Portland The Grey

“Paris is pre-eminently a grey city…the range of greys is seemingly infinite…gris, to the ears of a Frenchman, is capable of evoking a world of thought and feeling.” – Henry Miller

And so is Portland.

Not all the time: We gleam in May. Steam in July and August. Have one of the finest and most dependable Indian Summers I’ve found anywhere.

But six months out of the year, we are gris. Preeminently.

44. Portland The Grey

It’s the bottom of the year, roughly November 1 – April 30, when Cascadia’s moods take over. When she’s in a particularly foul one she’ll alternate between two modes of grey in a one-two rhythm that can leave us in the dark for weeks on end.

1) The storms. The Aleutian Low that sets up each November in the Bering Sea delivers the Pacific Ocean to our doorstep in airborne form. They come one after another, like box cars on an eastbound freight, with maybe a glimpse of light between each car. And if that space between systems happens at night? No sun for you.

2) The fog. Tule fog. Portland’s in the Willamette Valley and when an inversion layer forms it can linger for days. Thick, dark, desolate. Like a scene from The Road. And maddening, because you know that a thousand feet up is the bright blue.

50. Deschutes

We make some of the best coffee and beer in the world here in PDX, in no small part to help us get through the winter.

As for life here in Portland? Something I’ve found is, a lot of your success in finding happiness and joy in PDX, it pivots around how deeply you accept and even indulge in the reality of the winter grey.

Even though we share The Grey with Paris, we deal differently here. Paris seems to have a passive reaction. Winter makes the city insular, encapsulated. My image of Paris on the last day of the world would be, everyone in their neighborhood cafe, their closest friends gathered around them, everyone drinking wine and talking politics and who has the best steak frites or blanquette in town.

Portland’s is a more active response. Rain doesn’t stop us. We have gear. It’s the miner, logger, fisherman ethos. You put on rubber and polypropylene and go do what you’re doing. Ride your bike to work. Get mud on your boots. Do it.

Why is Portland the tough guy? Maybe it’s the stock here. Not only are we the people who left the verdant continent to sail halfway across the world in a leaky boat lousy with rodents and scurvy. No, that wasn’t good enough. We had to go all the way across the continent too, in a rickety wagon train lousy with rodents and dysentery to the other side of the other side of the world.

When you’re not from here, when you’re a soft kid from warmer climes, I think all you can do is fake it for a few years. But then you start to notice how people deal. And emulate. And get a little grin when you see it starting to come down, because now there’s puddles to skip in, and how much better does braised lamb or cassoulet sound when the weather outside is foul? Let alone a cup of coffee, or a glass of brandy. And this is how it can begin. Acceptance and indulgence in place. Portland The Grey.

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