My wife was just climbing into bed, and I was already heavy with sleep after a coastal trip the other night, when something began tearing at the screen outside our small bedroom window. This something was eager to come inside. In the few seconds it took for us to yell and wave our arms madly and finally bang on the window to scare whatever it was away, one side of the screen was ripped off. My wife Hayley grabbed a camping headlamp nearby and shone it out on the porch roof below. Was it a cat, a desperate human?
Nothing there. Just rain, slanting hard into the night.
The "what" remained mysterious, but the "why" was very clear: Something wanted refuge from the incessant rain outside. Jumbo drops were falling, and we were in the maw of non-stop rain in Portland; only three days have been dry in the last month and a half (and who can remember them?). The rainfall topped 17 inches in December and January.
Portland and the Northwest may be notorious for their wetness, but this latest extra-long episode — breaking continuous rainfall records in Seattle and drawing comparisons to El Nino years — has even the most duck-footed natives crying uncle to the climate gods.
I’m only in my fourth winter here, so I like to prove my heartiness by riding a bike or shooting hoops even in a cold drizzle. This month’s experience has eroded that bravado. I’ve also taken up the umbrella, a seldom-used tool here, and am getting the hang of the well-timed brolly-raise to avoid hitting pedestrians on downtown sidewalks. Other Portlanders seem to be carrying more protection as well, and the weather, usually a given, has become fodder for café chats and headline writers.
Washington residents took the brunt of the storms, with evacuations and massive floods following a recent one-day deluge. Here in Oregon, repercussions have been milder, with washed-out roads concentrated on the Oregon coast. There have been power outages, but there’s little to demonstrate just how drenched we are.
During a recent trip up the coast to escape the Portland rain, we watched Weather Channel footage of a recent flood to the southwest. A swollen river had undercut a neighborhood, and one by one, houses exploded in a cloud of insulation as they fell into the river. Bang, gone under water in an instant. Hollywood couldn’t have directed it better. We’ve escaped that drama. It just pours -- all the time. Following Highway 101 toward Astoria, the coastal town featured in Tim Egan’s 1991 biography of the Northwest, "The Good Rain," we drove through what seemed like a 30-minute car wash, with drops the size of golf balls.
"Wet out there," Hayley told the man behind a diner counter in town after we’d run inside, already soggy. "Seems to be going around," he said slyly, from below his blue ball cap with the word HAWAII stretching across it.
The constant rain made us cancel a trip to Cape Disappointment on the Washington Coast and head back to Portland, only to encounter the midnight intruder. It was, as you’ll recall, scared away from the window but still unidentified.
I threw on boots and jacket and bounded for the front door. Should I open it? "I think it’s a cat," Hayley called down. I burst outside, covering my head to protect it from flying claws, then, a good distance from the roof, shined my flashlight at the house. Two red eyes reflected back from under an eave near our window.
Out into the open came the striped and waterlogged lump of a large raccoon. He slowly hopped up onto the second floor roof, probably making for someone else’s yard. Halfway up he paused and cast a deliberate — some might say cheeky — gaze in my direction. What were his plans if he had gotten the screen off our window? We’re spinning our theories with kin on the East Coast as to just how desperate a raccoon might be for a dry bed.
Oakley Brooks is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes about business in Portland, Oregon.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.