In the heat of summer, sometimes we don't know how to cool off or get comfortable, and we lead our lives the way we're used to leading them. People who live in other parts of the country are more accustomed to their hot time than we are. Ours is short, sometimes only lasting a few weeks. In the deep South or the southwest U.S. people live in extremely hot circumstances for months at a time. My friend who lives in Las Vegas only has a few weeks when it is not sweltering in her outdoor environment. Those are the places where air conditioning makes life for humans possible.
Here, there are not many people who believe air conditioning is necessary. I don't know anyone who has an air conditioner in his or her home. (Friends who do, I apologize!) But I also do not know anyone who does not have adequate preparations for heating once our cold weather sets in. We are a product of where we live.
Recipe for surviving a heat wave
Plan A: When the weatherman tells us it is going to be hot, there are several precautions we can take to stay cool. If we are housebound, by nature or by choice, the first thing to do is to close windows in the morning. Keep the cool air from the evening inside. Then draw the curtains or blinds, in order to keep the sun from coming into the rooms you're trying to keep cool. What you find is that suddenly your home or apartment is dark. This phenomenon is disconcerting. Here it is, the peak of a bright and cheery summer, and it's dark and cool in your abode. The simple addition of a fan will cool off any residual tendency to sweat while pacing inside your cave. Then, choose a good book, a glass of something cold to drink, and enjoy. There will be time for the outdoors after the peak of natural heating subsides.
If you are vacationing, and the temperature turns up several notches, what can you do? I drive to a grocery store. I know I need something, and if I'm smart, I forget to bring a list. So for a while, I can push a cart around a brightly lit and very cool store, trying to remember what it is that I came in for. There are other stores that are also air conditioned, and visiting them also brings a smile.
Plan B: People have for years come to our neck of the woods in the summertime. The best possible place to be while on vacation in the Adirondacks is in the woods. The temperatures are still warm, but they are not blisteringly hot under the trees' canopy. There are pockets of cool along the trails in our forests, and sometimes there are ponds and streams you can put your feet in to cool off. There is always a pond or lake nearby to jump into when your hike is over, and for that fact, vacationers have found our destination to be nearly perfect. Hike a while in a cool forest, then take off your boots and jump in a cool refreshing pond for a reward. Granted, you will heat up again once you are away from these activities, but then, see plan A.
Yin and yang
Something about the temporariness of this type of heat makes it fun. I don't handle heat well, as those who know me can attest. But this year I've taken to having a global attitude. This swing toward high heat and humidity and near drought conditions ordinarily would make me whine and fuss. But this year I've been thinking a lot about give and take, a pendulum of thinking. We do not fuss or whine in the four or five months of winter, when it's below zero and the roads are covered with ice and snow. Southern folks think we're crazy to live in such unbelievable conditions. We know what to do, and we do it, and we have a cup of coffee at the diner and catch up with the news, and don't give it a thought.
So this is our short stop on the other end of things. Global warming may be impacting us so that our future summers will look a lot more like this, and we ought to be good with coping by now. What goes around, comes around. The peak of heat will fade in a few weeks; we'llmove toward autumn's brief frenzy, which then pushes us to our winter, where we are the experts. This is the give and take of living in a four season location.
Summer heat is tough on the skin, which we've made strong by winter survival. So we have to enjoy the early mornings, the after-dinner hours, and the times we've found cool spots to unwind. Friends wear clothes you only see once a year, and the lush gardens enjoy sprinklers cascading relief out of the direct heat of the day.A bike ride can bring you your own little breezes, topped off with views of our green world. A canoe or kayak trip will bring you in direct contact with the rarefied air that hovers over bodies of water ... and you will feel joy in the partaking.
So be careful in the high heat, but remember it is a short season, and will be over before you know it. Enjoy life in the Adirondacks without a coat, hat and mittens ... and splash some summer into your days. And don't forget the joy of ice cream! Some say it's what summer was invented for.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.