Reflections of a cold and wet spring

Under roiling clouds and a heavy sky, you can't help wondering how long it will be until somebody quotes Charles Dudley Warner's famous remark about the weather. Not long, it turns out.

"Everybody complains about the weather," says Barbara Pugh of Medford, "but nobody does anything about it."

The quip is usually attributed, probably incorrectly, to Mark Twain. It's not found in his writings. It appeared in 1897 in an editorial in the Hartford Courant probably written by Warner, an editor there and a friend and neighbor of Twain's.

Pugh is schlepping a bag from the Grange Co-op on South Pacific Highway to her car. She says its contents consist entirely of products to kill dandelions and moss, the abundance of which are mute testimony to a seemingly endless Oregon spring.

"That's all I've got. My dandelions are this high," she says with a wave at her knees.

With Memorial Day upon us, we're still having the kind of cold, wet, unsettled weather we've had since the middle of March. Storms that belong in Portland or Eugene, frost right into May, full reservoirs and gushing streams.

Flying into Medford the other day, my daughter, Elizabeth, who may have suspected my ongoing whining about the weather was a tad overblown, was stunned to see the amount of snow in the mountains. It's still a white world up there.

If this spring were a scene from Shakespeare, it would be the storm on the heath with the mad Lear raving. If it were a wind it would be the monsoon. If it were a mountain it would be Kauai's perpetually drenched Mount Waialeale.

If it were a writer it would be Ken Kesey riffing for pages about hydrology ("the hysterical crashing of tributaries" merging into the Wakonda Auga River). Tom Robbins vamping on American Indians discovering the Walla Walla Valley and giving it a name meaning "water here and plenty of it." Conrad Aiken with the watery stones, whispering waters and silver raindrops of "Beloved, Let Us Once More Praise the Rain."

Pugh used to live in Sacramento.

"They don't have springs like this down there," she says.

Bill Callandar, like Pugh a transplanted Californian, can't help but compare climates. His first experience with Oregon's iffy weather goes back beyond infancy to the moments before his birth.

"The stork was supposed to drop me in Medford," he says. "But it was fogged in. So we flew down to a little town in Central California called Taft, and I was born there."

Callandar has flowers in his yard that usually bloom by this time. They haven't. He hasn't even bothered to put his tomatoes in. Desperate for some garden action, he's buying basil, cilantro and chives.

Still, you get a sense that like many soggy Oregonians, he wouldn't trade climates with Southern California.

"They may not have this," he says, "but they have winds and heat."

Karen Hooper says she moved to the Rogue Valley a little more than a year ago from Los Angeles. She says she likes the rain and hail and snow, but at some point it gets gloomy.

"We've had seven months of winter," she says. "It's depressing. My doctor said to take vitamin D."

Hooper, who says she loves to garden, lived in England as a child and doesn't remember even the infamous English weather being this bad.

San Fernando Valley native Karen Averill, of Talent, is yet another transplanted Californian. In the spirit, perhaps, of the 19th-century critic John Ruskin, she claims not to be distressed by the rain. Ruskin's the guy who said, "Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

There also are different kinds of punches in the mouth, one of which Ruskin might experience if he were to time-travel here talking like that about now.

In 1815, a lovely Indonesian mountain called Tambora blew up in the biggest volcanic explosion in 10,000 years. The stuff it blew (an estimated 36 cubic miles) diffused in the atmosphere and caused global cooling. Crops failed in Europe and New England, and 1816 became known as the year that summer never came.

There was no Internet, no TV, nobody shooting video on his cellphone or tweeting about the disaster, so word reached London months later via ship. Today, we employ armies of meteorologists, satellites, software of unimaginable complexity to monitor Mother Earth's moods like a nervous mother fussing over her newborn.

Unless you're John Ruskin the news is not good. Ryan Sandler of the National Weather Service says that by the time you read this the snow level will be down to 3,500 feet. That could cause newly snowplowed Bear Camp Road, slated to open this weekend, to be snowed in again. And look for more of the same next week.

You'd like to end on an upbeat note. Here goes. I remember one other Oregon spring like this one. It was almost 30 years ago. Summer finally did come in mid-July. It lasted all the way through early August.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for the column, please send them to

Share This Story