Northwest autumn.

Look at this sky. This is how moody the Northwest is in the fall.

On Wednesday I left after my Norwegian class and began the drive up to Washington. As is the case more and more often now, I was traveling solo, leaving the postdocs on campus with their spreadsheets and paper revisions. As I drove north I crossed through bands of drizzle and lashing rain; every time I passed through a small patch of sunshine I would hope that it might be sunny at our field site, and then immediately acknowledge to myself that this was a ridiculous thing to hope for. No way would it be nice, and I might as well not set myself up for disappointment.

When I arrived at Tenalquot Prairie, though, it was actually sunny. I was confused. This was impossible. I quickly set my tent up – yes, I was here for two days – and got to work. First I took the NDVI in all the plots. That’s the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or basically a fancy way of shooting light down at the ground and assessing the “greenness” based on how much light comes back at you. It’s most frequently used in remote sensing from a space platform, but also in agriculture and, I’m discovering, ecology. I held the instrument at hip height and let it do its thing. At least I’d have the fancy equipment all packed up and dry in the car if it started raining, I thought.

And after I had moved on to weeding the no-competition zones of our plots for about twenty minutes, by golly if the rain didn’t appear. I pulled on my rainpants, zipped up my raincoat, and steeled myself for a completely miserable two days.

It was cold. It was wet. My gloves, which I needed to get a better grip on the plants I was yanking out of the ground, had the effect of just turning my fingers numb. I couldn’t work as fast in the rain, either – the plants were more slippery and I also was thinking about how I moved so that I wouldn’t end up with a river of water running down my back or something like that.

I worked until it was too dark to see the plants. I had originally planned to keep working after dark with a headlamp, but by this point there was no way I was going to keep working in the rain. I fired up my electric kettle – yes, our plots have electricity in them – and, I’m ashamed to say, crawled in the car. I turned the heat on and ate my cup noodles (I felt like a college student, and I promise I never eat that crap when I’m at home with a kitchen) and stared out at the rain.

At some point I had to make the dash to my tent with my sleeping bag, and I was not psyched to venture out into the rain. But the car was packed full and tiny to boot, and I had a little too much dignity to sleep in the back. So dash I did. With my rain fly on my tent stayed pretty dry, but even when you aren’t actually wet knowing that the rain is right outside never makes for a fun night of camping. I might have felt a little sorry for myself.

I fully expected to rain for the whole of my second day, too, but when I woke up in the morning I couldn’t hear any raindrops. I peeked out the tent and saw a beautiful sight.

The rain had stopped and just a few cotton candy clouds dotted the sky. Literally, I could not have been more happy.

The good weather enabled me to have a solid second day of work and I got more done than I had expected. I could almost forget how grumpy I had been the night before! As I learned when I got home, this is what differentiates fall from winter in Oregon. When it rains, it’s just as cold as it is in the winter, and just as miserable; but in the fall, you still get a few sunny days, some brief respite from the soggy chill.

I guess I’d better enjoy them while they last.

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