washingtonpost.com  > Nation > Science
Page 2 of 2  < Back  

Nature's Solution to Endless Rain

Psychologically, rain has consequences. Some people simply cannot endure September-to-May dankness, fog and gloom. They move into the valley, get depressed and move away. It happens to young schoolteachers. To cut down on turnover at the school, Bennett says he does not hire people unless they first visit Quinault in winter.

In Seattle, about a three-hour drive from here, there is a great deal of grumbling this time of year about SAD, seasonal affective disorder. Caused by reduced natural light and exacerbated by cloudy, drizzly weather, it is believed by researchers to depress about a quarter of the Seattle population.

The nearby rain forest in Olympic National Park absorbs about 140 inches of rain each year, almost 2 billion gallons of water per square mile. A single Douglas fir can hold 5,000 gallons. (Photos Blaine Harden -- The Washington Post)

From the stoic perspective of this rain forest, SAD is an affectation of big-city weenies.

"It can happen in the summer here, when we get too much sun," deadpans Walt DeVaney, 61, a retired Boeing physicist who lives part time in Quinault (and often escapes, when he is blue, to his house in Seattle).

Bravura aside, this is a hard place to live -- and getting harder.

The National Park Service owns most of the land along the north shore of Lake Quinault and, as a matter of policy, is working to reduce the year-round local population of fewer than 2,000 people by buying houses from willing sellers and demolishing them.

On the south shore of the lake, where the U.S. Forest Service owns most of the land, efforts to protect the endangered northern spotted owl in the past two decades have all but ended logging on federal land.

Loggers -- long the mainstay of the economy, with jobs that often paid $25 or more an hour -- have fled the area, taken lower-paid jobs or are unemployed. At the local school, 86 percent of 261 students now qualify for free or reduced-price lunches -- a percentage that has more than doubled in the past decade. Two out of three households in the school district are at or below the federal poverty level, according to a recent survey.

The hope for the future is tourism. Besides being wet, the rain forest is fantastically beautiful, with great glistening swoops of deep green moss hanging from big-leaf maples, herds of Roosevelt elk gnawing on ferns, and pristine air that is cool but hardly ever cold. On a short hike, one can easily see scores of waterfalls.

Roger Blain, a retired park ranger turned fishing and hiking guide, says the potential here for converting rain into tourism dollars is unlimited.

During a punishing downpour last week that he described as a "light shower," Blain walked through a glade of moss-draped maples. Rain had plumped up the moss, from which droplets of water dangled like polished jewels.

The glade was at its peak of pulchritude at this time of year, he said, speaking loudly above the pounding of the rain.

The forest's finest moment, though, was all but unattended. No tourists walked the glade. The nearby Lake Quinault Lodge, the best local hotel, was nearly empty.

Tourists do come but most wait until high summer, until there is at least a chance that the rain will stop.

< Back  1 2

© 2005 The Washington Post Company