An ode to gray | Fickle summer gives way to fall on Sunday

Photos by Tom Reese

Seattle Times staff photographer

As our familiar lid of gray clamps down over Puget Sound with the arrival of autumn Sunday, it's understandable to feel a bit ripped off, summerwise.

As in, where was our sun? The guilty pleasure of a bit of sunburn, the primal delight of sweat?

The National Weather Service recorded not a single clear day in June at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Zip, zed, nil, nada. July and August also offered a dreary parade of partly cloudy this, and cloudy that, with drizzle thrown in, ending up a summer expected to notch nearly an inch above normal rainfall.

Should Puget Sound residents feel entitled to grouse? Yes. A mere 19 clear days were recorded all summer at Sea-Tac.

Yet, adding insult to injury, a few roasting days in July add up to an overall average temperature for the summer expected to be 2.5 degrees warmer than normal. So the record books will give us not even a nod of sympathy.

And now our fate is sealed, as our little spot on the globe turns ever farther from the sun until the solstice Dec. 21.

With fall's arrival and winter not far behind, we are only about midway through our six-month lean away from the light.

By winter solstice we are talking 16 hours of daily darkness, and the sun will be in its lowest arc across the sky. In Seattle, the sun will sink to its low of 19 degrees from the southern horizon. The light already is thickening and shadows growing long.

It's not your imagination: Because Earth is curved, the low sun has to drill through more atmosphere. So in autumn and winter, when the sun does shine, the light is chewy, the colors rich and the shadows loom large.

June McKiernan says she relishes every bit of it.

"Each of the seasons has their own treasures, it's fine," said McKiernan, a Bothell woman who cleans houses for a living. Her husband gave her a camera last October, and she has started a new hobby of taking pictures to document whatever strikes her. She sees the world with a whole new eye, full of wonder: "We are very, very lucky, we just breathe it in here," McKiernan said. "It is just so beautiful, the area is phenomenal and I just love it."

On Thursday, on a hunch, she went to Lake Sammamish and encountered members of the Muckleshoot Tribe pulling in one of their best chinook harvests in years. She took lots of pictures of big fish — fat, silver, even some 40-pounders.

"They were huuuge," said McKiernan, as comfortable with the rhythm of fall as those chinook heading to their spawning gravel.

"I love the summer, but I really like the colors of fall," McKiernan said. "And sometimes it is just fun to bundle up and cook soup."

As for this summer, McKiernan, 53, has one complaint: "As we get older, they seem to go by faster."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or

Subdued by clouds — again — the sun is reflected among lily pads on Lake Washington. (TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
Caught on their fall to the ground, berries dangle in fishing line near the Montlake Cut. (TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES)