“The mountains are out.”
Since becoming New To Seattle last summer, I have learned this is Seattle-speak for “It’s sunny.” I hear the phrase over and over, although recently a whole lot less. The annual gathering gloom of winter is snuffing out such landform glimpses on any regular basis until what I have been advised will be late spring or even early summer.
This alternative description for climatological clarity has bounced around Seattle for a long time. You can find it in Seattle media stories about the weather. This morning, my Google search for “mountains are out” and “Seattle” produced 12,100 hits. The expression and the prevalence of its local usage are striking enough that another recent immigrant like me adopted it for the name of her own let-me-tell-you-about-Seattle blog.
Certainly, when the atmosphere is correct and visibility unimpaired, there are lots of mountains to eyeball from Seattle. Some 54 miles to the southeast rises 14,441-foot-high Mount Rainier, a perpetually ice-covered volcano named for a military officer who fought against the United States in the Revolutionary War. Rainier is part of the Cascade Mountains, which run from Canada to California, passing just east of Seattle from which they are easily visible. Beginning 25 miles west of Seattle across Puget Sound: the Olympic Mountains. Although not as high as Rainier–the tallest peak is 7,962 feet–the Olympics are much wider, forming what looks from a distance like a wall.
But Seattle is hardly the only major city in the U.S. in the vicinage of mountains. Some other places that quickly come to mind: Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque. (The latter, my home for 12 years, has along its eastern edge a 10,678-foot-high peak to which you easily can drive, so in the space of 45 minutes you can have a nice view both looking up from the Rio Grande and looking down upon it.)
But these towns all have many more sunny days a year than Seattle. So the fact that the mountains are visible there is no big whoopee.
Which may be why their sightings in Seattle are.
I previously have written about the defensiveness of Seattleites concerning their weather, particularly the widespread (and entirely accurate) perception that the sun disappears for months at a time. It’s enough of a civic concern that Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau–yes, the folks who have been marketing my new hometown as “Metronatural“–has posted a defense of Seattle weather.
Among other places, I have lived in hot-and-humid Houston, cold-and-humid New York City, warm-and-dry Los Angeles and hot-cold-warm-and-dry Albuquerque. From a weather perspective, I don’t find in-between-and-humid Seattle unacceptable.
To me,”the mountains are out” jives with my notion that Seattle harbors a collective inferiority complex. Why, I’m still not sure. But the start of winter accelerates what seems to be another annual Puget Sound tradition, a discussion of whether the long gray skies makes the area more prone to suicide (I mean the kind committed entirely on your own, like jumping off the Aurora Bridge; Washington State now has legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill).
Until Rainier erupts again, the hills around Seattle aren’t going anywhere. But so far, I haven’t yet heard anyone here say on a cloudy morning, “The mountains are in.”