Visions of winter when temperatures top 100 degrees F
Just as snowstorms slow the pace of daily life, so does the swelter of summer.
"Hazy, hot, and humid with real-feel temperatures of 105 degrees today ... and tomorrow ... and the next day ... throughout the week," says the meteorologist, a bit too cheerfully, I think, given the circumstances.Skip to next paragraph
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My open windows confirm that the forecast of the Three Horrible H's is already proving true.
So, in the best tradition of Maria and the family von Trapp from "The Sound of Music," I try to make things better – in this case, cooler – by "simply remembering my favorite things": Visions of crisp, cold winter air with thickly falling snowflakes dance before my eyes; skating on lakes over ice that shimmers like dozens of diamonds; a sunset walk, our bodies snugly encased in soft wool, fleece, and down, listening to the snow squeak beneath our boots; blizzards raging outside while we sit cozily around the fireplace, hands warmed by big cups of hot cocoa.
But some of those "indoor coziness" thoughts evoke strands of similar memories from another season:
When I was growing up in Manhattan, relentless summer sun blazed down mercilessly on big, brick apartment buildings. My family lived on the fifth floor, to which plenty of heat rose, faithfully obeying one of the basic laws of physics. And there were no trees that high up to provide mitigating shade. Even the poor pigeons lined up on our fire escape looked sweaty. (Or was it just condensed moisture on their feathers from supersaturated air?)
We had no air conditioning in my early years, as my parents felt it wasn't necessary. They had their own version of climate control.
At the first hint of invading summer sun, the Venetian blinds and shades were drawn, creating a dreamy type of dimness. Several small fans, strategically placed, lulled us with their gentle whir. Big glasses of cold drinks, clinking with as many ice cubes as they could hold, also assisted Operation Cool-Off.
Cooking was canceled, and hot foods were replaced by cold, creative meals, often featuring refreshing fruits. There were salads brimming with berries; bread and cheeses of different textures and tastes. Ice cream and sherbets were a special treat, reserved as an annual antidote to terrible temperatures.
Our faithful refrigerator became a favorite place for kids. We stood in front of its open door, reveling in the minidrafts drifting out over our perspiring bodies until my mother chased us away.
"You'll let all the cold air out," she scolded. But as soon as the coast was clear, we came back again. Any bit of coldness was worth its weight in gold.
Necessity breeds invention. We became juvenile scientists, devising our own experiments for decreasing heat's discomforts. Formal physics lessons were still a long way off, but we soon discovered for ourselves a pragmatic principle of Newton's law of cooling: Wet bodies standing in front of a fan get much cooler, much faster, than dry ones. So, again dodging parental "don'ts," we doused ourselves and our clothes with water, and then stood dripping before the fans, arms stretched out sideways like cormorants' wings, waiting for the artificial wind to do its job.
Finally, my parents became convinced that air conditioning did make sense. They purchased two small units, one for each end of our apartment. Instantly, our home became a cool cave in the face of sweltering summer.
And the haven of home, like its cozy winter counterpart, slowed us down. Suddenly, there was time to read, write, talk, and listen. Beethoven symphonies emerged from our record player. We played Scrabble. I dug out a half-finished embroidery project, long neglected because there had been "no time" to work on it. Our frenetic pace was forcibly, temporarily halted, just as during those winter storms.
Every now and then we would look out the windows and observe the sidewalks sizzling. I was amazed at how deserted the city streets had become. Even ever-active children, usually resilient to whatever weather brings, had gone indoors. It was quiet; it was peaceful.
And I began to realize that some ingredients of the sweltering summer season had somehow snuck on to my list of "favorite things."
"Heat advisory ... stay inside if you can," the weatherman says.
Gladly I obey, heading to my haven. I lower the blinds, choose a book from the large stack waiting to be read, and pour a tall glass of mint iced tea.
A calendar hanging on the refrigerator door tells me that official autumn is just a turn of the page away. By then the blazing sun will have mellowed to a milder, more welcome warmth. Perhaps there'll be a preview of crisp, refreshing, northern breezes on their way.
Ahhh, I'm feeling cooler already.