I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pummeling the roof. As I lay there listening, a sensation of comfort, well being and "home" warmed me. This is the sound of SE Alaska.
We live in a rainforest, and right in the rainiest part of it. A little to the south, Ketchikan averages 152 inches of precipitation a year, while to the north Little Port Walter on the southern end of Baranof Island averages 221 inches. The post mistress in the nearby village kept track of our rainfall one year and we had 172 inches.
If you read John Muir's explorations of Alaska from 1879-1899, you will find that he devotes many pages to all the different kinds of rain that he experienced here and he rhapsodizes about all of them: "This rainy weather, however, is of good quality, the best kind I ever experienced."
When we came to SE Alaska my two youngest brothers were babies, and the very young have short memories.
One day as Robin, my second youngest brother, was playing on the floor, after days and days, perhaps weeks of steady rain and overcast, a terrifying, supernatural phenomenon crept slowly but surely toward him.
He backed away from the glowing movement, but it continued to creep toward him.
He panicked and screamed, "What is it? What is it?"
It was a ray of sunshine.
When I worked as cook on a guide boat I told the clients this story, of my brother losing all memory of sunshine, to prepare them.
They didn't believe me, laughing at my attempt to put one over on experienced world travelers.
After a week on the boat one of them joined me as I stood at the rail hauling up a bucket of seawater to cook crab in. She contemplated the rain dripping steadily from the top deck, and then looked across the bay we were anchored in at the forested shoreline barely discernible, cloaked in rain fog.
"You know that story you told about your brother forgetting what sunshine looks like?" she said. "I believe it now."
The reality of all this rain is you are almost always caught by it, whatever you're doing. If you need to haul boxes of groceries up the beach, you will inevitably wind up clutching soggy cardboard, hoping the bottom doesn't fall out. (The tiny store in Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island provides courtesy large plastic bags for skiff patrons who have to take their groceries out into the elements.) Our mail is tucked inside layers of plastic. In my previous blog post I tell how the Mail Services librarians in Juneau learned to put the books in plastic before mailing them to me.
You cut and haul firewood in the rain, build in the rain, picnic in the rain, play in the rain. One young couple with little ones made it a rule, to make all the rain fun, that whenever there's a big summer downpour they would all go out, the whole family, and jump in the biggest puddle they could find.
When we were little and there was a huge, thunderous downpour in the summer my parents would send us out with soap.
The least fun reality of all this rain, is the inevitable leaky roof.
Every house has to deal with this at some point and ongoing roof repairs are just a way of life. In the meantime, while waiting for the leak or leaks to be dealt with, the plastic containers and cans and jars come out.
I remember, as a kid, putting paper towels in the can in my bedroom to muffle the dripping so I could sleep (and to contain the splatter).
A floathouse with a screwed down metal roof is particularly vulnerable to leakage because as the house floats as the tide comes in and then sets on the ground as the tide goes out, the house is constantly shifting and settling. All the movement slowly works the screws out and lets the rain in. We are on a constant quest to find the sealant that will forever end the need for rain catchers.
We haven't found it yet.
When I was a kid I saw rain barrels on everyone's porches before the village waterline was installed in the Eighties. You still seem them, for those times when the waterline goes down, or when it freezes.
I have one myself because I can no longer drink the tannin-rich water of the muskeg lakes and streams around here, but the weight of it presents problems for a floathouse. It is currently surrounded by the blocks of foam needed to refloat the section of the float it sits on and is sinking.
It's true that in the winter months, when the days are so short, that the rain and overcast contribute to the darkness and makes it tough on the people who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but it makes the spring all that much more welcome.
"He took in a deep breath of damp, salty air. Scents of seaweed and marine life mixed with the smell of cedar trees and rain to give an odor that was quite unique to Southeast Alaska. Despite the rain and [winter] darkness, Jim loved the smell of his home.
"'But not to worry...spring is on the way. It'll still rain almost every day, but at least we'll start to get a little more daylight around here.'" --TSUNAMI WARNING by Brent Purvis.
People have told me that they couldn't imagine living with "all that rain." But I couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)