Sometimes I do things that no self-respecting Floridian would ever do—like live in Alaska for a year. But as much as I might try to hide it, I will always be a little bit Floridian. I believe that flip-flops go with everything. I believe that Disney World is infinitely superior to Disneyland. And I believe that rainy days must be taken very seriously.
To clarify, “rainy days” are not the same as “days with rain.” Florida gets a lot of days with rain. On a summer day, you could set your clock by our afternoon showers. Sometimes all you want to do is stand there and let the raindrops cool you down.
“Rainy days” are not those days. Rainy days are those supremely cozy fall days when tropical rainstorms are raging all around you, and your house is set in the middle of it all like the eye of a perpetual hurricane: a quiet, dry, immovable version of Noah’s ark. You wake to the sound of water pelting your window, and you look outside to discover that there is a lake where your lawn used to be. But no matter how hard the wind might blow those sheets of water toward your front door, you know that you and your family and everything you own are safe inside. You also know that there is nothing better to do all day than be lazy. Ideal rainy days fall on weekends. If they can’t fall on weekends, they had better fall on hurricane days—which are like snow days, but they carry more imminent danger, which somehow just makes them cozier. In any case, rainy days are meant to be spent in the house.
Rainy Day rules are as follows:
1) Never change out of your pajamas
2) Eat breakfast food all day
3) Do not do anything productive.
I like to spend rainy days with a bowl of cereal and a bit of TV on DVD…and preferably a friend who’s willing to do nothing else (case in point: Labor Day. In case you’ve forgotten, Martine and I stayed in, ate venison stew in our blanket fort, and watched 7 episodes of Alias. Baller). As a kid, my favorite rainy day activity was reading. Clearly I was classier back then.
On a real, solid, Floridian Rainy Day, there are no individual raindrops. There is just water pouring from the sky. The thunder shakes the windows, and lightning streaks across the sky like fireworks. Still, if you must venture outside, you still wear your flip-flops. I didn’t even own rain boots till halfway through my college experience. Thanks for the fashion tip, Boston. Call me the next time your rain is more intense than Florida’s humidity.
One thing I will say about Boston’s rain—it might not carry the same strength as a tropical downpour, but at least it’s more predictable. Boston has rainy days and sunny days, and when you look out the window in the morning, you know which one you’ll be getting. This makes rainy days a planned event…which is nice, because you need sufficient time to cook your chowdah.
In any case, these two places I’ve called home have one thing in common: rainy days are a big deal. They offer a special and exciting excuse to stay in and do nothing. In other words, they make it ok for me to do what I like doing anyway.
Southeastern Alaska turns all of this on its head. Here, rainy days are just days. Last week, we had 60 MPH wind gusts. In Florida, that’s called a tropical storm. In Sitka, it’s called September. Nobody lets the rain stop them from doing anything. It’s like that hike we took with Tyler. Cold water is falling from the sky? You’re soaked to the skin? No big deal. KEEP GOING. PROVE HOW HARDCORE YOU ARE. I totally admire that go-get-‘em attitude, but I also appreciate the value of not getting the flu. After my Labor Day experience, I’ll admit that I haven’t yet jumped on the Rainy Day Hike bandwagon. I love the outdoors, but I love them best when they aren’t trying to turn me into a human ice cube.
I also just happen to think that Sitka is flat-out gorgeous in the sun. I like this place best when it’s sunny. I like LIFE best when it’s sunny. Sunshine makes me incredibly, irrationally, resolutely happy. I spent a semester in Ireland and I still didn’t learn there, as clearly as I’ve learned here, the value of the sun. People NEED sunlight. Teachers here actually have sunny day plans, specifically designed to get their students outside and give them some much-needed vitamin D.
We have sunny day plans too. Some of them are simple. Last Sunday was gorgeous, so Anne and I went to a café porch by the water, played with some dogs, and listened as the fishermen had a little fiddle-and-guitar jam session. As we wandered back to the harbor, we found a tree filled with paper cranes—BUT WAIT; it gets even better. Each crane had Mumford and Sons lyrics written on its side. I’m pretty sure Sitka couldn’t possibly get ANY COOLER than it was at that moment.
We promptly came home, threw open the windows, blasted Mumford and Sons, and made some bread. So domestic.
Anyway, you’ll notice that nothing we did involved being productive. Rainy days are no longer an excuse to be lazy, but sunny days kind of are. Except when your sunny day plan is to hike Mt. Verstovia. On a bright, clear September 11th, the five of us set to appreciate our country from the top of a mountain. We were joined by our friend Nick and three of his friends. (Nick recently moved to Sitka from Philly. When asked how he met the other three, his response was, “We’re 24. We live in Sitka.” Welcome to small-town Alaska.)
To clarify, this was a REALLY DIFFICULT HIKE. It wasn’t even that long (about 3 miles to the summit), but it was steep and very exhausting. Anne and I started giving ourselves high fives to motivate each other (camp counselor lesson #21: high fives work at every age). I stopped to catch my breath so much that I started pitying everyone in our group who had the misfortune of following me. Nick finally told me that if I apologized one more time, he’d body check me. That seems to be a theme in my life—on Friday, the kids at the Boys and Girls Club told me I wasn’t allowed to say “I’m sorry” for 24 hours. I lasted 10 minutes.
You know when you’re in the middle of a physically demanding experience and you just start having this ragey inner monologue? Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, less than halfway through the hike, I was already struggling, and my ragey inner monologue was going strong. I resented Nick for taking us on the hike, the view for being so well-hidden, technology for not addressing the SERIOUS PROBLEM of how long it takes to climb mountains (honestly, I could fly from Florida to Boston in less time than it took me to climb Verstovia. Someone really should find a way to fix this). Luckily, Martine and Kat started up a game of celebrity that pulled me out of my own head, and we distracted ourselves naming actors, authors and characters until we reached THIS PLACE.
Then we KEPT GOING, because we also wanted to climb this.
I did my very best to silence the inner monologue (which, in light of that view, was reduced from ragey to merely angsty) and pressed on, bouldering up the rocky peak of Mt. Verstovia, clinging to the side of that mountain like a desperate tree frog. The peak wasn’t always considered part of Verstovia. Until recently, it was called Mt. Arrowhead and viewed as a completely separate mountain. So…if I say I climbed TWO mountains that day, I’m totally justified. Right?
I had no idea how I would make it up that second peak, but I’m glad I did, because it led me here.
A few people kept going even further, to the very very very top, but I really didn’t feel like risking my life that day (and I have to save SOME fun for next time). Anne, Martine and I stayed behind, taking pictures and marveling at the fact that we live here. We also made time to capture a roomie high five on film.
Somehow, those twenty minutes made all of the exhaustion worth it. This world is beautiful, and if you have to work really really hard to find some of the earth’s most dazzling corners, that’s ok. It just makes the view even more significant. But make sure you take friends along for the journey.
I don’t know how, exactly, but we made it down the mountain on our shaky jello legs. For the next five days, I practically needed a cane. I couldn’t walk in a straight line, and I did everything in my power to avoid going down a flight of stairs. Still, every time I look at those pictures, I want to go back. I mean, I was HERE!
Someday I’ll go back…when it warms up again. Till then, we might be back to blanket forts for a while.