Surviving soggy summers
It was July 15 of last year when I finally switched on the heat after two-and-a-half months of keeping it off. To be Spartan during this time of global austerity, I aspire to keep my one-person, one-pet residence unheated from May to September. But last summer I detected something decidedly dank in my domicile, and was aghast to discover mould growing on fabrics. It was ridiculous—a low point for both the miserably rainy weather and my housekeeping. Defeated, I manipulated switches and knobs to begin the process of drying out.
In the Northwest, winter has a grip on our lives for five months of the year, a grim fact that sends some Northwesterners into headlong flight to the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island or the Okanagan as soon as they reach the age of emancipation. But the beauty in winter’s long reign is that it makes summer—and fair weather in general—feel earned. Thus when a Real Summer—that is, one with a rudimentary amount of sunshine and warmth—doesn’t occur, people feel ripped off at best and, at worst, personally insulted.
Last June and July, Northwesterners were indignant at nature’s wet effrontery. They sulked, pouted and glowered at the nimbostratus clouds. By August, most had concluded that shaking their fist at an indifferent sky was futile and started to prepare for another winter. The berry-pickers (including the bears) were thwarted by the imbalance of water and sunshine. Jam supplies dwindled over the winter. But the consensus was that the summer of 2011 was an aberration, a freak.
I learned that during a soggy summer you shouldn’t keep the heat off. I discovered that modern, high-tech-wool long underwear isn’t just for months of three or more syllables. A friend passed along his knowledge about what to do if your cell phone gets drenched beyond use: take out the battery and bury the phone in a bowlful of uncooked rice. This same moisture-absorbing property is found in those little desiccant packs in certain electronics, photography equipment and dried-meat snacks—the latter’s wee pillows of silica gel responsibly sporting large instructions not to eat them. You can battle clothing-mould by slipping desiccants into your dresser drawers and closets, but don’t use the ones found in jerky unless you want to be accosted by excited dogs.
It was commendable that people, muttering under their breath, carried on with summer activities, regardless of an overall level of moisture that sealed envelopes before they could be used. Undaunted, campers headed into the woods to erect bigger tarps, build hotter fires and favour rum and whiskey over beer. Golfers continued to play on slow, wet fairways and heavy greens, which provided ample opportunity to rationalize their scores. Early in the summer, no downpour could keep Canucks fans from celebrating every single playoff win, though a few came to think that the Cup loss and the incessant rain were part of the same curse. I persisted in biking, though often I’d emerge from the bush looking as if I had opted to crawl along the trail rather than ride.
A friend to whom I relayed the subject of this piece suggested, in all seriousness, that I might be jinxing the sun and condemning us to another abject, sodden summer. I don’t have faith that my words wield that kind of deity-grade power; otherwise I would have scribbled us a much different world by now. But his superstition and primal worry reveal the fear that last summer was not the exception to the rule, but the new rule: climate change for the Northwest might mean one continuous drizzle.