If he had known unstructured
space is a deluge
and stocked his log house-
boat with all the animals
even the wolves,
he might have floated.
But obstinate he
stated, The land is solid
watching his foot sink
down through stone
up to the knee.
–Margaret Atwood, Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer
Vancouver is, indeed, very wet. See, I can say that and it sounds simple. If you’re from the east, or from central North America, or anywhere else except possibly Norway, you won’t understand what this means. You really won’t.
First, it rains a lot. They tell you this isn’t true, but don’t believe them. British Columbians are immune to their own weather. It’s like living in northern Ontario during the black fly and mosquito season; eventually the damn things leave you alone and you become completely oblivious to the fact that they’re still there, attacking the fresh-smelling city folk in droves and driving them mad.
So don’t let the locals fool you. It rains 70% of the time in Vancouver. It rained hard every single day I was there (in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island), except on the first couple of days when it snowed. And it’s not like rain here in Ontario. It doesn’t rain and then clear up, it doesn’t rain and then break out all sunny and blue and clear. You wake up in the morning and the roads are wet and slick. For the first time in years I heard that weird buzz the car makes when you’re hydroplaning. It rains like the world is ending out there, it rains thick primordial soup that changes the landscape. It rains oil that doesn’t wash off, ever. Everything in British Columbia is in biblical proportions; they say ‘everything is bigger in Texas’, but they don’t even know what they’re talking about. British Columbia is big water, big mountains, big trees, and out-proportioned weather.
When it does occaisonally clear up in Vancouver it feels like the aftermath of a flood. Puddles everywhere, fog rising out of the trees on the mountains. It feels like a lull in a war zone. My sister and I kept looking around through the rain and wondering why everything (and everyone) looked so normal; you’d think all that downpour would make everything somehow marked. We expect to see big plexiglass shelters for the elderly, extra-large gutters on the houses, big holes in the ground carved out by ridiculous amounts of water. Like Hogsback in Ottawa, like the Grand Canyon; you expect to see the etching of the water into the earth, the hard fingers of it that pull mountains down and tunnel through them. The acid oil that leaves everything five shades darker than it is at home.
But it’s not just the rain. It’s the damp. I mean, this is what happens when you set up shop in the middle of a rain forest, isn’t it. The damp gets under your skin and laps at your innards. If you’re from anywhere east, you will go to BC thinking you’re going to be enjoying a nice spring. High temperatures, pleasant weather. Hell, a little rain isn’t so bad, it’s not a tough price to pay for temperatures above the freezing mark, right? Well, think again.
It’s the damp. If you’re from a drier climate and you show up in BC, you’re going freeze your ass off. Why? Because you can never dry off. The dampness gets into your bones, you’re cold from the inside out. You wake up and your sheets are a little dampish, you can feel it in your elbows and your ribs and your knees. You need to pile on the sweaters just to allow your body to feel warm in spite of being, as it were, dumped in the middle of a tepid body of water.
It’s true, the place is a rainforest. There are ridiculously tall trees, beautiful stretches of forest that make me think of Narnia. You know, at the beginning of the world, when you could drop pennies on the ground and get a penny tree, because everything is just that fertile. Driving from Victoria to Duncan is almost an exercise is running from the fertility of the place; if you stop for any length of time it will start to grow on you too. It will pull you into its wet green self and devour you.
And I’m not even kidding; there is moss everywhere. We drove through forests with massive trees entirely covered in the stuff; it grows on the sidewalks, the roofs, in the gardens. If you stand still too long you might find it creeping up onto your scalp. It’s like they beat back the forest as much as they can, but it’s a losing battle. Eventually the forest will take over and will just make mossy mounds of human civilization. Not that this is tragic, really. It reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s forest; In the darkness the fields / defend themselves with fences / in vain: / everything / is getting in.
The people of British Columbia are on the true frontier. They are on an eternal crusade against a wall of moisture that falls from the sky and inches in from the coast, a wet invader that is replenished daily. They are the warriors who hold back the tide that could envelop us all. Praise them.