Washington Reader: The Dark Days of Winter

Learning to Love Washington Rain
Learning to Love Washington Rain

Learning to love Washington Weather

written by Charyn Pfeuffer

When you live in the Pacific Northwest, you become fiercely attached to certain things during the winter months. A Norwegian wool blanket, felt slippers, a Netflix subscription and a stupidly expensive raincoat for your dog—all things that comfort and warm.

Washington winters are not for the faint of heart. It’s not the rain that’ll get you. Despite its reputation, Seattle gets less rainfall than every major city on the eastern seaboard. It’s the never-ending stretches of gray and legitimate vitamin D deficiency that’ll spark the winter blues.

During the winter, Washingtonians adopt the “3:30 rule.” Meaning, if you haven’t walked the dog or done outdoor tasks by 3:30 p.m., you’re going to be doing it in the dark. Or in my case, by the beam of a Petzl headlamp—my nerdy must-have accessory.

Still, the sharp swings of light and dark cycles are cause for pause and reflection.

If you’re new to the Pacific Northwest, the lack of daylight can make for a tough adjustment. The gray days take a toll on even the toughest of psyches. ​Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression linked to sunlight deprivation, is a real condition. It’s not uncommon to swap vitamin D level results from your most recent test with a stranger and share tips on how to combat deficiencies. It’s a bizarre thread that connects us.

Yet, we somehow manage to cope and survive. And maybe self-medicate at times too—there’s a reason why most Seattle bars offer happy hour twice daily. Bourbon is my harsh weather balm.

During the scant hours of daylight, we get outdoors whether for a quick run, walk or to hit the nearby slopes. Projects that can be done during evening hours get pushed until the sun goes down. We dress for the weather, which is fashion-speak for wearing copious amounts of waterproof layers, most likely bought at REI. We consume all the hot foods and beverages—coffee, hot cocoa, pho, you name it. Some turn to the balanced spectrum light solace of a light box until the real thing returns. A mid-winter jaunt to tropical climes—“It’s always summer somewhere else!”—is one of my coping tools.

Winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year—ticking in at just eight hours and twenty-five minutes. Summer solstice, June 21, nearly doubles it, just shy of sixteen hours of daylight.

On December 21, we begin our ascent from the proverbial basement and crawl back toward the light. Although I’ve developed solid winter survival skills, knowing sun, warmth and light approach drastically improves my behavior, temperament and general outlook on life. A gal can only handle so many Crock-Pot dinners.

Why do we do it? Because Seattle summers are so sweet. Seriously. When the rest of the country is sweltering, we experience the best weather in the whole world. Where else can you sit on your deck and sip rosé into an endless stretch of dusk at 10 p.m.?

When I think about growing up in Philadelphia and every hot-as-hell humid summer, I soldier through with renewed resolve. The months of gray are totally worth it. I wouldn’t trade living in Washington for anywhere else in the world.

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