Friday, February 27, 2009

Dispatch 41 Seattle Winter Wonderland

August 24, 2008 to April 18, 2009
The Seattle climate is generally very mild, a well-hidden fact, hidden in an attempt to keep millions more people from discovering our wonderful land of riches. OK, it is cloudy a lot of the year and the winter days are very short since we are on the same latitude as Maine, but the summers are dry, even drought conditions from a gardeners point of view. And when it is clear here, well, there is hardly a more beautiful landscape to be seen.

This year, Seattle had a white Christmas! Starting on December 14, temperatures dropped below freezing almost continuously and we had our first snowfall. Sure, it was only 3 or 4 inches, but it promptly froze. Then on Dec 18 we had another 3 or 4 inches which froze on the roads and ongoing intermittent snow thereafter until nearly Dec. 25. OK, Richard and I grew up with snowy winters, learned to drive in snow for months every year. It took a couple feet of snow in Ohio to close schools. In Seattle, schools can close for the whole day based on the threat of snow which happened on Dec. 17. Why?

Seattle is built on 7 hills like Rome. Some of the main arterials have a grade of 19%--we know because it’s marked on the arterial a couple blocks from our apartment--which is on a block with a similar grade. Icy roads on the flat are one thing, but throw in a whole lot of hills and you have mayhem. In fact, 2 charter buses trying to navigate down hill to their bus station nearly fell over the retaining wall onto the highway. The sounds outside our window are of spinning tires on ice and, ugh, occasionally, the sound of the moving car hitting one of the parked cars.

We enjoyed the snowy break—we walked everywhere or took one of the rare busses downtown to run errands. I had most of the snowy week off work so we had no obligation to be anywhere in particular. We rented DVDs, stopped to enjoy a sled ride on one of our walks, laughed with both kids and adults frolicking in the unusual winter weather. When my work week began again, I borrowed rides to work as neither of our vehicles, (one a poor excuse for a car – a rental, the other a wonderful Mercedes convertible, lent to us by a friend for the duration of our stay, too nice to submit to the snowy conditions, besides it refused to leave the comfort of our garage until conditions improved ), really were suited to the conditions. Still, our experience as cruisers helps us adapt to adverse conditions and to improvise as needed.

Seattle is certainly an appealing place to live when the weather is right. Then, there’s the winter. The “great snow storm of ‘08” had its own “extreme” appeal, but the rest of winter here especially during a La Nina year leaves a bit to be desired. Seattle is at Latitude 48, similar to Maine. When winter strikes, it is dark here 16 or more hours a day. Pair that with the fairly constant gray skies and you get a whole lot of people with Vitamin D deficiency and sunlight deprivation. Perhaps we don’t see much frostbite, but, Seasonal Affective Disorder are Us. Spring on the other hand is magnificent. And just as we are preparing to leave, spring is finallyin the air. The crocuses and daffodils are peaking and the tulips are up. The azaleas are starting to bloom and, we can only hope, we might see a bit of the rhododendron show here. Rhodies are the state flower and a native species. One finds them growing in the woods on hikes in the Olympic National Park. When the city is abloom, clear skies, Cascade mountains to the east, Olympic mountains to the west, Puget Sound sparkling in the sunshine and Mt. Rainier standing regally over the skyline, there is no place prettier in the world. Perhaps the weather will oblige us with more gray days as we leave so we can appreciate the tropical sunshine and warmth all the more.

Being “dirt dwellers”, as some of our cruising friends dub the land life, had other appeals. We didn’t have to speak a foreign language for every interaction, everything you could possibly need was nearby, our snug apartment was a warm place to be in a storm. The US stay meant we visited with family, I got to ski for the first time in 4 years, and our lives were filled with visits with friends, great meals and companionship.

On the other hand, the incessant 24 hour news cycle meant that all the disastrous economic news was played, replayed, re-analyzed, and drummed into our brains and we joined the ranks of the shocked and depressed public as we received our monthly financial statements. It was a bipolar winter, the ecstasy of the Obama election followed by the despair of the economic crash have helped us look forward to the simplicity of life on the boat where we get news sporadically and can live for weeks on our own stores.

Soon we leave to resume our nautical travels. First stop is Tahiti but shortly thereafter we fly to Easter Island, ( Rapa Nui) — we’ve decided we don’t want to miss it even if we didn’t sail out of our way to go there by boat. Stay tuned for more reports from the high seas. Hope all of you had a healthy winter. Please keep in touch.