Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Real Seattle

6 inches of rain forecast for tonight...
The real Seattle is, for much of the year, much like the TV cliches that translate it to the rest of the world. We have two seasons: Always Rainy and Not So Rainy. Now, fortunately for those of us who live here, the only face time our great city gets with the larger country is during our Always Rainy season, which is scary enough to ward off many would-be transplants and, in the event of global war, potential invaders. This season, whose sloppy November palms clutch me more wetly than most as I spend 8 hours a day fully exposed to its elements, is dark. I mean this both in the literal, lack-of-photons, can't-tell-if-the-sun-just-came-up-or-is-about-to-go-down sense (no exaggeration here, the sun rises and sets in the South), and in the figurative, dismal, poetically hopeless sense. I consider myself of a fortunate disposition because I genuinely enjoy the gloomy coziness, but for the most part Seasonal Affective Disorder is passed around like (but not exclusive of) the flu.
So what keeps people here? Well first of all, not everyone is successfully "kept". Wanderlusty nomads who end up in Seattle by virtue of its status as an extremity of the continental U.S. often crack after an Always Rainy season or two, skipping off to Hawaii because, after all, what's so bad about the non-continental U.S.? Even native sons and daughters defect to other climes, choosing warm clammy humidity over the cold precipitous sort (factoid: Seattle is unique among cities in its ability to summon drenching, bone-chilling rain from frozen skies which are, I'm positive, too cold to release anything but soft dry snow anywhere else in world. Really, there's no greater feeling of weather-related thermodynamic injustice than when scowling at a thermometer which clearly reads 28 degrees F even as rain continues to saturate your fifth and final layer of clothing). Those who do tough out the flooded streets, Vitamin D deficiency and frequent, expensive laundromat trips do so by employing the tried and true combination of strong spirits, hot coffee, good literature, cocktails, frequent sexual release, Gore-tex, wine, endless Netflix queues, seasonal ales and board games (ask any stranger on the street, any time, he'll be down for a game of Scrabble). There is also your choice of half a dozen nearby ski areas some of which, I'm told, are among the best in the world; but this is dangerously close to genuine enticement, which, in selfish isolationism I am trying to avoid, so enough about skiing.
Actually, enough about Seattle. I was going to wax poetic about the Not-So-Rainy season and explain why those who experience it become stubbornly convinced that this is unconditionally the best place in the world. For fellow gardners out there, I was going to issue a challenge to find a climate, anywhere on Earth that allows a broader, more beautiful spectrum of plant material to be grown or that offers more astonishing seasonal transitions. On these topics I shall hold my tongue, because the rest of the world doesn't need to know about the real Seattle. No, I'd rather you go watch your TV and remind yourself why you wouldn't like it here; it just rains too much, right?

Monday, November 3, 2008


As a preface, I'd like to say that I've been unable to glean any kernel of wisdom or lesson from the following account, it's just a weird freaking thing that happened to me while gardening. In that respect, I guess it could serve as a reminder that weird freaking things happen to people in all professions all over the world every day. There you go: weird sh*t happens, so I guess just enjoy the weird sh*t that doesn't kill you.

A rainy, dismal day, as most are wont to be this time of year in the pacific northwest; this one happened to be Halloween. I've never held this holiday in any high regard as I was religiously discouraged to do so from an early age, so I've never been on the lookout for any additional perils metaphysical, corporeal or otherwise. Nevertheless, had this incident culminated fully it would have been an appropriately ghastly end to my days.
The problem started, as many do, with poor drainage. It is our onus to keep the sundry pots, containers and planters of our clients beautiful through the seasons, despite every effort of these same clients to destroy our work through negligent watering, fundamental incomprehension of soil chemistry, and reckless disregard for photosynthetic fuel (I'm talking sunlight here folks; even Coleus won't grow in a cave). On the property of a corporate client, there is an enormous pot that does not drain. It does not drain because it has two pea-sized holes in the bottom that were long ago plugged up by coiled pine roots and landscape fabric that someone saw fit to place inside the pot (do not do this; I cannot think of any reason why you would ever do this). During our fall replanting of this pot, we decided to remove all of the potting soil and solve the drainage problem once and for all. The pot is located in a planter bed in the middle of a parking lot, surrounded by rather expensive cars, so the only way to remove the soil was scoop by scoop with a small-headed shovel (I refuse to call it a lady-shovel). I did this cheerfully enough, considering the cramped quarters and generally unpleasant nature of the task, all the while standing drenched in the aforementioned bed. When finally we had enough soil removed to access the bottom, my coworker heaved the pot up on its bottom rim so I could get a look underneath. Dropping to my knees, I planted both my hands on the ground to support me as I bent to inspect the bottom. Now for any non-gardeners out there, I cannot over-emphasize how ridiculously commonplace this pose is when gardening; I spend a good 80% of any given day on my hands and knees, and I would estimate that I make this transition from standing to all-fours around 100 times a day. This will help you imagine the feelings of confusion and betrayal I felt when I planted my gloved hands on terra firma and immediately felt both arms go tingly-numb, like I had somehow lost track of time and accidentally fallen asleep on top of them for a good 30 minutes in the midst of shoveling potting soil. Vaguely thinking that I had miraculously and simultaneously jarred a nerve or funny-bone in both arms as I leaned over (because haven't we all done that before), I just knelt there for a few seconds in confusion, feeling my arms get weaker and my face fall closer to the ground. Finally, some sort of survival mechanism kicked in and took control of my body, whose brain was too stupid to realize it was getting electrocuted; I jerked my hands off of the ground...
30 seconds later, having developed a loose hypothesis that I was in fact kneeling on an electrically active patch of ground, I touched one hand back to the ground just to be sure...
We'll just say that my hypothesis was supported by the experimental evidence and that I'm an idiot. I was rudely shocked by the very ground from which I make my living, and I don't know just how to feel about it.
Also, in case you're wondering, those blue-palmed work gloves that everyone wears offer little to no electrical insulation, especially when soaking wet.