I wake up to the sound of water on asphalt, falling from the sky in a mist. Outside, mountains of foliage have convened in street gutters in soggy, decomposing piles. The streets glow with a sheen of wetness, a shade darker than we’ve been used to, a consistent wetness that won’t leave for many months. Rain pants are now always in bike bags, but knees still get damp. Skinny tires wick up a constant stream of water from the road and bump through puddles that small birds bathe in when the clouds part. On the first rain, many were caught unawares, raincoats in hand but rain pants tucked away in seasonal storage at home. They all cursed their forgetfulness as they rode home in a downpour, jeans soaked through. Shoes would take days to dry. Coffee shops are havens, windows now closed, caffeine an armor to cold and depression. Water drips in a rhythm from the eaves- plip plop plip plop. Sometimes you can see the rain falling, sometimes you can’t, as you squint against dull, gray light. Dull and gray. Sparkling and colorful. Which is it?
Well, fall has officially returned to Portland. Leaves change colors in a glorious palette of transition. Skies are brilliant but the air is crisp and cool. Comforters are back on beds, thoughts of warmth and tea and pillows and blankets prominent. But amidst my favorite season of vibrant color and warming food, there is also the grim reality of fall in Portland: the return of pluviosity to our city. I have been lamenting the return of rain in its mist, its drizzle, its hammering, its insistent dampness.
But with anything that makes one uncomfortable, it has the possibility to redeem itself with tendencies of great beauty. As a musician, I have learned the value of tension and resolution in musical scores, dissonant chords that wrench your heart to a point of great stress only to be resolved with brilliant clarity at the last moment. I attended a friend’s voice recital a couple weeks ago. Rain drummed on the roof of The Old Church as we sat listening to him, transfixed by Dichterliebe, or “The Poet’s Love,” a song cycle composed by Robert Schumann in 1840. The piece is filled with insistent tonal dissonance, which is sometimes resolved and sometimes left unresolved. The same can be said about the struggles of the heart- heartbreak sometimes resolved and sometimes left unresolved. We sat listening, hearts twinging, as rain drummed on the roof.
It is in this contrast of the undesired that beauty can be found. A gray and smothering rain storm which keeps us inside under blankets resolves in a glorious display of blue sky and glowing green. Yellow leaves shaped like hearts litter the sidewalk are dotted with full globes of dew. Fall is a continuing cycle of tension and release, rain and clear skies, sun and cold. In the past, I have enjoyed sharing snapshots of my city with you on this blog, an apt way to capture its diversity. I will share some with you now in hopes of reminding myself of the beauty of this season, in its contrasts that shock us and depress us and delight us and calm us.
A Sunday afternoon, warm but wet. A shower has just passed, leaving trees dripping with moisture. I leave my back door open to hear each drop fall. In between the drops, I can hear dozens of chickadees saying their names, over and over. Singing their name.
A bike ride across the city. Over the red bridge, wet road whirring. The clouds had just parted and the brilliance that escaped from the sky that left me breathless. Each cloud was a brilliant white, perhaps still heavy with condensation. But the sun was determined, lighting the clouds from below like the inside of a mollusk shell, the outside of a pearl. The Steel Bridge to the South was a silhouette of black in the foreground.
Late at night and my tires are whirring yet again against a saturated street. Each rain drop finds its way through my eyelashes, temporarily obscuring my vision. But as I round the corner under a streetlight, the falling condensation is suddenly illuminated, displayed in its falling (its failure?) to the ground. A curtain of golden light drops, hiding each street corner.
Annie and I bike through Portland, drawing a 50-mile circle with our wheels. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but we get only one quick shower as we cross and skirt rivers (Columbia, a Slough of the same name, Clackamas, Willamette). Trees remain illuminated in their fall exhibit, a brilliance that is temporal but reliable. We know it will return next year.
A strong wind blows along the Columbia as we approach the 205 bridge. The landscape is wide open and blowing, an exposed plain and path alongside the river. A stoic heron sits still on a branch overlooking the river. It is a sentinel overlooking its territory, beady eyes as sharp as its long yellow beak, long blue-gray feathers impervious to rainfall. It seeks out its pray quietly, calmly, calculatedly.