Summer, in full.

June 10, 2011 § 19 Comments

It takes summer heat to make a cloud like this!

We topped 100° more than once in May, and according to the calendar summer doesn’t even start until next Tuesday.

We’re stunned.

And a little worried.  If it’s this hot already, what will August be like?

But the official start of summer is a human notion. Each summer comes on in its own way and time, unaware and unconcerned about the calendar.

Most Americans only visit summer anyway. They sprint across its sun-baked parking lots from air-conditioned car to building, they book a week to “do summer,” lured by the proximity of a beach, or the cool of the mountains. They experience few of the ordinary summer days that unfold just outside their own front doors.

“Crazy” is a word often used to describe the summer behavior at our house. I prefer “stoic.” The fact is, my husband and I live in an un-air-conditioned house in Florida. I’ll admit we could never do this in a modern tract house. But ours is a concrete bunker, with a thick slab floor, that sits under a canopy of trees.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get hot. Sometimes even damned hot. But as a writer, it is my job to witness what the world is up to, and although the calendar insists it’s spring, summer is what the world is up to right now.

And it isn’t just the outside world that is remade by the season. As a resident of summer I slow to match the pace of the long, long days. A kind of torpor takes over, a reining in of ambition.

Orderly thought, which  requires an ambient temperature below 85°, evaporates.  As the temperature creeps up, thoughts form a buzzing cloud, like gnats.  They flicker in the light, no one of them commanding particular attention.  Collectively, they make a person say, well look at that, in an abstracted kind of way. It’s too hot to take action. But in this slowed-down state it seems easier to observe things carefully.

So let me tell you about this summer that technically hasn’t started yet. Out at Bluebird, our land in Wakulla County, early spring promised a bumper crop of blueberries, the young green berries thick on every bush. And then the heat came on as sudden as a blowtorch, scalding-hot and dry. The berries within reach of a hose are fine. The ones along the fence in the meadow are desiccated, a condition our neighbor John calls “mummy berry.”

For the first time, a rabbit has broken into the garden. In a bone dry world animals become as resourceful as they are desperate. The squirrels are climbing the tree-fern in our front yard and eating the young fronds.  But the dryness has also kept the yellow flies down, and the lubber grasshoppers are fewer in number this year.

Like the animals, I respond to the summer heat with respect and a certain amount of deviousness. I walk early in the morning when the neighborhood is still night-cool, or in the evening as the sun is going down. On a late morning walk I wear a big hat and zig-zag down the street from one puddle of shade to the next. I avoid the noonday sun, when the heat is a nail driven hard.

Kids at the Front Porch Library. Remember this kind of summer fun?

By midafternoon, as I sit at the computer writing, the fans are blowing nothing but hot air.  As the indoor temperature climbs toward 90, the pleasant buzz of being warm becomes irritation.

Since we can’t bury ourselves in the cool dirt beneath a bush, or slide under a rock, or go comatose in front of the fan like our dog, Moo, Ray and I visit Publix for a cool stroll down the freezer aisle.

The biggest test of our stoicism (or craziness) comes when it’s time to cook supper. We move the fans into the kitchen door, put the pans on the stove, turn the burners on, and we cook, in every sense of the word.

Just when we think we can’t take any more, the sun goes down.  The temperature drops and we turn the window fans on. Some evenings, hearing the low grumble of thunder, I stand in the yard.  As lightning flickers on the horizon, I turn my face up and feel the chilly downdraft.

By full dark the fan in the bedroom window blows cool air across the bed. And by the middle of the night we pull up the sheet, sometimes even the blanket. If you are used to summer’s heat, anything below 80 feels cool.  Because the window is open, we wake in the night to the trilling of insects, and just before light, bird song.

It may be hard to believe, but there are pleasures to being really hot. Get really hot, and step out onto the concrete slab of the front porch. The chill beneath bare feet makes you glad you’re alive. The same goes for a sudden breeze on a sweaty neck. A cold drink of water.

The bad news is, the body has to acclimate to the heat. And that doesn’t happen when you spend most of your time in an air-conditioned box. Most of us have real, regular, air-conditioned jobs.  Not me.  I’m out here, barefoot and ragged, living the Huck Finn version of summer—and doing my job, which is to report back.

Here, on the front lines of summer it is 11 in the morning. Indoors the temperature is 82.4 and rising, outside it is 86 and headed for the mid-nineties.

Later, I will feel the need to go to Publix, but for now the temperature’s fine–and my bread just rose in record time.

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§ 19 Responses to Summer, in full.

  • craig reeder says:

    i’m an atheist, but even i am praying for rain……

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  • …after 10 tonight when we will have played “Truck Night” and packed up the equipment.

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  • We’ve spent 5 weeks each summer for the past 33 years at Tybee House, the family beach house near Savannah. The house is an old, rambling wreck of a place built in 1900. There’s never been any insulation and until recently there was no air conditioning, no fans, or hardly a tree, but we’ve convinced ourselves that the wood floors feel cool even when we get a stretch of 105 degrees, and being situated on the marsh, you can sometimes catch a breeze on the upstairs, wrap-around porch.

    We are early morning and sundown kind of beach people; you’ll never find us broiling on a chair in the midday sun, but you will find us fishing and crabbing under huge straw hats almost as old as Tybee House, and our children spent much of their childhood summers out in the marsh collecting seahorses, puffers, and squid for the aquarium their cousins built in the house next door to ours.

    There are ways to cool off — a dip in the back river, colorful squeeze pops, ice coffee — but our children’s favorite was always defrosting the ancient freezer. Their grandmother would chip the icy buildup into a rubber tub, and kids from houses up and down the street would gather around Grandma Tony for their scoop of shaved ice. They might have licked a little, but mostly they formed them into balls and had a snowball fight. There’s nothing like a week of unshakable heat to make you appreciate a small taste of winter.

    Stay cool, Adrian.

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    • I grew up in central and north Texas – with stretches of 100 plus days from May to September. We’d keep count – the record of consecutive days was somewhere between 35 and 40 or so. The problem with Texas and the heat – if the temp rises to 110 by 5 PM it will only drop by 20% after dark (sundown at 9 PM) and that’s still 90 after midnight. Can anyone guess why we retired to Florida?

      On mother’s birthday – August 22 – the first year she and Dad lived in the assisted living cum nursing home center in San Angelo (West Texas), Sarah and I went to HEB (grocery store) to get some helium filled “Happy B-day” balloons to decorate her room. The balloons looked a bit deflated – “It’s because of the heat” the clerk said. Okay, I could understand that. Helium expands in the heat, after all. We walked out of the store and started across the blacktopped parking lot to the car when “POP! POP!” Both balloons expanded so much – heat in the parking lot was registering 124 – that they had split along the seam. Never fear. Mother got her balloons – we just taped them to the wall!

      Summer! You gotta love it!

      MLS

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      • I love this! We are having a who’s-been-the-hottest smack-down. MLS, I think you may be the winner.

        As for night – cooling in Florida, it depends on what part of the state you choose. When we lived in the Keys we were essentially afloat in a warm bath tub full of water. Night temperatures barely dropped. If not for the consistent breeze, that tropical paradise would have needed a different name.

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    • This comment should appear after Leigh’s story, but WordPress insists on parking in here. The mysteries of technology! Leigh, your description makes me jealous! I want a Tybee house too, and if you can throw in a Grandma Tony so much the better.

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  • That settles it. I am not retiring in Texas. I like my birthday balloons fat and sassy and my hair not stuck to my neck.

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  • The big difference I noted moving to Puerto Rico was the night was as hot as the day, unlike NJ, where it did cool down at night (and it was basically summer all year…). The solution was a fan blowing all night, we also had no AC there!!

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    • A fan blowing all night is the difference between sleep and misery.

      Carolyn, it sounds as if you have traveled far and lived in many interesting places since we we all stood up and faked the words of that famous song that ends, …in praise of Princeton High.

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  • Iris Melton says:

    Adrian, I enjoyed reading your blog about summer in Florida. I can relate to much of what you said. It brought back some good (and not so good) memories.

    I grew up in Florida – mostly in the Panhandle – without AC. At night, I remember lying very still in the bed, which I shared with my sister, hoping for a breeze to come through the open windows. Sometimes it was so hot that I would lay my pillow up on the windowsill against the screen to maybe catch the slightest movement of air.

    As an early teen, I worked “in tobacco” during the summers in Gadsden County… mostly inside barns – as either a toter or stringer. One time, the bosses came in and determined that the tobacco was not curing fast enough. The rafters in the barn were probably about 4/5 full of the hung tobacco. We (the workers) were at the other end of the barn. They closed the windows (all the way up to where we were working) and turned up the kerosene heaters. Talk about hot working conditions!

    Our first family camping experience was to St. George Island. We borrowed a large tent and all nine of us packed into the car. We got there in the late afternoon, and us kids ran out to the beach while our parents set up the tent. As my sister and I walked down the beach, we noticed a funny looking black cloud coming toward us. As it got closer, we noticed a humming sound. Within seconds, we were surrounded by thousands (if not millions) of hungry skeeters (mosquitos)! We slapped at them and ran back towards camp, yelling at the top of our lungs… warning the family to take cover. The tent was up by then and Mama waved us inside. Only a few hundred of the skeeters followed us inside before she could close the flaps. Mama got the flashlight out and we started searching and swatting, especially to try and keep them from biting the little ones. That night, it got a little stuffy with all of us inside the tent. Four of us older kids (two brothers, my sister and I) decided to make a dash to the car, thinking it might be more comfortable. A few skeeters followed us inside. It was hot and the windows fogged up really quickly, but we were hesitant to open them. Some local boys drove up and we talked to them – through slightly cracked windows. That was kind of exciting. It helped take our minds off the skeeters and heat… to a point. I think they talked to us all night. We saw the sun rise. It was the first time I had ever stayed up all night. (It was probably the first time for my other siblings, too.) That was the only thing that made our experience worthwhile. Needless to say, we never went camping again.

    As an adult, most of the places where I lived had AC. For a couple of years, my family (husband, daughter and me) rented a little red house next to the Apalachicola Forest out near Lake Talquin that had none. It had been a hunting cabin. The walls were made of beautiful dark stained wood. The place had no insulation and you could see the ground through some of the cracks in the wooden floor. (It could get really cold in the winter. There was one gas heater in the main room where we mostly hung out. On really cold days, I could see my breath when I was in my bedroom at the other end of the house.) Summers weren’t too bad. A huge oak tree next to the house provided much needed shade. We had a screened front porch and kept the doors and windows open all summer. A pasture surrounded the house, which provided a nice breeze most of the time. The only thing we dreaded was the yellow flies and horse flies. They appeared during certain parts of the summer and would eat you alive if you didn’t get from the car to the house fast enough. They didn’t bite… they chomped and it hurt!

    My worst summer was when I was going through my divorce. It was near the end of May when my husband moved out. Right afterwards, Tallahassee experienced a heat wave and the compressor in my AC died. At the time, I was only working part-time and couldn’t afford to get it fixed. I couldn’t get a city loan until I got the house put into my name (which didn’t happen until my divorce was finalized in late November). So, it was a loooooooong and hot summer! It was just my young daughter and I. The days of unlocked windows and screened porch latches and pastures were long gone. We did have fans that stirred the hot air. I tried using a window fan in the back of the house to draw out the hot air. (I thought I might hear any burglars if they tried to move the fan from the window to get in.) All we got was mildew. We cooked with a microwave only. Getting ready for work was the worst… my hot curler set hair would fall before I could spray it and get out the door to my air conditioned car to go to work.

    The good thing about living in Tallahassee is that we don’t have the gnats like they do in Gadsden County or the yellow and horse flies like there are near the forest! We do have skeeters! But, fortunately, they don’t like me as much as they used to!

    And, I really do appreciate air conditioning!

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  • Iris, I’m glad I wrote this post just for the chance to read your comment. I felt the heat rising off it it was so well written.

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  • craig reeder says:

    wow, Iris, that was some amazing story! it made me think of my hottest nite: when I was about 15 or so, my friend Lee and I rode our bikes into a mangrove swamp that had been planned for a housing development on Biscayne Bay but had been abandoned to the elements many years earlier. It was nearly impossible to get to, but we jerry-rigged some little bridges to get over the canals with our bikes. we camped on a sandy spot for the nite, by the edge of the bay, but when the mosquitoes came out, our only protection was to zip ourselves up tight in our sleeping bags………..in the middle of the hot, very humid summertime…….
    remind me not to do that again!

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  • Adrian, you can find a Tybee house fairly easily, but a Grandma Tony is a rare jewel indeed.

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    • I was afraid of that.

      I had a wonderful grandmother as well, she of the hospitality ironing board. Nana (when living in a small apartment) served an excellent buffet on her ironing board. A jaunty solution to lack of table space.

      Now that she is gone I’ll have to settle for the company of my fictional Nana, Nana Grace.

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  • It is now June 22 and the wife and I have still not turned on the air. We’ve got our back porch soaker tub filled with cold water and when we feel like it we go and take a dip. We’ll see how long we can last.
    Late some evenings we head down to the Eastpoint fishing pier bridge. It has been nice and breezy down there so far and we’ve been filling the freezer with fish too. I’ll keep you posted on the experiment.

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  • Hang tough Richard, we will too! Don’t blink.

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  • […] To see a post written during the doldrum days of summer click here. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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  • […] To experience the season we are really good at here in Florida please read Summer in full. Share […]

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  • […] Note: Here is an earlier report; summer 2011. […]

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