It is after ten at night, with temperatures up over eighty and dew points over seventy. We seldom get this sort of tropical heat, and I am too frugal to part with the cash for an air conditioner if I’m only going to use it perhaps ten times a year. That seems like a bad decision, tonight.
I was looking at old records and pictures, curious about what people did back before they had air conditioning, during the heat waves of the 1930’s, and stumbled upon pictures of people sleeping outside in city parks, and on fire escapes. Also apparently a lot of old people died. The heat-related death toll was in the thousands.
As a boy in the 1950’s I lived in a big, old, rambling Victorian house down in Massachusetts, where on average it’s ten degrees hotter than these hills. My bedroom was up on the third floor, and I can remember laying in bed and simply sweltering. My father had installed an enormous fan which sounded like it must have been a surplus engine from some World War Two bomber, but it didn’t do much but stir the heat, so I would go sit by the window, yawning with boyish insomnia and yearning for thunder. Often I could see heat lightning far away.
This drew me out onto the front porch tonight, and sure enough, though there were stars overhead I could see heat lightning to the northeast. There’s a bit of a ruckus going on up in Maine tonight, perhaps related to that back door cool front that nudged in up there this morning, before being driven back north.
Glancing at the weather map I can see that whoever drew the map got a bit carried away, creating a trough (the orange dashed line) down the east coast, and formulating seven lows and six highs out of the most minor variations of pressure. The guy was probably bored, but these lulls are interesting in their own way, and you can see minor things occurring that usually are washed out by bigger weather features. And that’s how you learn, by actually studying what is actually happening.
I was in no mood to go out into the heat today, but the older boys pleaded and, when they wouldn’t relent even after I made what seemed to me to be some darn fine arguments for staying in the shade, I sighed and took them, along with two girls who decided to join in at the last minute.
As usual, all six children carted along much more than they needed, and then I wound up carrying half of it. My own philosophy is to travel light. If I’m only going out for a few hours, I’d rather guzzle water before I go, than carry a canteen. However I wound up carrying several water bottles, (that the children never asked for,) in my back-pack, which also holds stuff the State thinks makes fishing better, such as paperwork, home-phone-numbers, first aid kits, and that wonderful destroyer of tranquility and peace, the cell phone. With temperatures over ninety, the sweat was beading on my brow after fifty yards, and I was muttering to myself about the foolishness of making promises.
However a promise is a promise, and back before the current heat wave appeared in the forecast I’d told them I’d take them “out onto the peninsula,” which is a narrow neck of land that juts into the small flood control reservoir, (which is more like a large pond than a small lake.) As we reached the top of the dam and looked that way I could see someone had adjusted the rate of flow out of the reservoir, and the water was four feet higher despite the lack of rain. This complicated matters, for rather than a hike over spongy marsh turf it was going to be a sloshing slog through water that would be knee deep.
One of the boys has a thing about what might be in the marsh grass, and shudders at the thought of leeches, and there actually are some sort of bugs that occasionally bite like a deer fly, under that water. And wouldn’t you just know it, the smallest boy got bit right away, and wouldn’t take another step until I removed his shoe and showed him there wasn’t even a mark. Then he was fine, as he’s a plucky little fellow, and went sloshing onwards, however the older, more squeamish boy decided to take a higher and drier route, through a thicket of jabbing branches and thorns and prickly juniper, with one of the girls, and she lost her balance and sat backwards into a snarl of pickles, and couldn’t figure out how to remove herself from that uncomfortable armchair, so I had to go extract her.
This is quite usual for our fishing trips, and is followed by a long period of time where I untangle lines. Often at least one child states, “This is the worst day of my life,” and today it was the turn of the squeamish boy, because there was very little dry land to fish from. The odd thing was that he was the boy most adamant that we shouldn’t skip fishing and just sit in the shade of a tree, back at the beginning.
All was redeemed by how amazingly cool it was, right on the water. Despite the small size of the pond, it cooled the breeze coming across the water by what felt like ten degrees. Also it helped that the bass were biting. The squeamish boy happens to be an amazingly good bass fisherman, especially when you consider the fact he is only seven. He set his jaw and began methodically casting out a rubber worm, swiftly landed a three quarter pound bass, turned to me, and said, “Can we go back now?” I told him he had to let me get at least one cast in, and jokingly complained that he always stood right next to me and caught the bass I was suppose to catch.
Meanwhile the two girls decided wading sounded like more fun, and waded out on the opposite side of the peninsula and sat down with the water up to their shoulders, utterly unconcerned about creepy, crawling things, or even a monstrous snapping turtle one of the boys claimed he saw poke its head up just beyond them. (We’ve had the water tested several times, and despite the marshy nature of the pond it is purportedly clean enough to drink, though I won’t let the kids drink it due to private concerns I have about beaver fever.) The girls looked like a couple of small, tanned sirens, chatting and laughing and singing, as the boys fished. The boys wanted to keep every catch, even the smallest sunfish, and to have me clean them and fry them, but I said it wasn’t fish-fry-Friday, and all were released.
Then came the inevitable cell phone call. The parent of the squeamish boy had arrived early, and was waiting in the heat back at the Childcare center. As we left the reservoir it was like walking up into a wall of heat. They all wilted, and I took pity and carried half the junk. However the squeamish boy perked right up when he saw his Dad, and proudly announced, “I caught Mr. Shaw’s bass before he could get it!”
The Dad shook his head, smiled, and said, “It is the darnedest thing; he does the same thing with me.”
So there are things to do, besides sit in shade, during a heat wave, which is a nice thing to remember as you sit on a dark front stoop, listening to crickets and watching distant heat lightning flash silhouettes on the heated horizon.