We savor cool moments of relief

If I hadn't spent so many sweltering summer days stacking hay on a wagon and into a stifling barn loft - with big, heat-radiating cows to milk before and after - I might have felt guilty for the way I spent this one.

Picture someone shuttling languidly between the refrigerator (for ice water and beautifully ripened blackberries) and the couch (with books and crosswords), and then slipping into a neighbor's pool a bike glide away. I even postponed some editing work awaiting me at my desk, arguing that it was just too hot for words. It is only now, as a faint breath of relief works through the screens on the edge of evening, that I can think of putting words together.

Of course, if I'd had to work out in the heat again I would have done it with a will. As I said, I have proven myself capable of real physical labor under a hot sun and in the steaming closeness of a high-summer milking parlor. I even enjoyed the serene feeling that came with knowing there was no way to beat the heat until the work was done. Aside from that occasional sultry evening when I caved in and paused between cows to submerge myself in the animals' water tank, I just accepted that being palpably hot was my lot as a dairy farmer during the dog days of summer.

Charlie had his own moment of weakness. Driving the tractor home one evening after mowing a large field, he pulled in at a friend's to jump fully clothed into his pool.

But a prevailing attitude of acceptance - when you're hot, you're hot, period - made the intermittent moments of relief that came far sweeter than today's berries, ice water, swim, and languid leisure. Some of these moments arrived unexpectedly. I can still picture our neighbor Maureen walking gingerly through the shimmering heat of a mown field with tall blue glasses of fresh lemonade tinkling with the promise of ice. Charlie and I had been lifting bales into the barn loft.

"I thought you could use a refresher," she said as we gazed gratefully back at her over the edges of the upturned glasses.

Dennis, another neighbor, stopped his truck by the edge of a field I was raking one afternoon as the thermostat climbed toward 100 degrees F. and held up a can of soda so cold the water beaded on it - a drink as reviving at the moment as all the advertised promises rolled into one.

We could count on other relief as we harvested hay from fields up and down Bethel Lane. There is no sight so welcome as the humble shape of an old pump under a tree in a farmyard or at the shaded edge of a hayfield. Charlie would stop the tractor and baler every few rounds right by those pumps. It always struck me as miraculous the way their rusty metal handles would conjure up cold well water - more than enough for a drink. There was water to flood over faces, necks, and arms - to soothe and cool and wash away the chaff. Nothing I drank today in my leisure held a candle to what Maureen, Dennis, or those pumps delivered.

We live without air conditioning by choice, but I was never above relishing bursts of it in the heat of a summer day. In fact, a small grocery at the other end of Bethel Lane seems to cater to outdoor laborers with its hefty deli sandwiches and super-chilled atmosphere (the cashiers wear sweaters). A lunch stop at what we've always called the "little store" was a given and one of the promises that kept my son stacking hay by my side through the heat of July and August - at least before he got old enough to earn cash and rewards in ways of his own devising.

Today when I walk from the heat of the car into the little store, it is still a treat - just not as pure a one as it was when we climbed down, work-weary, from the tractor, entered, and felt a welcoming blast of reviving air.

I'm not saying I want to give up my present freedom to take it easy in the high heat of summer and revert to full-time dairy farming. But while we were at it, the intensity of those moments of relief from the heat was something to behold. Today's indulgences pale before them.

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