In 2016 I’m doing a 365 Nature project. Each day of the year I will post something here about nature. It may be any format, a photo, video, audio, sketch or entry from my nature journal. It could be a written piece. Each day I will connect to nature in some way and share it here by the end of that day. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to the RSS feed or be notified by email. See all the 365 Nature posts.
Today on Day 4 of 365 Nature, I’ve been thinking about rain. Here in Seattle we are well known for our rain, despite getting less annual rain than New York City, Atlanta or Houston. It’s part of our culture, part of the geography of the Pacific Northwest. We live in boots and rain jackets and we never let a little rain keep us inside. It rains here infrequently – what we get is drizzle – many winter days of drizzle. I don’t complain, I appreciate it. I am rather partial to wet days. This is what makes our landscape what it is, we are after all the Evergreen State. All that light rainfall over long stretches keeps our forests green. The Pacific Northwest is some of the most beautiful landscape in the country.
But rain is not simply rain. I’ve been reading the beautifully written Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane and last night I happened to read about rain. This important book is, as MacFarlane states in the beginning, “about the power of language – strong style, single words – to share our sense of place.” Each chapter is followed by a glossary of words, grouped by topics, gleaned by MacFarlane over several years, from many different places. These words are from all over the United Kingdom, some ancient, passed down in local lore and knowledge. These are words that instill a sense of place and they illustrate the historic human connection with nature.
One of my favorite words in the rain glossary is brenner (my last name), which means a “sudden sharp gust of wind and rain on the water,” a word originating in Suffolk. There’s also blatter, a word from Galloway meaning “to rain heavily, noisily.” However the words that most interested me were the those that Seattleites could relate to, such as Dinge, a word from East Anglia meaning “drizzle or rain mistily,” or mizzling, “raining lightly and finely”, from north-west England. Scotland is no stranger to drizzle, there it’s shuggi.
There are five and one half pages of words in the glossary of Landmarks which describe only words pertaining to rain and storms. Common lore says that the Inuits have dozens of words for ice and snow. Whether that’s true or not, it does illustrate that where humans have lived historically, we have learned about that landscape. As MacFarlane says “Words are grained into our landscapes, and landscapes are grained into our words.”
I very sadly can’t think of any regional words we have for rain, aside from standard meteorological words. Perhaps I’ll borrow one next time, it’s certainly mizzling here in Seattle today.