Jack Ohman

Jack Ohman: Portland, I’ll take your rain; keep the beavers

I have just returned from Portland, Ore. I lived there for almost 30 years. One of the things that drove me crazy about Portland was the rain.

My hair was always wet; I felt like I had a beaver sitting on my head at all times, just lying in wait to construct a quick dam. My shoulders constantly felt damp. At night, in the winter, I would turn on my space heater and pretend I was in Hawaii. I’d wake up at 3 in the morning and it would be 88 degrees, and I’d be dehydrated.


Shoes were always a problem. I quickly learned that canvas shoes were out, and those weird duck shoes from L.L. Bean were really actually a good idea and not some preppy affectation. I purchased and lost 25 umbrellas; the more expensive they were, the quicker I lost them – an immutable Oregon law of hydrology.

So when I left Sacramento on a recent Friday (88 degrees, sunny) and landed in Portland (63 degrees, drizzling), I was in shock. There was something very strange all around me.


Even in non-drought times, I understand Sacramento is arid. Since I have been here, I get actively upset if it’s cloudy. My Sac buddies say that last Christmas, which featured temperatures hovering in the 70s, even in San Francisco, was truly surreal. I just assumed that this was typical Nor Cal weather. My kids loved it. Shirt-sleeves in San Francisco on Dec. 29 seemed normal to me, and, frankly, owed to me after 29 years of torrential, biblical rain.

Like many of you (except those of you from Los Angeles, who view the drought as an elaborate practical joke, or possibly a Hollywood CGI trick), I conserve water religiously. I brush my teeth in a cup. I shave out of a sink with about a half inch of water, not running. My lawn is dead, Jim. Brown, like the governor, and golden, like the state. I won’t even start on my commode. I drove by “Lake” Shasta a few weeks ago and the bass were sunbathing. Road tracks ran in streambeds, and I made mental notes about the lake structure for fishing, in case the water ever comes back.

Portland and Eugene, on the other hand, are lush and that color between blue and yellow, now long forgotten here. The ground squishes underfoot; small puddles dot every street and parking lot. Short, light rains punctuated my visit. There was mist. There were downpours. It rained here in Sacramento the other day, and Facebook users here momentarily stopped posting photos of their various tomatoes and displayed action shots of rain.

Once I got into my hotel room in Portland, I took untimed showers, ran water while shaving and brushing my teeth, and flushed the toilet just to watch the water swirl. I stood outside and enjoyed having the beaver on my head again. I cursed those drivers who seemed unfamiliar with how to drive in the rain; apparently they haven’t had much rain in Oregon, either.

But there was one troubling aspect I noticed while there. I heard quite a bit of talk about a story that ran last week about the Pacific Northwest being the likely focus of millions of water refugees.

Portlandia doesn’t like to hear that, and I don’t think I would either, if you considered having 100 million new friends performing unlimited shaves and toilet flushes. Portlandians (formerly Portlanders) whispered about “those people” wanting “our water,” and generally sounding like some sort of liquid version of the Minutemen patrolling the Oregon border.

I hope it doesn’t come down to that sort of thing, where Oregon and (You Can’t Spell “Wash” Without) Washington build dams or dikes to keep us thirsty Californians out.

And if they do, well, perhaps we’ll just have to close the borders of Palm Springs at spring break and put up big sun curtains on the border.

We don’t ration our sunshine, Sunshine.

Now, just run a nice tunnel down here from the Columbia River and no one gets hurt. But keep your beavers. Those things can really mess up your hair.