It's certainly not as "bad" as winter in most of the rest of the country right now (snow, snow, snow in every state except Florida — wow), but winter in Portland, Oregon, comes with its own challenges, I think. Since there is generally no snow, it seems extra dark because it's muddy: Without the whiteness of snow, the light has nothing to reflect off of, and the mud and wet pavement seems to absorb what limpy little light there is. Mud and rain outside make it quite dark inside the houses and buildings. There is green grass, in a way, sort of a weird grayish-green. But the sky is often really dark, and it's a solid sort of gray, and can hang very low and too close. It can feel rather . . . like you're in a sink of cold, dirty dishwater (says Andy, when I just asked him to describe it). Yup. Like that.
People respond to winter so differently, really. Some people will tell you that winters in Portland are easy. Relative to the frequent blizzard conditions of my childhood, that seems true. Ish. I grew up in Chicago and went to college in western Illinois, where snow plows and salted sidewalks and shoveling out (and skating ponds) were ubiquitous and routine. When Andy and I moved to Montana in 1994 I didn't own a car, and walked every day through miles of snowy streets, or through the woods, or down the path along the Clark-Fork River. One night, when Andy and I had just started living together in our little studio apartment in Missoula, we got in a fight about chocolate sauce. I can't remember the details, but I know there was a jar of chocolate sauce heating in a pan of furiously boiling water on the stove when I walked out the back door. I walked in the dark down to the river path — basically, the woods. It was incredibly quiet. As I got to the river it started to snow in huge, floating flakes. It was the first snow of the season. It was so, so beautiful. I was too mad and stupid to go back and get Andy. I cried because I was so mad and stupid and lonely. I've never forgotten that feeling — that no-chocolate-sauce loneliness, those falling flakes lit by streetlights on my cold walk home, the shame of my lonely self-righteousness burning my cheeks.
Lesson learned: Go back and get him.
When we moved to Portland, I have to admit that I honestly did not realize that it doesn't snow here. "Wait, we moved here, but it doesn't snow here?" "Yup." "Wait, but there's a pine tree [pointing desperately] right there. It doesn't snow here?" "Nope." I still feel like it's all just some big misunderstanding. It snows here, in town, but only very rarely, and when it happens it's a Big Deal. Portlanders will tell you, "Oh, but you can just go to the mountain if you want snow!" So we do that when we can, yes. But somehow I never stop missing snow here. Right here. Snow in the yard, on the sidewalk, in the birdbath. Snow on the woodpile and the porch. Snow on the street and the stairs. Snow in the city. I try not to long. Instead, we keep the fireplace going, we get a big stack of mystery novels to read, we have way too many cable channels, we go to movies, we sit in bookstores and drink really good coffee, we drink really good coffee almost every other place you can imagine, we make big pots of hot soup, (we do have really good bread here in Portland, too), we get good rain gear and keep it right by the front door, we get to the mountain when we can, we wear wool, and we knit (things the color of curried sweet potatoes and glowing embers and winterberries) like machines. This is the Winter in Portland sweater.