lifestyle that is focused on sustainability, self-reliance and working within natural systems. In part, this means designing farms and gardens to work as a system that includes livestock, water, waste, energy, and vegetables. A common example is a chicken, which not only produces meat and eggs but consumes plant waste and produces manure that serves to fertilize the ground. Reduce, reuse, recycle. 

Visiting the nursery is a cultural experience. A number of people live and work on the homestead, which is a maze of houses, gardens, greenhouses, and farming equipment. The people who work there are amazingly knowledgeable and very friendly. They all seem to adhere to what seems like a standard style: dirt-encrusted farmer, and proud of it. 

I browsed one of the nurseries by the entry and considered a couple of trees that were priced at 50% off, but I was walking. Trees are popular among permaculturists, as they represent a permanent part of the garden that can produce fruit and shade, and be enjoyed by both humans and livestock. That’s part of the idea. Instead of constantly pulling plants in and out of the soil, it’s better to plant something permanent.   

At the side of the nursery, there was a tent where a couple was managing the transactions. I approached and asked about garden design services. A friendly worker said I should talk to Doug, who was further back in the property. She said, “He looks like a crusty permaculture dude.” Message sent. 

I wandered into the maze to potentially find Doug, but also see what was there. Permaculture gardens are rarely the manicured gardens you might expect at a normal nursery. Instead it feels more laissez-faire and unkempt. Weeds mingle with plants, grass grows everywhere, and the property is dotted with pile after pile of decomposing plants. This is all intentional and part of the idea. Nature is messy and unkempt and that’s how the plants like it.

compost bin
trailer on dirt trail

I finally saw Doug who was deep in conversation among the rows, so I kept walking. I could have stayed at Bullock’s much longer, but the rain was coming back, so I made my way home.  It is a fascinating place.  

That evening the rain arrived on time and I heard the now-familiar pitter-patter of it on our skylights and metal roof. I had been anticipating it all summer and wondered how the rain would sound, especially at night when it’s time to sleep. Listening that night, I thought about permanence and entropy. Try as we might to establish wetlands, gardens, and homes to be permanent, the universe eventually has its way with human projects.

But I didn’t want to think too deeply about that while sitting in a new house. To me, Flattop is permanent. It will be here longer than me and in between, all the things that we see, hear, and do, are permanent parts of our lives. The sound of rain on the roof was one of them; a bit of gentle percussion on a permanent drum that’s perfect for sleeping.

Bonus:

My friend Justin Cox is a talented musician that performs under the name Routine Layup. He lives on Orcas and wrote a song that might just get stuck in your head. Not Everyone Has to be a Permaculture Gardener. Listen below:

The Inspiration for the Name “Ready for Rain” ??

The Inspiration for the Name “Ready for Rain” ??

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


Ready for Rain is the title of a popular essay I wrote a few years back (included below). To me, the name relates to the season changes of the Pacific Northwest and a perspective Sachi and I share. Below is the original essay:

Ready for Rain – Why Seattleites Crave the End of Summer

Ready for Rain

It’s raining in Seattle today and tomorrow. This should come as no surprise to those who know the reputation of this part of the world. But in fact, this rain is special. It’s the first storm of the year; a harbinger for a change of season that strikes at the core of how it feels to live in the Pacific Northwest.

You see, this time of year, I want it to rain for days. I want an atmospheric river to roll off the Pacific and slam Seattle with precipitation. I want to look at the weather map and see greens, yellows and oranges. Thankfully, I live in a place that makes the timely arrival of rain an absolute certainty.

It’s not simply the arrival of rain, but the transition to a different environment and way of life. The drear has a certain dark beauty; a low-contrast softness. There’s no need to squint or close the blinds. Even the sound of the rain on our house is music to my ears, a lullaby.

This is my 15th Seattle winter and I anticipate the return of rain more each year. For me, it provides a sense of relief, a return to normalcy, a time to get back to real life and get things done.

To understand why this is the case for so many Seattleites, it helps to understand the reality of Seattle weather.

Seattle weather

Our summer really begins on July 5th when, like clockwork, the darkness is replaced by remarkably consistent sunshine and warmth. Our average high in July and August is around 75 degrees and the sun persists for weeks.

Seattle is often drier than Phoenix in this period because we don’t get hot or humid enough to have many thunderstorms. It’s glorious.

drier than Phoenix

All that comes to an end around October 15th, when after three months, the sun yields, once again, to clouds and rain. This season brings with it a constant state of dank mossiness. Precipitation falls, but it often seems less like rain and more like a cool mist that surrounds you. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Seattleites rarely use umbrellas (it’s how we spot visitors). A good Gore-tex jacket is the standard.

state of dank mossiness.

Between the misty days, winter storms can produce inches of rain in the city and feet of snow in the Cascade mountains. Mount Baker Ski Area, less than three hours from Seattle, holds the world record for annual snowfall with 95 feet of snow over 1998–1999. Accordingly, Seattleites adopt a more indoor and/or ski-mountain lifestyle that lasts into spring.

Mount Baker

April and May bring warmth and longer days, but the cloudy darkness often seeps into June.

Relief — Sweet But Fleeting

After months and months of darkness and rain, it’s no surprise that the arrival of summer sunshine is a huge relief for everyone in Seattle. We’ve earned it and a whole new lifestyle can begin again.

But the arrival of summer sun comes with an obligation, a duty to make up for lost time, a need to squeeze every drop of fun from a few months of long warm days. It’s a feeling of pressure, pressure to make the most of a fleeting resource.

In some ways, summer in Seattle is like a romantic long-distance relationship. Think about it this way:

Two lovebirds, separated by geography and time, plan a glorious weekend together. For weeks, they plan diligently for making the absolute most of their limited time together. It will be nirvana.

When the day finally comes, it’s amazing. They are so relieved to finally, at long last, be together. Over delicious meals, long walks and private time together, their enjoyment becomes mixed with anxious feeling that gnaws at them.

A kind of pressure builds. The tick-tock of the weekend clock gets louder. Every minute they both feel the need to do more, to make the weekend that much more memorable. They ask:

Is this what we should be doing? Is he/she having fun? Are we making the most of our limited time together?

The pressure has a way of adding stress to what is supposed to be a glorious, carefree experience together. By the time the weekend is over, tearful goodbyes lead to a bit of relief. The pressure goes away. What’s done is done.

And so it is with summers in Seattle.

Seattle’s short summer is a kind of long distance relationship we have with the sun. We spend months anticipating its return and all the time apart creates a real sense of urgency. Every summer day, bright sun arrives around 5:30am and whispers to me “I won’t be around for long, make today count!

In July and August the whole city comes alive. Sundresses appear in parks along with the lilies. Instagram becomes full of wilderness hikes, boats and BBQs. It is glorious… and the pressure starts to build.

boats and BBQs

We Ask: Am I taking advantage of this time I’m given? What can I do to truly make this summer special?

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

By September, the shine of the sun isn’t new but the pressure remains. Grass turns brown, trees droop and something becomes clear. Like a weekend with a distant lover, no amount of planning or activities will actually be enough to truly take advantage of the time we have with the sun. Nirvana is always just out of reach. But we try and try.

trees droop

For me, the pressure is really a feeling of guilt. When the sun is out, I feel guilty about being indoors because a summer day indoors is a summer day wasted. By the end of September, I just want to sit on the couch and watch a movie and not feel guilty about it. I want to wake up without the pressure.

Let the clock tick — I am ready for rain.

I am ready for rain.

Thankfully in October the rain returns and with it, a sense of relief. I can finally relax. I can feel better about being indoors. I can wake up and feel warm at home in front of the fire on cold wet days.

The best way to describe the feeling is “coziness”. Home feels like a refuge from the elements; a place to relax and live life more slowly. Coffee seems to taste better when it’s raining.

Each Better Than the Last

The long, dark Seattle winters do something to me. They make me forget what it’s like when the days are long and warm. The bare trees make it hard to imagine the lush Seattle spring.

And then, just as it becomes too dark for too long, the promise of a sun-kissed rendezvous returns and the great maximization begins again — along with the pressure. It’s a cycle I’ve come to love.

I do look forward to the sun, but it ends just in time, because in my heart, I also love the rain.