Yesterday was a typical summer day in Middle Tennessee: The temperature soared above 90 degrees F., with high humidity and a light breeze. The cliché was true – it was like a blast furnace out there.
Nevertheless, as night fell, the earth began to cool, and at midnight I awoke to a pleasant breeze that prompted me to turn off the fan and cover up with a light blanket.
Then I could hear outside sounds more clearly – a frog enjoying a tiny pond, an insect strumming, an owl not too far away, a whippoorwill farther away.
It is now first light, and I waken gently to the crows of Joseph, a rooster with a coat of many colors. There's a chirp from a wild bird, then more bird chirps, then louder bird calls. The sounds, the scents, the breeze of early morning bring peace, restfulness. But it's time to get moving; I've got work to do before the sun blasts us again.
Although my home came with central air conditioning, I've never turned the unit on.
I've never used air conditioning in any of my homes, not when growing up in hot, humid Memphis, Tenn.; not in the concrete and asphalt enclave of Boston's Back Bay; not on the High Plains of eastern Colorado, with days of over 100 degrees F. accompanied by stiff, dry winds; not in Georgia's Burke County, nor Ohio's Cuyahoga County.
I've tried to follow Henry David Thoreau's idea of living deliberately by cooling my dwellings with open windows and doors, with the shades and blinds raised in the evening to open my home to the night's cooler air and lowered in the morning to shut out the day's hot sun.
To keep my body cool I wear loose dresses and sandals, nurse glasses of ice water throughout the day and evening, and splash cold water on my face and arms every hour or two.
I live without air conditioning because I love being outdoors – any time of year, any kind of weather. Of course, when winter's icy winds blow, it's good to have a heated home, and even on rainy summer days it's helpful to have a house in which to protect food, clothing, papers, books, and furniture.
But summertime offers the joy of opening my dwelling, of being able to hear outside sounds: birds singing, insects humming, frogs croaking, people talking and laughing, and children playing.
I want to be aware of the outdoor activities of family members, neighbors, wildlife – aware of the diurnal march of the sun and moon, of cloud cover, of the strength and direction of the wind. I want to feel the heat of the day and the cool of the night, to smell rain, the soil, and neighbors' cookouts.
For certain, I've encountered plenty of sweltering days and nights, been plagued with insects in the house, been awakened by noisy vehicles and malodorous insect sprayers, but I have never – not even once – during these times thought that air conditioning would make life more pleasant. Instead, it would erect a barrier between the outside world and me, which is something I don't want.