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The International Writers Magazine
: Rainy Days in Vancouver

What the Heck is That Big Yellow Thing up in the Sky?
Colin James Haslett

First of all, I have a confession to make. It’s night as I write this. It’s raining too, so there isn’t really a big, yellow thing in the sky right now. But we had some sunshine in Vancouver last week and I was damned if I was going to waste it sitting at my computer.

I know that there are places in the world that can claim a higher annual rainfall than the Canadian west coast and I’m pretty certain that there are places that can claim more days of rain per year to boot. I don’t live in those places, I’m damned glad of that, and I pity those who do. Not in the same way I pity those who live in Baghdad or Sarajevo or Los Angeles, but it isn’t that much of a difference.

I love Vancouver. I think it’s one of the prettiest spots in the world, and a large part of that pretty comes from it being so very, very green. We have an abundance of parks, and I mean real parks with old growth trees, and wild birds and animals, and trails that make you feel a million miles away from civilisation less than a hundred metres from the nearest traffic jam. I live in the middle of an honest to goodness rainforest, and you can’t have the forest without the rain. But I hate the rain. One of the reasons I usually holiday in Las Vegas is the desert climate; hot, arid and cloudless are major selling points when you live in the damp capital of the world. It’s so wet here…. (I know you’re reading this silently, sitting in front of your computer, but if you could just ask "How wet is it?" it’d really help the flow of this piece. Thanks.) It’s so wet here that, well, I can’t come up with a good joke just now, but believe me it’s really, really wet here. Especially this time of year.

And all that water doesn’t fall out of the clear blue, oh no, it doesn’t. The natural colour of the winter, spring and autumn skies in Vancouver is grey. Even on those too rare days when it isn’t raining the sky is usually some shade of that particular non-colour, flitting back and forth between off white and near pitch black. Blue is a tease, a small bright spot in a hole in the clouds, opening and closing like some sly, meteorological wink that says "Maybe I’ll see you around sometime, sailor," and you know it’s a dirty, hurtful lie. Blue is the feeling you get from looking at all that grey day after day. I don’t know if I really believe in Seasonal Affective Disorder or not, but I believe in the winter blahs and I blame that on the grey more than the wet or the cold or the dark. It makes me wonder how much different urban life would be if, by some quirk of physics or chemistry, concrete was actually a light shade of purple. Imagine a sprawl of dusky lilac high-rises surrounded by pale indigo sidewalks. But here on the Wet Coast we get the opposite, and when you find yourself surrounded by manmade grey you look up only to see Mother Nature’s own brand of the same shades.

While I’m busy complaining, it’s pretty cold here too. Now, before I get the angry letters from the northern climes, I will freely admit that Vancouver has the mildest winters in Canada. That can still be pretty bloody cold. Plus, just to belabour the point, it’s wet here. Put those two together and you get, ta-da, cold and wet. Not a pleasant combination. Sure, hot and humid aren’t anywhere near as popular a pairing as Ben & Jerry either, but I’ve been caught in tropical rainstorms, the kind that come up out of nowhere, dump bucketsful on you for an hour or so and then vanish as quickly as they arrived. Those are warm, refreshing even. They wash off the sweat and they keep down the dust and they even ground the mosquitoes temporarily. The Vancouver brand of cold and wet doesn’t do any of that, but it does suck the all of the heat from your body right through your clothes as soon as you step outside.

Summer isn’t so bad, but summer is still months away and I’m stuck in the here and now. Sunshine is a rare and priceless jewel for much of the year in Vancouver. Whether you get out and run or rollerblade on the seawall at Stanley Park, or find a nice clear spot to stand or sit and let it gently warm you through to your bones, or just cross the road to walk on the sunny side of the street for a while with everybody else, it is a precious gift to be enjoyed and savoured for every minute that it’s available. We want to soak up every joule, every erg of solar energy that we can get here and hopefully we don’t waste any of it by sitting inside, typing articles to be read by people who may live in Rio or Nice or Darwin or Los Angeles. Lucky bastards, except for the last bunch.

A few years ago David Duchovny got a lot of heat from the local press for telling the world and Conan O’Brien that it never stopped raining when he was shooting The X-Files here. I’m sure he was exaggerating. They shot that series in Vancouver for five seasons so it probably stopped raining two, maybe three times. The truth hurts. So, given a city so wet that Noah needs to start franchising (I knew I could come up with something) is it any wonder that many Vancouverites found themselves squinting upward last week wondering why the cumulous clouds had turned a bright, uniform shade of azure and just what the heck that big yellow thing was.

© Colin J Haslett April 2004
chasman@shaw.ca

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