It was just a year ago around this time that I was writing some summer columns about beautiful Vermont sunsets enjoyed on evening canoe trips around various Vermont lakes, especially Dunmore and Champlain. This summer, instead of enjoying the bright colors of sunsets over distant landscapes, I am enjoying many shades of gray rain clouds. Let’s call them rainscapes.
This evening (Tuesday), for example, I enjoyed a rainscape while canoeing on Lake Champlain in the area of Button Bay. The rainscape was accompanied by rain, of course — something between a drizzle (at the start of the trip) and just a plain old steady summer rain (at the end).
Fortunately, it was nothing like the pounding rain of the many thunderstorms that have torn through Addison County this summer, making this June roughly 50 percent wetter than the average Vermont June.
One can learn to enjoy the outdoors in all sorts of weather. I learned this many years ago on a 10-day bike trip. The third or fourth day of biking, after we’d left Vermont and New Hampshire and were into Maine, we had to bike through a steady day-long rain.
I spent much of the first couple hours of that day hunched over my bike trying unsuccessfully to stay dry. Failing to stay dry, I began to feel miserable and grumbly. Then it dawned on me that there wasn’t anything particularly unpleasant about being wet. The previous day, which had been hot, I’d taken a mid-day swim when our group stopped for lunch by some town pond. It had actually felt good to be wet. And once I stopped trying to stay dry, I was able to enjoy the rain.
I’ve had the same experience on hiking trips and canoe trips. Once you get over trying to stay dry, and just enjoy the rain, it can be very fun. At some point, you have to be able to enjoy weather of all sorts if you are going to enjoy the outdoors.
Of course I’ve never hiked the Appalachian Trail from start to finish. Last summer, several friends of mine — recent alumni of Middlebury College — hiked the trail from north to south. Last June, which was about as rainy as this June, saw them going through some of the rough terrain of the White Mountains. The trails there are perpetually wet, even during dry seasons. Last June, trips on the northern AT were more like wading trips than hiking trips. I am fully sympathetic with through-hikers complaining about ten straight days of rain, when they have little option but to keep hiking.
When our friends finally neared Vermont and took a couple days off to visit us and sleep in our home in real beds, every clothing item they owned was mildewed. They were very glad to use our laundry facility.
I’ve also had fishing trips like that. Five straight days of steady rain. I have discovered that it is impossible to dry clothes in a tent in Maine in May. Still, the fishing can be good.
My rainy paddle on Lake Champlain, by contrast to a through hike on the AT, was only a little over an hour long. Then I got back into a car, drove home, took a hot bath, and got in dry clothes. And so, knowing in advance what awaited me, I could appreciate the beauty of the scene a little bit more and not be too bothered about the rain.
Though there was no visible sunset to speak of, the rainscapes, and what we could see of the landscapes, had a particular beauty of their own. We could barely see the far shore, the New York side, but the hills on the nearer Vermont shoreline faded in a gorgeous understated array through many layers of blue to gray-blue, to gray, and thence to the gray “hills” of clouds above actual hills made of dirt and grass and rock and trees. It’s amazing how many textures one can get out of gray-blue and gray, and how stunning those textures can be.
It’s also amazing how nice a dry shirt can feel, and just how much, on a summer like this one, an avid outdoors lover can fall in love with the in-doors.