"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, October 23, 2009

October Rains

The October rains are late this year, if indeed those are what have the rooftop thrumming on this dark night in Halibut Cove. I haven’t missed them; “missed them” in the sense that they are not something I look forward to, and am just as content to transition into winter without having abided their company.

Now we approach the turning of the calendar page to a month that is certifiably winter. No mistaking November as autumn, not at this latitude. But October? Now there’s a month with an identity crisis. Mid-month is the usual time for the first snowfall, and usually it doesn’t stay long. This year, we not only haven’t had snow yet, but we didn’t even have a killing frost until mid-month. Thank goodness we did, because I was leaving town in a few days, and there is something undeniably felonious about pulling up tuberous begonias that are still blooming and thriving. Ditto with the petunias and pansies.

No snow, swans taking their layovers at Tern Lake, my lawns growing and needing mowing even though the mower is stored away for the winter, this is an awkward month. We’ve even been spared many of the ferocious windstorms that usually follow September’s autumnal equinox, and foliage in various stages of color still clings to trees and bushes.

Now, a week after the annual flowers were extracted from flower beds and added to the compost pile, I’m in Halibut Cove. I’ve visited here often the past three years, and yet, I don’t know the life rhythms of this place. I can’t tell the time just by knowing where the sun is. I don’t know whether rain like this is the norm this time of year, or if these are indeed the devilish October rains.

If it’s raining this hard a hundred miles up the highway where I live, there will be flood warnings posted in Seward tomorrow. The weather’s way too warm, and what snow had accumulated far up on the mountain tops will be melting, adding run-off to the rain-swollen creeks. Then, all the people who live near the creeks in Seward will be watching to see if the gravel berms and dikes hold.

When I hear the October rains, I think about Girdwood, the little ski resort town some thirty-five miles south of Anchorage where I lived many years ago. The October rains would bloat the creek that came down from the glacier at the top of the mountain. It would then jump its banks, wash away its bridge, and cause untold mischief as it ran wild through the resort and into the subdivision full of weekend ski cabins. It always happened at night when it was too dark to see the extent of the problem, and we never had adequate rain gear in those days, so we’d add cold and wet to our worry.

I lived there at a time in my life when I thought it utterly cool to have no telephone, no radio or television, no running water, no plumbing, and a little Quaker pot-burner oil stove for heat. Once the mercury in the thermometer went way south of zero degrees, that Quaker had a hard time keeping the temperature in the cabin from heading there also. On those nights, I bundled up in my warmest clothes, put the old wooden straight back chair right up next to the Quaker, cranked the fuel flow as high as it would go, and darned near hugged that stove trying to stay warm.

This was the oldest inhabited cabin in the valley, at the time. No insulation, just boards with shingles on the outside and beaver board panels on the inside. It was the roof that created the link to the October rains, though. The first time I climbed into the attic to see what was up there, I didn’t need a flashlight. The corrugated tin roof looked like a colander, points of light shining in from all directions, like spotlights gone berserk. No wonder it leaked. No wonder it took my entire meager supply of cooking utensils to catch the worst of the drips, plus any pails and buckets I could round up.

I was told that Old Billy, the Sourdough who’d lived in the cabin forever, didn’t like the squirrels in the attic. He’d plink away at them with a little pistol whenever he heard them up there, hence the perforated tin roof. It could have been worse. Because Old Billy was shooting from the inside out, the metal roofing was puckered outwards, so much of the water running down the roof washed around the bullet holes, rather than into them. Between that and his lousy aim whenever he spit his tobacco juice, there was a lot of work to make the cabin inhabitable after Old Billy died and my future landlord bought it.

Nonetheless, after I’d lived there a couple years, I came home one night, turned on the light, and caught a glimpse of movement heading my way at the same time I felt something brush my hair. When I started breathing again and went to see what my Siberian husky had trapped in the corner, I saw it was a little bat. I began to wonder if that’s what Old Billy had been shooting at up there in the attic.

Eventually all the bullet holes got tarred and that stopped the leaks. I never went back into the attic, though. I could hear those little bats up there at times, squeaking and rustling around. And that was okay with me, as long as they stayed in the attic, ate their fair share of mosquitoes, and stayed out of my hair.

Tonight the time is long after midnight and here I sit, remembering and telling stories. If I go downstairs to bed, I won’t be able to hear the rain, and there is something about the October rains, something that compels me to listen.


  1. You've come a long, long way from those days, haven't you, my friend. No more huddling up to a stove to keep warm and catching rain coming through the roof in pans and buckets on the floor.

    You've worked long hard hours and have earned the right to spend a good share of your time doing the things you enjoy.

    I say, good for you, Gully.

  2. Well written, Jeanne. You put me in that cabin back in Girdwood. As a surveyor (now retired) who specialized in remote Alaska surveys, I've camped or stayed in some pretty primitive cabins while working. And I too love the sound of rain on the roof while I'm snug inside, reading a good book or drifting off to sleep.