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Friday, March 22, 2002

Changes in Latitude



The vernal equinox passed just recently, marking a day when every place on the planet experiences equal parts night and day. The sun is now making its way up into the Northern Hemisphere. Every point on the globe receives the same amount of night and day but the higher latitudes have drastic changes in daylight and darkness between summer and winter. This is all a bit of science that most people take for granted but something that slaps you in the face if you have moved to Seattle from the subtropics of south Florida.

The first winter in Seattle was a little rough. I arrived in August and the weather was perfect. Sunshine and endless views of the two mountain ranges that flank the city: the Cascades to the east and the Olympics across the sound to the west. As far as beautiful cities go, Seattle is difficult to beat in August.

Everyone warned me that it rains a lot here but I figured if it was this nice now, how bad could it get? It started raining in mid-October and I don’t think it stopped until the fourth of July. The same people who had warned me about the rain were now telling me that this much rain was highly unusual. I just got lucky. I love it when I get to stand in a puddle during a winter of record rainfall.

I bought a beautiful royal palm tree for my apartment that year. In a matter of weeks the complete lack of sunshine killed it as dead as Paulie Shore’s career. The metaphor of that palm was not lost on my own psyche. My skin turned from a golden brown to something resembling poached chicken. I had some serious questions concerning my great northern migration.

It rained and it was dark, dark as night by 4:30 in the afternoon. My alcohol consumption spiked that winter and I spent a lot of time in bars trying to stay dry. Was I depressed? A little bit, perhaps. OK, maybe more than a little. OK, so I was playing Russian roulette between shots of Jameson, but I was just trying to fit in with everyone else.

It kept raining through March and April. I seriously thought of moving, but I stuck it out, and summer finally arrived. Long days of sunshine seemed to make up for the long day’s journey into night that I had survived. I can’t put my finger on the precise moment but something in me changed, I had adjusted to the latitude. I enjoy the dark days of winter sipping a heavy beer in a bar as much as I enjoy climbing down off of a mountain in June as the sun sets at almost 10 p.m. I feel a certain lament as the days grow longer. At least until the equinox passes and then I love how the days grow by almost five minutes per day.

The best part of acclimatizing myself to this latitude is that I am now able to do something that I have always wanted to do. Ever since I was 17 and I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises I have wanted to live in Paris (thus the whole Leftbanker thing). The big drawback, the impassable hurdle of living in Paris, is the frightful weather of that city. I can go there now but not just yet; I like the weather here.

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