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.