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Rain–soft, silent rain–never bold or edgy, is what I love about Vancouver. To say so is a strange thing, given that when I first arrived here from the prairies the rain was the feature that I despised about the coastal environment. When did this precipitation creep into my soul and underpin all that I most admire about the city? Somehow, the rain embraces the earth which responds by tossing up a majestic profusion of ferns, cedar, and Douglas fir. No matter how many glass towers we inhabit during our working days, this natural world is never far away. Often, towards evening, we walk out into a world suddenly quiet, a world of filtered light, soft droplets, and air like an elixir. Breathe deeply, and you find yourself at once invigorated and relaxed.
It is this double sense of energy and ease that drives Vancouver today, and encourages us to bring the outside into our lives. One obvious outcome is the focus on greenery and gardening—not just the big, bold statements like Queen Elizabeth Park or Van Dusen Gardens—but the flawless lawns, the clever rock gardens, the daffodils and cherry blossoms, the rhododendrons and manicured hedges that are the average homeowner’s response to this gentle and encouraging environment. Nor does it stop there: every patio, balcony, doorstep, and rooftop is a prospective beneficiary of this moist mecca. No flashy displays of weather here to cause trouble— no brassy displays of lightening or ostentatious claps of thunder; no tornadoes or hurricanes. Just friendly encouragement to all things horticultural. Vancouver is exuberant but understated, just like the rain. In every season of the year we are an outdoorsy lot. A weekday finds us at work in the office towers, the seaport, the studios, the construction sites, the schools and universities. The weekends we spend on the sports fields, in the parks, on the bike paths, at the seashore, or enjoying one of the many beauty spots that our climate encourages.
The rain dictates Vancouver’s own, unique fashion statement. The umbrella is ubiquitous, of course, along with the hooded rain jacket and waterproof boots which all serve to identify us when we travel abroad. And because precipitation in Vancouver is often accompanied by cool weather even in the milder months of the year, we have embraced that very special style, the sandals and socks combination, that is considered an eyesore elsewhere; here it is a mark of studied, relaxed elegance. Fancy hairdos? No point in that—they would just get wet and wither. Heavy makeup? It would only end up dripping down the face as the day progressed. Style here is simple and natural, as the environment dictates.
Once a year, the rain stops rather abruptly, about the time we are celebrating Canada Day; and when that happens, we react as if we cannot believe our good luck. Out come the barbeques, the sleeveless shirts, the shorts: summer. But as the days stretch into dusty, dry weeks, and a heat haze hangs over the city, euphoria is replaced with anxiety. Why has the grass gone dead? What happened to our beautiful flowers? Why is there smoke in the air? The days become shorter and cooler, but still there is no relief for a parched city. At last, on a day in September, the clouds sweep in, hovering just above the skyscrapers, the barometer drops, and droplets hang in the air. Ah yes, it is raining again.