When Nature Calls…

The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men’s hands in the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.

“The Long Rain,” The Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury

Last night while stuck on the vertigo-inducing 520 floating bridge, this was the only thing I could think about. We’ve had record rains over the last twenty-four hours, and floodwaters continue to rise. At their peak in the small hours of this morning, Western Washington rivers were running at twenty to thirty times their normal volume. Before and after photos of Snoqualmie Falls:

Snoqualmie Falls (summer)

Snoqualmie Falls (Summer)

Snoqualmie Falls (4pm, 1/7/09)

Snoqualmie Falls (4pm, 1/7/09)

These images give something of the scale of water we’ve received over the last few days. Normal flow for the Snoqualmie River is around 2500 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is what you see pictured on the left. Flood stage is roughly ten times that, at 20,000 cfs. At its peak last night, the Snoqualmie was running at nearly 60,000 cfs. I know this is supposed to be a blog about art and culture (I’ll get to that in a minute), but my other passion is spending time outdoors. I’m fascinated by how nature’s fury impinges upon civilization, and how we beat it back again and again.

I volunteer with the Washington Trails Association, and spend time every weekend working on some of Washington’s 9,000 miles of trails. With every storm like this that we get, poorly maintained wilderness roads deteriorate further, or simply get wash out altogether. One of my first workparties was out building a new trail on the Carbon River at Mt. Rainier National Park, where the Carbon glacier, disgorging rocks and debris, has brought the surface of the riverbed higher than the road that was built fifty years ago. During the “hundred year flood” that occurred in December of 2006, it washed out so badly that in some places you couldn’t find the original road bed. The same flood swelled the Nisqually River to such proportions that a mile-long section of the historic Wonderland Trail vanished into its roiling waters. This, I have no doubt, occurred again yesterday.

Many of my friends who work professionally in the service of the land — either for the WTA, for the National Parks, or for the Forest Service — they spent last night watching the endless rain and the rising waters, sandbagging their homes, beating back nature, too. When we’re out on trail, we joke that the massive forces that bring down trees, erode trails, collapse rock walls bring us job security, but when these forces meet us at our front door, well, that’s a much more frightening thing, isn’t it? Nature reminds us that she can’t be domesticated, and that she won’t be kept in her place, like a proper lady, out in the wilderness where she belongs.

As the rain subsides and we assess the damage, I think about literature where people face both the weather and the wilderness; I want to wallow a bit in the special bleak wintry darkness of dreary weather. Here are some suggestions from the top of my head, and I’m keen to hear your favorites, too. (I’m not promising that this is happy reading, by the way.)

Ray Bradbury, “All Summer In A Day.” On a planet where the sun only comes out once every seven years, one girl misses her hour-long date with Vitamin D-filled cheery goodness. I read this when I was about 9 years old, and it gave me nightmares.

Ray Bradbury, “The Long Rains,” The Illustrated Man. Venus is the wettest planet in our solar system, so much so that the incessant rain drives men to madness. Their respite – and mirage in the watery desert – is the Sun Dome.

Jack London, “To Build a Fire,” The Best Short Stories of Jack London. If it’s really that cold, your journey can wait until tomorrow.

Richard Byrd, Alone. One man’s quest to survive a winter in Antarctica. Alone. In the 1950s. (I’ve never felt so warm in my life.)

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms. War plus rain plus heartbreak equals blood and mess and depressing sadness.

Department of the Air Force, AF Manual 64-3: Survival Training Edition. How to survive just about anything, including nuclear winter. No joke. Picked up for $7.98 at Half-Price Books.

…And in case all of that inflicted a lethal case of SAD, I give you some synthetic sunshine!

Simiant via Flickr

The Weather Project, Tate Modern (Olafur Eliasson, 2004) Image: Simiant via Flickr

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~ by ecp on January 8, 2009.

One Response to “When Nature Calls…”

  1. In Douglas Adams’ “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish” there is a character named Rob McKenna, a truck driver who (unbeknownst to him) is also a rain god. As such it rains on him every day, no matter where he goes. He keeps a log of the rain each day, and has a different word for each of hundreds of types of rain, like the myth of Inuits having hundreds of words for snow.

    Having spent most of my life in the greater Seattle area, I always related greatly to McKenna.

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