When the thermometer tops out at a blistering 95 degrees Fahrenheit, I call it a welcome reprieve. Last week, a friend and I were eyeing the forecasts for triple-digit heat. Her phone predicted 106. My more conservative computer suggested 104. Are you really going to be able to tell the difference between the two, she asked. As it happened, I could not. I was hunkering inside my air-conditioned home when a high of 107 was recorded.
Intemperate temperatures interrupt one of my favorite summer activities: daily opening and closing of the house. The sun thoroughly bakes the Okanogan Valley all day, but when Old Sol drops behind the mountains to the west, the valley begins to cool. When I moved here from the milder, west side of the Cascade Mountains, my husband taught me how to reduce energy costs while savoring nature’s rhythms.
When you wake up in the morning, every window is wide open, allowing a cross-current of cool air throughout your house, which smells like all outdoors, fresh and Freon-free. You luxuriate in this natural ambiance until about mid-morning. If you’re paying attention, you can sense when the air is getting a “leetle” too warm. If you’re not as attentive, you simply wait until your air conditioner clicks on. Either way, you rush around the house, shutting all the windows tight, locking in what remains of the night’s natural air, letting it mingle with mechanically cooled air that’ll get you through the rest of the day.
As evening falls, you start poking your head outside –– or maybe you take an iced drink onto the patio –– and wait for the reverse situation, the point at which the outdoor air is cooler than the air inside. Reverse the morning’s activity, open all the windows, and you’re ready for a good night’s sleep minus the rumbling hum of an air conditioner.
It’s kind of like a liturgy, a ceremony, almost sacred. Last week, however, the essential nighttime cooling never happened. The low temperature was too high for opening the house. For the first time since we began the lockdown in March, I felt truly locked in, isolated. I could better understand the dilemma of city dwellers who live in climate-controlled apartments and have no way of connecting with nature. I sat at my computer, gazing out the window at hummingbirds drinking from my hanging plant and trumpet vine. Flying free, they cast an occasional glance at me, the caged animal in the zoo.
Of course, I have two dogs for companionship. Both are shedding so copiously it’s a wonder there’s any hair left on them. The air conditioner fan distributes the fur evenly throughout the house.
My isolation is interrupted, too, by watching flotillas of inflatables and kayaks drift downriver with sun lovers aboard. I know from my own experiences floating the river that the cool water mitigates the sun’s intensity. And, hey. It’s only a balmy 95 degrees!