Monday, March 5, 2007

Life in the Convergence Zone

Kitsap, Snohomish, Nooksack, Issaquah, Sequim, Nisqually, Skagit. Names that sound like random syllables thrown in the air, then clipped and pasted together where they fell. Cool and jagged and alien. The Native Americans named the land for what it meant to them, what their spiritual connection to it was. The Anglo settlers reformed them to fit their own tongue. Place of the moon, Mother of waters, the sound that a thousand cranes make.
Later the European explorers chose names that reflect an entirely different experience of the land as they searched for the elusive Northwest Passage. Mutiny Bay, Deception Pass, Useless Bay, Possession Sound. Port Defiance. Much more interesting and colorful to them to name places in memory of disaster and bad luck.
British explorers named the places they discovered after each other, Whidbey, Ranier, Baker, Puget.
Much later, land developers have named their plots to inspire romance and intrigue. Or, more to the point, to make them marketable. Sunlight shores, Sandy Hook, Bayview, Shangri-La shores.
All of them so different than the soft Spanish names I am so familiar with. Santa Cruz, Marin, San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, Santa Barbara. The Spanish were not so successful in their exploration of the Northwest. One of the only Spanish place names I have found is the strait named after San Juan de Fuca, and he was actually a Greek.

I have just learned that this particular region has another name and it is this: The Convergence Zone. Don’t think for a minute that it has anything to do with a spiritual vortex or an enlightening cultural phenomenon, because it does not. It has to do with, what else? The weather.
One moment I am taking photos of the bright purple and yellow crocuses that have appeared like little miracles from the barren ground to announce the coming of spring at last. The next thing we know, snowflakes the size of quarters are swirling from the sky, changing to marble sized hail and back to snow again, as if some cruel magician of the sky were showing off his tiresome bag of tricks one last time. Soon the roads are slush and cars are sliding into each other, wedges of white appear on the rooftops and trees against an icy chalk colored sky. People are walking the streets in sweaters and pumps, totally unprepared. And here’s the thing. Ten miles away, the weather is clear. Cows are munching the green grass in Coupeville, roads are clear and dry in Tacoma. Weather systems from the north and south collide, or rather, converge, on a regular basis it seems, right above our unsuspecting heads, causing extreme and sudden weather from South Whidbey and across the sound to Everett and beyond. 50 car pileups on I-90, cars pulled off to the side of the road unable to maneuver in the slush, schoolchildren unloaded from useless busses.
It snows all through the night and in the morning we wade through half a foot of it, pick it up and throw it at each other. Roll it into giant balls and make snowmen with pine cone hats and snowwomen with stone nipples. The dogs go wild, disappearing nto white clouds of fluff. We are actually laughing and having fun. How can this be? As the weather slowly warms up to around 37 degrees the only sound comes from the clumps of snow falling from the silent trees. Before long the crocuses appear again, chuckling amongst themselves, shaking off their frozen jackets, once again offering up their little cups of joy to the trickster sky.