From Fire to Rain, Power to Power

iPhone late sumer, early fall 050
Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

I have long found weather fascinating– amazing, perplexing, harsh and daunting but always impressive. Its complexity, changeability. Beauty, strangeness, danger.

I grew up living along with four seasons: snow-driven winters and hot, humid summers, unstable yet welcome springs and the glorious palettes of crisp autumns. That meant four kinds of clothing for activities: thick woolens, snow boots, hats, scarves and mittens; delicate dresses, shorts, sandals; rain coats and umbrellas; light-to-medium sweaters with long pants. Being prepared for 12 months meant unboxing then boxing back up items just as one became adapted to the current season.

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest I discovered the novelty of basically two seasons: Rain and No Rain.

The last three days presents me with the giddy relief of this juxtapositioning: woolly clouds bunching up and releasing precious moisture onto cracked and dusty earth. Onto me. Areas of bare skin are soothed by a long-missed pleasure. An extravagant sweep of wind aids me in my walk as autumn leaves spiral then are swamped in puddles and pools, a few overflowing drains. I breathe more deeply than in months; it’s as if clarified air carries its gifts into hungry red blood cells. But even four days ago there were layers of smoke, vert little brisk walking if any. I am so grateful for autumn’s quick start.

Weather affects all of us, now more than we thought it could. Other places have been tormented by hurricanes and earthquakes and my heart cries out for those ensnared by chaos and loss. More temperate weather events and our safety seem less like something we can count on, and so we live in ever more anxious times. Nature does as nature will do, that is clear, and we adapt, experience threats, know great losses.

Pacific Northwesterners meanwhile are working and playing on and around the Cascadia subduction zone, too, and it gives us pause as we consider the projected catastrophic earthquake that likely will someday occur. There additionally are 18 volcanoes in the Cascade Range, most of which have been active, with 7 so far rumbling and spewing in the last 200 years. There was the eruption of Washington’s Mt. St. Helens in 1980 that choked even our city with ash. I can see Mt. Hood, majestic and formidable, when I cross our many bridges or drive east into the Columbia Gorge.

But lately here in my valley–between the active volcanic Cascade Range and the Tualatin and Coast Ranges–it has been a burning summer, a crackling expanse of vast place and time, fiery days to nights into days and more nights. My body basked in a fan’s whipped-up air, (even hot air) and the trusty AC in most living areas. At one point, 57 days elapsed without rain and then came a short drizzle, then more weeks of no rain. The average temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit but it hit 100 with no problem. And Oregon’s wildfires raged on with over 640,000 acres ravaged at last count. And this wasn’t the worst fire weather on record though it affected many more people right here. With the arrival of the rains, wildfires in the Columbia Gorge are smoldering, perhaps soon extinguished. Fire season may be wrapping up at last.

Those of us either born in the Northwest or who have lived here some time (25 years for me) know there will be doses of very warm weather with bright sunshine off and on for another month. And then the driving, dribbling and chilling, gusty rain will make itself at home and remain until next late spring. Snow has already fallen in the Cascades; ski season may be excellent this year. Unsuspecting newcomers arrive in droves early to late summer and are overjoyed by our dramatically green, dry landscape and sparkling skies, not considering how much rain will fall the remainder of time. We have lots of bars and coffee houses that are even more stuffed in winter. You have to appreciate cloudiness and accept being wet to put down roots.

It is not hard for me, the rainfall. Darker starts to the day with earlier nightfall gentles body and brain, can challenge with cold dampness and insularity but also delight. It works well for writers or for anyone who digs deep into greater depth and breadth of solitude to ponder, dream, create. And my daily walks do not stop. I only hike less in sloping hills, mountains, woodlands–too much muddy trail and threat of landslides. And after the fires, the earth is far more unstable than usual. But hiking can wait for the eventual drying out.

Rain. Water that sustains and wields great power. I chart a new sort of compositional latitude and longitude, how these movements map the autumnal sky. Rain music lifts on a breeze, sinks with a lull, peaks as water pours down and drums roofs, branches, pavement and dirt. The constancy of it. Syncopation and freshly scored tempo. The misty auras of light that rim a horizon and seep from behind mountains–for sun will come and go as rain accumulates, runs with rivers. It fills me with bittersweet longing amid a bone-deep calm. Moves me as it cleaves to growing things, a sheen on all it touches. Teaches me stillness within the whorls of beauty and motion.

I have had enough of blazing blue sky and relentless heat and sweat that thickens along my spine. Had enough of rapacious fire, daily warnings of more being ruined. Perhaps I am weary, too, of my own unexpected life strife, a summer of high hopes and pointed, hard truths for myself and my family. Love and its fractures. Faith that begs to be tested. Strength that shows at times only a fair resolve. Summer can paint everything glorious even amid weakness or pain. But fall and winter…they offer different architectures of internal and external space, those pops of color alongside greyness imbued with scent and sign of rain.

I welcome the wet season. Can manage the shift, shape it into this or that while long blue shadows spread over my desk. What I thought was cool silence is only a breath between notes of rain…like a skirt that is all hidden pattern until it flares in every direction when its wearer begins to dance. My own dances are formed of gratitude, head bowed or lifted high, soul brimming as rain soothes and charges me. Just Monday spontaneous movement unearthed tears as I watched rain streak the air, a tide of tension coming forward, moving away. And there was a good peace felt as God’s presence. There are days I just trust that whatever comes, life will move me along one way or another, even if carried by angels.

The senescence of autumn, its leading to winter is a kindred state for me. A friendly reminder of who I am and yet may become in the midst of upheavals of many sorts. They can bring us each into bolder maturity, richness of spirit as the miracle of life displays inventiveness. Even as circumstances–and weather–inform and press us to be patient. To hold steady, offer a hand. Attend even the ache of it, and then make better where the good must be done.


Since I have not yet photographed rain much this year, I wanted to share farmer’s market scenes enjoyed well before rain visited. How fortunate to partake of the abundance; I do not forget this as I peruse the options for healthy food, alone.

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8 thoughts on “From Fire to Rain, Power to Power

  1. You are so right about the weather and its influence, especially on us writers! We have four distinct seasons here in North Alabama. It’s the kind of weather pattern I grew up with in Middle Tennessee–what extreme weather we may have is usually short-lived. Now in south- central Mississippi, it was pretty much a two season year, so I’m very happy to be here in Alabama. And it’s now officially Fall. Our fall like weather won’t start until next week, right now we’re suffering under a humid heat wave, but it’s bearable. I long for the fall coolness. The word “brisk” is showing up a lot in magazines and weather talk! That makes me happy.
    Thank you for a great post. And I agree with Derrick: the pics are wonderful. 🙂

    1. It does seem as if weather impacts creative folks–loosens, soothes, insulates, riles, romances, refreshes and on and on… and adds backdrop as we mine the depths.

      I lived in TN.–Lexington–for a couple of years (wrote a few posts about that). It seemed so Southern, not at all like MI., and weather was dramatic but more sporadic than what I was used to experiencing. But it did have four seasons, true. Each different landscape seems to provoke a unique pattern, logically so.

      So glad you enjoyed the pictures. Many thanks, Paul!

  2. This was such a reflective, thoughtful and observant piece of prose on nature and seasons, Cynthia. Interesting to read that you grew up with four seasons and these days its either rain or no rain for you. Growing up in Asia, I experienced the later – it would either not rain or rain torrential each day, be hot and humid or a bit less than that each day. I enjoyed this kind of season as it mean each day I could wear a shirt and jeans, and maybe a light jacket on top. Now that I live in Melbourne, Australia, it’ s four seasons a year and quite often I find it hard adjusting in between seasons.

    ‘Rain music lifts on a breeze…The constancy of it’ This was my favourite line. I prefer sunshine over rain, but admittedly it feels kind of magical when it rains. There is some kind of power (as you mentioned) about rain falling down and more of it coming down. It comes when it comes and lets up when it lets up. No guessing rain and seasons, and that’s the beauty of them 🙂

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful response, Mabel. Our experiences with weather help shape us, that is certain; I would not be the woman I am today without those blistering late summers and skin tingling cold of blizzards… and spring tornado weather which terrified me, yet with flowers galore. Autumn was always my favorite time of year then, so perhaps now it is, still, even with the rains starting up. I am going to visit MI. next month and will see the glorious colors of fall there–a photography opportunity, as well.
      I think in MI., our four season were more predictable for me, comfort and clothing-wise, oddly–I mean, it was cold for months, temperate for some months, then hot and humid, then cool and clear. So each season the clothing options were set. here I tend to go out with a water repellent jacket and in layers as it can be variable from Sept-May!
      Best wishes and thanks again for your comment,

      1. The weather shapes us. So agree with that, and weather is so much more than sunshine and rain as you mentioned. Wild weather can be scary and dangerous, and we have to cope how we can.

        Enjoy autumn, and the changing colours of the leaves. Personally I don’t like wearing a jacket but here in Australia, I have to for most of the year!

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