February 10, 2017


Twice in the last two days, I've got soaked by major cloudbursts. 

But at least that reminded me of an article I wrote for the Oregonian 18 years ago. They didn't use my title, but I called it:


         I have found that rainy days are excellent opportunities to research information and stay active indoors. For example, there is nothing like learning about our country’s official state mottoes to stir the blood and fire the imagination. America is replete with simple and inspirational state mottoes that smack of great deeds and stalwart souls: “It is forever” (Idaho), “I lead” (Maine), and “Live free or die” (New Hampshire). A few states elected to have slogans that are more open to interpretation, like Maryland’s “Manly deeds, womanly words.” Washington’s selection of “By and by” sounds like the mantra of a lazy fisherman, but it does serve to make the Oregon state motto of “She flies with her own wings,” look good in comparison. Although it is a noble-sounding sentiment, I suspect that like myself, most Oregonians have no inkling as to what our slogan means. (After all, if we are going to fly, whose wings would we use?) I like our unofficial state motto a lot more: Umbrellas are for wimps.

         The evolution of this state-wide philosophy regarding umbrella usage is interesting to speculate on. Our history of persistent but relatively light rainfall combined with our settlement by testosterone-riddled lumberjacks have led to a studied indifference on the part of modern Oregonians regarding umbrellas. They are seen as fripperies for out-of-staters and the faint of heart. As my dad always light-heartedly says from the drenched locale of Astoria, “A little water never hurt anyone . . . unless they contract pneumonia.”

         But this season, conditions will apparently be even wetter than usual for Oregon, perhaps forcing some of us to change our lofty habits. Winter’s meteorological conditions have always been awe-inspiring. They are responsible for the first myths, as early hunter-gatherers huddled together around a fire peering upwards at dark clouds with a sense of wonder and fear. The storm gods inspired by wintry thunderheads were fierce and wrathful, and their very names inspired respect: Zeus, Thor, La Niña.

         Perhaps you are not impressed by La Niña’s moniker, and you don’t think you need to batten down the hatches for “The Little Girl.” Do not be so hasty in your underestimation. Just as the ancient Greeks named the avenging Furies who whipped sinful souls in the afterlife “The Kindly Ones,” so too did meteorologists employ their own twisted form of weather-inspired humor in innocently naming this winter’s storm pattern La Niña. So impressed am I by this little girl, I am going to do something this winter that I have always had too much self-respect to do before: I am going to use an umbrella.

         I can almost hear your gasps of surprise, but before you rush to judgment, let me make my case. Let me begin by stating that I am a grown man and in full control of my mental faculties. Having followed the alarmist long-term weather forecasts that the local media barrages us with, I know that now is not the time for false heroics regarding umbrella usage. Also, as a bald man who wears glasses, I am in a state of double-jeopardy regarding rainfall. (For those of you who have had the disconcerting experience of having a drop of water fall precisely on the crown of your head, imagine that sensation multiplied a thousand-fold and you will have an idea of what the pitter-pat of rain on my cranium feels like.)

         I intend to defiantly open up my umbrella and use it both as a shield against La Niña and as a shield from the contemptuous glances of sodden pedestrians doggedly slogging their own proud but soggy paths. I will tell myself that it is better to be ashamed and dry than righteous and miserable. If the people of any other geographical region can commiserate with we Oregonians, it would be the English, who also suffer their fair share of overcast days. To paraphrase the English judge, Lord Bowen:

         It rains down both on the proud
         And also the shameful fella.
         But chiefly on the proud, because
         The shameful aren’t afraid to use an umbrella.

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