The benefits of “temperate” winters

Olympus Pen EES-2, Kodak Ultramax 400. Taken on December 13, 2020, which pretty much is “winter” here.

I’ve said it here before: While Portland has a real winter (meaning: a distinct season) its “realness” is not on par with what I saw when I lived in Connecticut many a decade ago. Here, winter is more like an “extended November” to much of the United States: the temperatures cool but not frigid. The thermometer is above freezing way more often than it’s below. Snow can happen, but it’s infrequent and usually small and short-lived. Some winters it doesn’t snow at all. Hardy vegetables can be grown. My rose bush still blooms.

Now I realize that my description of Cascadian Winter (at least the part of the Northwest west of the Cascades) may sound tantalizing to those in colder climes. I’m not saying this to make anyone jealous. If you really want a winter escape, may I suggest Arizona, Florida, or Southern California? Our winters are not severe, but they are still an acquired taste: there are more clouds than sun, more damp than dry. While I do see folks wear shorts in January, it doesn’t mean that we see shorts weather.

After twenty years of living in Portland, I have acquired a taste for Portland winters. Yeah, several days in a row of rainy weather can become a drag. But I do like having enough of a change from the other seasons without going into the Arctic range. Living for a few winters in SoCal sounds tempting, but the lack of diversity in seasons may make me anxious. And while I don’t mind seeing snow a few times a year, I don’t know if I’m hardy enough for the “snow on the ground December through April” I’d get in Minneapolis. Nor do I want to return to the “brown and grey” color scheme of New England when snow isn’t on the ground. Here in Portland the city is remarkably green in winter, and I can see snow on the distant mountains. So Cascadian winter is good enough for me, for now.

And there’s a big reason why I’m appreciating Temperate Winter this year: The pandemic. Having a daytime high temp usually between 40F to 55F means I can get outdoors without dressing for an Arctic expedition. I can get by with relatively thin wool or leather gloves when I bike. And most importantly: I can spend time outdoors. This is keeping me sane. In winter’s past, I would regularly walk or bike to a coffee shop and spend an hour or two writing, reading, drawing, or something else. As someone who works from home, I need that “getting out of the house” experience to keep me balanced. This winter I can’t do that for obvious reasons. But it’s mild enough that I can head to a park and do what I would in a coffee shop. It’s got to be dry out, and I can’t spend more than an hour or two doing this before I get cold. But I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing in Minnesota, where standing still outside for longer than a few minutes could literally mean death. And going to a park to do the same thing I would have done in a cafe has helped my mental health.

There are times where I think about days on the beach in Santa Barbara in February, where I could get by with shorts and a T-shirt. There are also times where I’ve romanticized being a winter bicyclist in Minneapolis, where you need ski goggles for the coldest days and frost grows on your beard. But for now, I’ll stick with Portland. And I’ll make sure I get out to the park every opportunity I can.

10 thoughts on “The benefits of “temperate” winters

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  1. I’m sort of envious.

    Sort of, because it bothers me a lot that winters have been mild for at least the last decade. Ain’t right.

    However, it’s too frigging cold here to do much outside. I force myself out for walks just to keep my blood circulating. But by Saturday we’ll have temps around 0 F and I won’t even do that.

    Fortunately, it should warm up by the end of the month.

  2. “But for now, I’ll stick with Portland. And I’ll make sure I get out to the park every opportunity I can.”

    I agree! On some of our grey, rainy winter days in Portland I miss the white snow and cold, crisp air from my many years living in Alaska. However, after living in Oregon now for many more years, I’ve come to cherish our winters. For all of the reasons you mention.

    In the climate-controlled bubbles many of us now live and work in, I think getting outdoors during the winter months to experience the weather is important. I found that was the case in Alaska when I was doing backcountry trips and climbs in the winter, and I’ve found it to be the case in Portland on my long walks, hikes and bicycle rides.

    I also think parents serve as good role models for their children. I see this with you and Emee, Shawn, and I commend you. My wife and I also tried to be good examples when our children were growing up in Portland and I think we were successful. To this day, my children and their spouses never hesitate to layer up (and mask up) and get outside when it’s rainy, cloudy or windy. I suppose ‘and’ for all of those possible winter conditions in Portland 🙂

    And the cycle continues. Our toddler grandson takes delight in stomping in puddles and I’m about to layer up and head out for a walk to/from downtown to snap what I see along the way.

    P.S. I’m now in a ‘Posting positive Portland past and present photos phase’ as I try to boost Portland and counteract some of the negative local, regional and national press. While I think we deserve some of the negative press, I figure it’s more productive to be 1/2 full than 1/2 empty right now. FWIW, this is another reason why I appreciate your blog and a few others that I’ve started to follow.

  3. I recall fondly all the wonderful Portland parks. They were my salvation when we weren’t skiing in the Cascades. Looking back, mild Portland winters taught me about bike commuting in the rain – for that I’ll always be thankful. But living now in VT, I’ve come to realize that our winters are brighter, especially with snow on the ground. And I’ve adapted to winter riding too. I believe that one can get used to many climates – with an open mind and experimentation – and still enjoy the outdoors. I’m thankful to be living in a smaller community instead of a big city this past year.

    1. It is true that Portland winters are relatively dim, with all the clouds. That’s one thing I warn folks who are tempted by milder weather. Turns out some folks would rather have a colder, snowy climate if they can see the sun more.

      I also believe that one can adapt to a different winter climate if one has the right mindset. But one has to be willing to. I spent all but one of my first 25 years in Connecticut. 1990-91 was spent in coastal North Carolina. I was growing cold (ha!) on CT winters since I became a teen, when my step-mom made me shovel the driveway every snow. A winter in fairly mild NC ruined southern New England winter for me, and I’d be pining for a mild winter for the rest of the decade.

      I think I’d be more into a northern Vermont winter vs. Connecticut winter, where snow on the ground is prevalent. I just hated the wishy-washiness of the CT winter.

      Well, as OnRhodes indicated, we might be getting some snow this week…

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