Drought in a rain forest can stress a wardrobe

Posted: Sunday, May 05, 2002

Was I the only one in Southeast Alaska who heaved a moist sigh of relief when the rain came back to our rainforest for a day this week? Less than an inch of rain in the last two months! It felt good to be back in the cool damp, an environment not unlike the crisper drawer in the refrigerator.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

But it wasn't all about breathing and taking a break from squinting for me. I had wardrobe management issues.

Our run of unseasonable weather has given us an uncomfortable dilemma. Not only have we been squinting way beyond our annual wrinkle tolerance, but we also have dry skin and we have been breathing dust. We can deal with all that by wearing sunglasses and using lotions and eye and nasal moisturizers, but what are we supposed to wear? I can dress for rain and impending rain for weeks, but I can only handle dry and sunny weather for a few days and I'm out of clothes.

I know I'm not alone. I met several people on a bone-dry trail last weekend wearing rubber boots. Why? That's all they have. One woman I know said she also has running shoes, but that's it.

When you travel to a place with a climate different from where you live, it is customary to shop for clothing suited to the visited place. The shopping becomes part of the vacation or business trip and you have a great time buying exotic clothing that you will never wear at home. But what if - and how unthinkable this was a few short months ago - the climate at home takes a long vacation or extended business trip and leaves you stranded in a strange environment? How do you adapt?

There is one thing I am proud my Juneau neighbors and I didn't do in this unseasonably unreasonable weather. We didn't lie down and buy new clothes. We are much tougher than any string of dry days and we won't break, no matter how warm and dry it gets. We will carry spray bottles and spritz ourselves and each other regularly. We'll put ice cubes in our waterproof hats and let them melt to drizzle down our necks. We will wear heavy dark glasses and breathe through wet bandanas. It will take more than a few weeks of sun to dry us out, boy howdy! OK, maybe that part is just me.

Years ago, I moved to Southeast Alaska from a drier place. I still have my canvas mukluks with the three layers of felt liners, don't ask me why, but I gave up the cotton pants, windbreakers and non-waterproof everything else when I realized they were laughable here. Adapting, I came to embrace fleece, miraculous vapor bullying micro fibers and more fleece. A few dozen weeks ago when the sun came out, I began to shed fleece by the handful. Gobs of it wafted like tumbleweeds in my wake. I exhumed a pair of sandals from a pile of rubber boots and was, overall, adapting well until faced with the dry and sunny weather with a cruel, biting little wind. I needed a light jacket like the summer visitors have. I hesitate to admit this, but since it was too warm for a hat, that little cold breeze made me long for something like, well, earmuffs.

Looking around at people these last weeks, I've seen and admired some interesting adaptations to our perplexing new climate. The fun and exotic vacation clothes came out of the backs of closets and were matched with the few items of our normal daily wear that can hack the heat and parched air. Start with neck-to-ankle micro fiber long underwear, non-expedition weight, then layer with baggy short pants and cropped shirts in breezy fabrics and tropical prints. Top the ensemble with an umbrella to block the rays. Start the chilly mornings with wool socks under your sandals, chuck them as the sun climbs or if you linger where large buildings block the breeze. Tie a plaid flannel shirt around your shoulders or waist to wrap around your head like a balaclava when the breeze kicks up and/or the sun goes down.

Footwear seems to be the biggest problem for many of us during the drought. We've been in sturdy rubber boots for so long we depend on the arch support, traction soles and armor-like protection. In any other shoes, we twist our ankles, trip over nothing and smack into everything else, suffering bloodied, maimed toes. Those who are willing to work with the climate anomaly rely on snugly laced up running shoes or heavy sport sandals in lieu of our rubber staples. For those who just weren't comfortable adapting with neotechnical fair weather gear, there is always the traditional option of staying inside until the weather straightens out.

Nita Nettleton is a columnist for the Juneau Empire. She can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

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