Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

That old expression, "you don't know what you've got until it's gone," doesn't necessarily apply to the four weeks of sunshine we enjoyed on the coast while many inland areas experienced Del Norte's more natural state: fogged up or clouded over.

Most of us instantly appreciated the rareness of the dry streak that began in late November and pretty much ran until Christmas Day. We could pretend we were getting used to it, but all that blue sky was lighting up a North Coast dependent on different weather for its lushness.

Still, this week's return of soaking rains does make those meteorological memories all the more special. Our beaches are remote even during tourist season, but in late fall they're downright private. Strolling the consistently sunny sand, it was hard not to muse, "If only the inlanders knew what's going on here."

I'll be forever grateful that our massive clear spell lasted through

Christmas Eve. That was the day my visiting family coaxed my 89-year-old

mother to a perch partway down a Pebble Beach stairway. It was

December's highest tide, and the muscular Pacific pounded the shore's

natural rock wall.

Storm waves without the storm.

We spent an exquisite half-hour or so there, applauding the

performance scene by scene and snapping off a few hundred digital photos

as the surf exploded like fireworks shooting ocean spray impossibly

high. For once, the occasional whale spouts were only a sideshow.

If it rains all winter, I won't complain - although the recent

showers aren't forecast to return until later next week. This was an

autumn for the ages, and it stuck around long enough for Santa to

complete his work.

Now our rejuvenated rivers can serve up their tardy salmon. Our

redwood forests can quench their thirst. And we can all rejoin the

reality of where we live.

After driving my parents home to Salem, Laura and I actually looked

forward to running our windshield wipers on a long journey south along

the coast highway. We started with old haunts in Lincoln City andndash; driving

by the beach house we used to rent at Road's End, lodging and dining in

the high-rise Inn at Spanish Head, breakfasting at the Wildflower Grill

with its sublime wetland scenery, sipping coffee at Salishan, gawking

from the precipice at Cape Foulweather.

We never turned those wipers off as we motored south through Depoe

Bay, Newport, Waldport, rising to Yachats and descending into Florence's

Old Town for lunch. The sideways-mist machine had two settings - high

and higher - as we continued along the flatter, dunier stretch through

Reedsport and Coos Bay before stopping for the night at a newer haunt,

the Bandon Inn.

Of course we spent as little time as possible out in the open,

dodging the downpour as we dashed from car to short-term destination and

back. There was no let-up as we passed through Port Orford (lunch at

the soon-to-close-for-the-season Redfish Cafandeacute;), Gold Beach (coffee and

bookstore browsing) and Brookings.

If not for signage and the stop at the ag inspection station, highway

travelers would have no idea they'd entered a different state until

reaching that tall-tree corridor south of Smith River.

It's all the Northwest Coast, it's all green and gray and beautiful,

and it's all wet.