satsfc (3).gif July 17 PMrad_ne_640x480.jpg July 17, 2013


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.


3 thoughts on “HEAT LIGHTNING

  1. I love your storytelling, Caleb, always a joy to read. Sorry about the heat. I can sympathize, sort of, we try to run our ACs as little as possible, but it is frequently over 100 degrees at 10 o’clock at night here and it’s just uncomfortable without it running… all… of… the… time… or so says my electric bill. Your childcare farm sounds better than any I’ve ever heard of. My kids would be begging to go to childcare so they could squeeze in a little fishing.

    • One reason I like to check out your blog is to see how the other half lives. Often your low temperatures are well above our high temperatures.

      What are your dew points like? I’ve heard it is not as dry in Phoenix as it once was, due to irrigation.

      Yesterday I was discussing the 1988 heat wave over at the WeatherBELL forum, and a guy who worked on roofs and gutters when young said that in Minneapolis, Minnesota they had dew points over 80 in 1988. Now, that’s humid!

      I lived on the coast of South Carolina one summer, and during the night a land breeze would bring the muggy air from inland over the beach. By dawn the dew points were up in the high 70’s. My job was delivering furniture, and I recall arriving at work, moving a lawn chair that weighed barely five pounds to a patio display in front of the store, and seeing my T shirt dotted with sweat from every pore. However then the sea breeze (assisted by the general Easterlies,) would kick in, and life was better.

      However the odd thing about that was that the ocean breeze held so much salt. I left a pair of hair-cutting scissors on a window sill during a rainless week, and they were corroded so badly I couldn’t open them. My car also suffered. It was worse than road salt, as the salty air got everywhere.

      It goes to show you that every place has its shortcomings. In New England it is the long, long winters, so even when it gets very hot in the summer, I get a secret enjoyment out of sweating. In the end, there’s no place like home.

      • Our dew points right now are a lot higher than normal, and by that I mean like 55 degrees. During monsoon season they can jump up a lot. After a brief rain shower it can be REALLY high because the ground, air, and sun are so hot that all the water that just hit the ground is now evaporating at an amazing rate.

        Winters are really nice though. Most days are in the seventies a few days down in the fifties. It can get cold (for us) at night. It was down in the teens this last winter for several nights.

        The main thing that has changed here (I’m not sure about humidity) is the heat island effect. I can really see it during monsoon season. Storms will charge up to Phoenix and suddenly get pushed off or pushed up or even just dried up. It used to be that the desert would feel pretty cool at night after some really hot days, but now the concrete and asphalt just holds the heat. That’s why it can be 100 degrees at midnight.

        I can’t say that the desert really feels like home. My house feels like home, but I’d be fine if that was a place that had a lot more green and a lot more water. 🙂

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