I am back in the embrace of Portland and my hometown must be overwhelmed to see me – the tears of jubilation continue to pour from the sky, day after day.
It’s a cliché, of course. I tell people I’m from Portland and without fail I answer some variation of “Isn’t it really rainy there?” Yes, but without the rain, Portland would not be Portland, Oregon would not be Oregon, and my favorite hiking spots would fade into muted mediocrity. I try to imagine the Gorge without the moss, without the ferns, without the waterfalls.
It’s a depressing thought.
Portland native that I am, I take full advantage of the rain. We hop the MAX to Washington Park. The misty vistas of the city laid out below are gorgeous, so different from the dry, stark beauty of summer. Now the hills, flush with evergreens, fade into the barest trace amidst the clouds and mist. We join the scant crowds wandering through the Oregon Zoo. The weather’s cool touch meant the monkeys and big cats and elephants were active, bellowing and screeching, swinging and playing. The cougar’s whine sends shivers down my spine.
Next stop the Japanese Gardens, one of the most authentic outside of Japan and perfect for Portland’s climate. Rain makes the gardens. The stone paths and steps gleam, the moss and lush plants glow. The rain steadily pours until I am soaked and chilled. But I don’t care. Raincatchers tilt and tip, a graceful dance of slender bamboo. The rock gardens shimmer in a slick blanket. The sheen is beautiful.
We braved more of the rain to walk the city streets. I stop at a food cart for a sumptuous, hot strawberry crepe. When the damp becomes overwhelming, we duck into Powell’s Books, Portland’s huge independent bookstore that requires a map to navigate the warehouse-sized rooms. The damp enhances the cozy stacks of books inside. A visit to Powell’s is always dangerous. I leave with three used books, including a Richard Scary children’s book in Icelandic. Yes, Icelandic. You can find anything there.
Back outside. Rain illuminates every surface until the streets and sidewalks become perfect mirrors. The antique street lamps glow in the murk, like a Dickens’ novel without the gritty realism.
Of course, all this pervasive wet has its drawbacks. We took the Amtrak train up to the Seattle area for an overnight visit with my sisters. As the rain pounded Snohomish, a rural area north of the city, a pond began to grow in my sister’s yard. We heard reports of houses washing into the Snohomish River. A mudslide delayed our train back to Portland.
But just when you think you’re tired of the rain, an olive branch. We pulled into Union Station to a rainbow arched across the Steel Bridge, the city bathed in a swathe of light through the rainy gloom. Welcome home.