“Wow! I never knew that!” some readers told me, when my first column appeared last November, describing the almost 3,000 feet of ice that once covered our region. Yes, hard to imagine. But check a map and you’ll notice our labyrinth of waterways, what’s left of all that ice, once it thawed and filled the deep troughs it gouged out.
Of course, today our fresh water is of the “Don’t leave home without your umbrella!” variety. But after all, northwest rains provide us with tall trees, salmon, and a place to exercise our outboards. Those big wet clouds and grey days also discourage all the folks who would otherwise move here to live among our myriad natural wonders. Perhaps, instead of cursing the rainy months, we could just learn to appreciate them, and to understand what’s really going on. As they say, “with understanding comes acceptance, even appreciation.” (Well, maybe…)
Occasionally I find myself a happy victim of natural history overload as I stroll down one of Kitsap County’s many, many hiking paths through dense forests (one of several pieces of wooded acreage thankfully being preserved). Far from computers, cellphones, and lattes to go, I bask in a green sanctuary where no signs of human enterprise would dare eclipse what nature has handed us, for free. This forest has been allowed to age gracefully. Branches of ancient trees are draped with mossy white beards. A hundred shades of green are a gift from our northwest rains: greens tinted blue, greens tinted olive, and lush yellow-greens you could lose your soul to. Old stumps wear thick soft coats of moss. Every leaf oozes moisture-laden oxygen like a huge wet breath. Twisted silver streams are the life-bearing veins that help keep the system thriving.
Such intense life, including an unseen menagerie of wild creatures keeping their distance from this intruder, are part of our so-called Water Cycle: the interchange between air, land and sea. It’s a big drippy loop, a pathway with no beginning and no end, circling around between earth and sky. Lately, however, during our extremely dry summers, the rain seems to be opting for a rest, perhaps nudged by global warming.
(Sorry, deniers, global warming is real and it’s caused by us.)
The water cycle begins out in the salty Pacific. Its waters are warmed by the sun and evaporate as vapor. The vapor floats into the atmosphere where it cools, cuddles up with other moist blobs of air, and condenses to become clouds. Of course, clouds are anything but stationary; nudged by air currents, they team up and grow larger, eventually falling to earth as our beloved northwest rain. In high elevations it falls as snow, which is simply stored among saw-toothed peaks until spring, when melt water meanders downhill to soak into the soil, and to freshen our steams, wetlands, lakes and rivers.
Here in Kitsap County we get 48 to 60 inches of rainfall each year. So where does it go? About 40% of nature’s wet gift percolates down into our soils and into “aquifers” (this term is worth understanding because aquifers provide that glass of water and the ice you put in it, not to mention the showers you take). An aquifer is an underground layer of porous rock, gravel or sand that soaks up rain water and holds onto it like a sponge…that is, until it’s needed to give your lawn a drink, or give the dog a bath. Aquifers, we salute you!
Some of our rainwater simply evaporates, and the rest replenishes our fresh water creeks and streams that wind their way into Puget Sound. Thus the cycle begins again.