Yesterday morning, I went outside in the last of the night’s rain showers and splashed in puddles on the sidewalk. Then, I sat on my damp brick steps and smiled up at the gray, but bright, sky. There hadn’t been enough rain to re-fill lakes or trickle down into the water table. But the birds sounded happy. So was I.
The rain was a gentle reminder of what I’m doing here. This is as far north as I pass a winter without being overwhelmed. Even a drive north to visit between now and next August is out of the question.
These clouds and this little rain system made me sleep a couple more hours a night, gave me a stuffy nose and mild headache and sent a fresh invasion of ants marching across my kitchen counter. But these are minor inconveniences next to the black cliff I fell from every autumn that I lived above the forty-fifth parallel.
I have a non-negotiable biologic latitude and climate incompatibility feature. The forty-fifth parallel plus rain is an equation incompatible with my health and happiness. The physical me can’t make it through the ten month winter under heavy clouds in the far north. And the physical and mental me are all one.
Ten months of the year while living there, I pasted on a cheerful face as I dragged and limped. It was like wearing heavy pillows on my head and chains and weights on my body. As the sun did its rapid fade in September, my body trembled and ached like I was in withdrawal. Both physically and mentally, the pain was crippling. I slept fitfully day and night for months on end. I wondered what awful autoimmune disease I must have contracted and thought about death.
I’m glad I finally figured this out. I spent twenty-seven years of my irreplaceable lifetime fighting with this biologic imperative and losing. I tried everything (short of prescription drugs) to make life work there. I exercised, ate healthy food, socialized and shined bright therapeutic lights in my eyes. I ate nutritional supplements and went outside in the middle of the day. I changed jobs and relationships. I became a pro at affirmations, self-hypnosis, healing journals, meditations and all the various stuff of cognitive and behavioral therapies. And, when I was younger and more vigorous, I was better able to stay afloat in the inescapable misery without killing myself. If anyone could have overcome my climate mismatch, it would have been me.
I’m grateful to have made it here alive. Although it’s much more expensive to live here, I can live here. And we will make this work. Unless, of course, we need to be even further south or more inland for even sunnier and drier. These days I’m more open-minded to geographic cures. This one worked wonders.
Some folks are just meant to live in a certain climate. Other folks are meant for others. Our mobile, industrialized and homogenized culture completely denies this biologic fact. We pretend that everyone can adjust to live anyplace. And if they can’t, we label them mentally ill. We make them into pill customers.
But would you bring a polar bear to live in Texas or a crocodile to live in Quebec or keep a migratory animal in captivity? Wait. That’s right. We do.
I have a lot of southern Italy and Portugal in my inherited genetic makeup. And no Inuit or Scandinavian at all. My body doesn’t belong in Alaska or Oregon, Ohio or Ontario or even on the French Riviera. They are all too far north.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Oregon. I also love a lot about the north of France. They both have summers of bewitching beauty. But they’re both too far north for me. They share a chronic low-hung darkness and damp much of the year.
Oregon is particularly wondrous. There are beautiful small towns and urban neighborhoods in Oregon that offer a walk-able lifestyle. So long as one invests in rain suits and extra socks and doesn’t mind eye-glasses blinded by rain and mist, Oregon would be a top choice to raise a family and prosper over a lifetime.
Portland is ahead of the curve on planning with its tight growth boundary, modern public transit system and stunning urban forest park. In Portland, beer, coffee, tattoos and international foods are art forms. And public art is everywhere.
Oregonians were recycling before recycling was cool. The landscape is sublime. The cost of living is manageable. There’s no sales tax. Fog and long dark months provide an unparalleled soft mystery and opportunities to enjoy wood stoves and hot tubs, sweaters and wool socks. The brief summer spawns more outdoor events and concerts than I could ever attend. Anyone who can enjoy nine months of darkness, clouds and rain each year should put Oregon on the top of their list.
I really miss parts about my old life there. Leaving was hard.
Every summer I fell in love with Oregon all over again. The long days and bright sunshine wiped all memory of the endless-seeming dismal winters from my mind. I couldn’t leave her in summer. She was too full-bodied, green and tantalizing. And, once autumn came and my brain shut down, I became incapable of organizing an escape to the sunshine. By the end of October, the dark cave had me locked in with its powerful claws. Year round, Oregon was an almost inescapable force.
I’m lucky. My torments vanished after I came south. The pillows lifted from my head. The chains and weights dissolved. I can open jars using my bare hands and walk up stairs again. I’ve thrown away my anti-inflammatory tablets and nutritional supplements. My creativity is back. I can learn new things again.
And, much of the time, I’m a more pleasant person to be around since I came south. This makes me wonder if climate was an invisible third party involved in the death of my first marriage within a couple of years of moving from the deep south to the north.
One can never know.
Even here, I’ve met people who tell me they have the same kinds of symptoms from the summer fog along the coast. And I’ve met others who suffer from the low clouds that hang on the coast range all winter just a mile or so inland from me. I know of relationships that have foundered because neither could live in the local micro-climate of the other.
I’m glad to have heard from so many people that they have the physiology to blend with Oregon. Oregon is a wonderful place. I miss her.
But the world is full of wonderful places. And a lot of them are sunny.
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Thanks for reading.