June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:51 PM
"It occurred to me recently, while driving most of the length of the Island, that I'd driven through almost the entire gamut of Pacific Northwest rain, from a Scotch mist to a gully-washer. And, musing to myself as I drove, adjusting wiper rate to rain type, I thought of all the newcomers to our part of the country who may not know proper rain lingo, how to talk about our rain when it comes. And believe me, it will come, even though our current shortfall would have you believe otherwise. A rain primer, that's what we need, I thought, a quick, easy guide for diagnosing, dealing with and talking about rain.I am qualified. Born in the Shelton rain shadow, I spent the better part of my first 21 years damp and semi-bedraggled but totally unaware that there was any other way to live; never owned an umbrella until one enlightening day in Chicago, when I discovered what the word rain really meant. So, for all of you who are new not only to our right little, tight little Island but to the entire Pacific Northwest, here's an abbreviated version of a rain primer currently in progress. MIST: A common occurrence, unnoticed by natives; feels as though you've been wrapped in cool, damp gauze. You can stay out in it for hours and not be wet through, so don't let it hamper any outdoor activities you've planned. Proper attitude is to ignore it; do not haul out an umbrella or don any sort of rain gear. Mist is beneficial for both skin and hair, as well as evergreen trees, ferns and rhodies. Footwear need not change.DRIZZLE: Mist gets a tad thicker; prevalent October through mid-July; virtually unnoticed by natives, who refer to it as liquid sun. Again, no change in outdoor activities is necessary, but after more than one hour in drizzle, it is considered acceptable to don light rain gear, preferably not REI or Eddie Bauer, which immediately tags you as tourist or an over the pond type. Still no umbrellas or special footwear; mossy looking Berkies with mildewed white socks or barely recognizable Topsiders sans socks are OK; in short, anything but strappy little sandals or duck shoes or rubber boots (a.k.a. Wellies), which are saved for later (see below). It is considered quite proper during a prolonged drizzle to retire to the covered areas of parks or back yards for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, but only after a short period of dampening to emphasize your hardiness and indifference to the drizzle. The person doing the grilling, however, is expected to carry on with insouciance wherever the grill is located.SPRINKLE: Neither mist nor drizzle and not yet rain; comes and goes quickly and can occur while the sun is shining; a few drops on the windshield, gone almost before you're aware it's begun. Sprinkles are a way of life here and are generally ignored. Watch for the rainbows that often arch over Saratoga Passage, sometimes double or triple bows, during or after a sprinkle. RAIN: Drizzle turns into something more substantial, measurable; has been known to go on for days but never too hard, and occasionally it ceases, only to begin again the moment you decide to go out to do the grocery shopping. It is permissible now to take some action regarding outerwear. Tourists will be in matching Gortex; natives will be in some of the darndest getups you've ever seen, including their footwear, which may range from squishing tennies to cork boots, rubber ducks, or dairy boots, a.k.a. Wellies. Some free souls may go barefoot in the park. At this point, umbrellas are optional and wet is a state of life. DOWNPOUR: Harder than rain but usually of shorter duration; may be accompanied by wind and low, black clouds. Water will pour from those ominous clouds, drumming like thunder on your roof, quickly creating rushing rivulets in roadside ditches and turning highway surfaces into sheets of slippery liquid. It is wise to keep in mind that there are many on the road who don't know how to drive in this stuff. Defensive driving is the mode. Almost as quickly as it began, a downpour will end, and you will now discover if your newly purchased house leaks. Natives mostly try to ignore it and slog about in wet flannel shirts or pull out their yellow, green or black slicks and black or green knee high boots, or equivalent. Umbrellas are de rigueur for females, although many (mostly teens) opt to flaunt a natural look by letting themselves become drenched. City workers in orange vests will be spotted trying to unclog storm sewers. Outdoor activities are tacitly understood to be either canceled or optional. A downpour can almost always be relied upon to occur on the 4th of July or whenever 4th of July celebrations are planned. GULLY-WASHER: The big one: Heavens open up and water comes down in sheets, in ropes, in drops so large tadpoles could be happy in just one; water is everywhere and no outerwear or shoes invented by man can keep you totally dry. Rainfall records tumble and any talk of drought or possible water shortage ends abruptly. Umbrellas are carried by either sex but are useless. Any rain gear is acceptable, including black trash bags with armholes cut out. Any and all outdoor activities are canceled. Overflowing rivers empty huge quantities of debris-laden water into various areas of Puget Sound, panicking newcomers, who think pollution is out of control. Please, stay calm; it happens every year. Natives dislike this hard-driving, Midwest-type rain and may become short tempered, reclusive, edgy and irritable if a true downpour (not just hard rain) is prolonged. It never rains this hard here, they grumble, or The last time I saw rain like this was the spring of '49 (or '54 or '67 or whenever) and it's a bad sign. They do, however, welcome the opportunity to croak to their neighbors, the Californians who bought during that sunny spell last July, See? I told you it was gonna rain way too much for you here. And, anything beyond a gully-washer, my friends, we don't even want to talk about.Rainy Day RecipesSorrel, a plant with a very distinctive flavor, has been popular in Europe since forever but mostly ignored in America, until recently. It's very in now, so be among the first to serve your rainy day guests this warm, savory soup. Cream of Sorrel Soup1 lb. fresh sorrel6 T. unsalted butter4 cups chicken broth6 egg yolks1 cup heavy creamSalt, to taste1 t. finely chopped fresh parsley, chervil, basil - whatever you prefer for garnish1. Wash sorrel under cold water; trim away any bruised spots and cut off white stems. Stack leaves together a handful at a time, roll them lengthwise into a tight cylinder and cut it crosswise as fine as possible (chiffonade). 2. In a heavy skillet over med. heat, melt 2 T. of the butter (don't let it brown) Add sorrel and, stirring constantly, cook for 3-4 min. until the shreds have wilted slightly. Set skillet off heat.3. In a heavy saucepan, bring the chicken broth to simmer over med. heat. Keep heat regulated so broth is barely simmering. Beat together the egg yolks and cream with a wire whisk, then, whisking constantly but gently, pour the egg/cream mixture into the stock in a slow thin stream. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until soup clings to the wires of the whisk. DO NOT LET SOUP BOIL, IT WILL CURDLE. Strain soup through a fine sieve into another saucepan and stir in the sorrel. Swirl in remaining butter, season to taste and serve immediately, garnished with finely chopped herb of choice. "