It Is the Heat!
There are very few days of the year I turn on the air in my car for more than a minute or two, going up the dusty road on a hot day, keeping out most of the grit and cooling the piping just enough that a regular fan on cool will suffice for the short distance I am going.
Today I gave up, and after an initial glance to be sure I was not close to “E,” ignored the gas gauge falling as I moved along at a summer crawl with the air conditioning blasting. I’d bought milk, it could go bad in this heat!
This time of year I am often coming home after dark; there is no pavement around my house to hold the heat and it is on the worst days not cool but neither the oppressive heat of daytime in town. Today, in early afternoon, after a trip to the dump, another long dusty road where I can justify air on any hot day, then through the Mansion Beach parking lot just for kicks, I came home to an unaccustomed climate. Even in what I still call my barnyard, more grass than gravel, far, far removed from any pavement, the air was stagnant, with a weight that seemed to intensify gravity. It was as though I had travelled through some weird time and space continuum, the result of all that air-conditioning, and landed on another planet where everything was . . . off. I thought of a son of a long-time summer resident describing a section of the beach below the bluffs after the fall storms. It was like the moon, he said, the sand so thick it felt wrong underfoot.
The forecast is dreadful, bringing to mind a bad stretch in a winter more than ten years ago when single digit temperatures froze the ponds and freed the ice boaters, when I had only to get to Saturday, when it would break, and I could stop worrying about the pipes in my old cellar. They were fine until Friday afternoon when the whole intake froze, easily remedied with a hair dryer once I had recovered from my initial panic. The cold did break on Saturday.
It will break, also, this heat, they say, at the end of the week. The charts are not so optimistic it seems until I realize I am listening to Providence where the “feels like” temperature is eight degrees warmer than here and relief is what we are experiencing now. Without the humidity. Oddly, it does not look to be as hot as it was yesterday, or the day before, when records were broken, and I wonder if this is a cumulative reaction I am experiencing.
They continue to say it will get worse before it gets better and I finally recognize the pattern, the oh-my-god-we-are-all-going-to-die patter of fall hurricanes and winter blizzards and spring floods. They seem unable to work up the requisite interest or energy it is just too darn hot, even in the highly air-conditioned studios in the city. An insect with paper wings that buzzed noisily around the room last night is just hanging on the screen, the picture of lethargy.
I see the breeze in the pussy willow and shad at the edge of the backyard and even the curtain so near to me floating back and forth. The air should feel better, from the east it is passing though the shade cast by the house, from the west it comes through and under the canopy of leafy trees. Occasionally, I feel a bit of cool, which is undone by the exertion of typing a word on the page or, technically, screen.
There are always hot days in summer, I think of them coming a little later, the last full week in July and the start of August. They used to be haying days, crazily late in the season, as though through some whacky Puritan adherence to making work as hard as it could possibly be.
Even the egret is restless, first standing at the edge of the water willow, in a spot where I can see him through a gap in the bayberry, shifting his weight from one foot to another, trying to find air where there is none. He gives up and spreads his glorious wide wings and flies low across the field, perhaps forty feet from my window, close enough that I can easily tell the color of his bill and legs. He is surely looking for some respite, a shadier bower where brush has grown to trees at the rim of the pond.
It was a day I meant to start at the beach, but, once again, despite all the best intentions, down to my beach bum clothes, I did not get there. The earlier of two meetings — the one I usually manage to completely forget despite the fact it is always on the same day as one I always remember — intervened, and thus the day was lost. But for that last minute run to the dump aforementioned.
So it became a day to end at the beach, my poor Mansion Beach battling its way back to its post Sandy glory grain by grain. I have told people all summer I have never seen such damage but I also know that is in part because there was more there to be damaged, dunes higher than they had been in my lifetime sliced in two still left more than had been there in the aftermath of Hurricane Carol in 1954.
Some years it is more obvious than this, when sheets of sand borne on the wind move wraith-like down from the dunes, building back from the ravages of winter. I have watched it, dropping down behind tiny stones, like snow falling behind a wall where the wind does not blow, tiny comet tails that grow and merge and return the narrow winter beach to the wide summer shore.
It is almost there on this evening in mid-July, sandy but for a swath of stones, wide as it should be, the air a balm after an absurdly hot day.