21 June 2006

Summer Solstice

Today is Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the first day of summer.

Appropriately, it was 98 degrees Fahrenheit down the mountain today; 93 by the savings-bank clock by the highway up here at home, which is not near high enough in the Sierras for me during the summer. Humidity is 11 percent (read “none”). For as far as the eye can see there isn’t a single cloud; the sky is the color of hot, skim milk.

A light, hot wind is blowing from the southeast. Wildfire weather. Early this morning I heard a helicopter fly over, fairly low in the sky. My first thought was to run outside and scan for a column of black smoke, rising beyond the trees, because in the summer around here helicopters are only flying around when there’s a fire to drop slings of water on.

I did trot out there in my jammies. No smoke. Maybe it was on its way to a fire to the north of us. Or maybe they were just practicing.

When I’m in my office at work, the heat outside is not an issue. The inside temperature stays around 72, sometimes creeping up to 74 or 75 as the sun hits mid-afternoon strength and beats down on the poorly insulated roof. By my desk in the corner, though, it’s about 65. I think there may be one of those weird vortexes right in that spot. Sometimes, I need a lap blanket, which I keep handy in the cabinet attached to the desk that the computer tower is supposed to go in, but which mine doesn’t, because the cables on Macs are too #@*$! short, so the tower takes up a good portion of desktop space, along with the police scanner, my radio/CD player, the phone, the flat screen monitor (there are SOME blessings) and stacks of incoming.

Here at home, we have no air conditioning. When they built our house in 1973, mountain folk didn’t bother with that newfangled stuff. But we have very good insulation in the attic and an attic fan, which switches on as soon as the temperature reaches explosive levels. So, at the moment, it’s an even 80 degrees in the kitchen (I’ve decided a bowl of ice cream should be just right for dinner tonight) and here in my little office, it’s hotter but just beginning to cool down because ...

... last summer, I broke down and bought myself a portable swamp cooler. I just fill the watering can with cool water from the tap, pour it into the back slot in the cooler and switch that baby on, the fan pointed at me.


This is vital because 1) I’m not an oldtimer who’s used to hot weather without benefit of AC and 2) I’m enough of an oldtimer that I’m entering my second summer of cronehood. That means at any given moment, my personal temperature can be as low as 95.6 or as high as 150 and rising, suddenly and without warning. I go through wet bras and T-shirts like babies go through diapers. I keep a $2 Japanese fan I bought last summer at a street fair handy so I can grab it and fan madly during a PPS, or Personal Power Surge. Sometimes I’m sure that it’s the only thing between me and spontaneous combustion.

Once the sun has dropped down below the western trees, the air does start cooling rather nicely at this elevation. At that point, we switch on the whole-house fan, which sucks the hot air out of the house, up into the attic and out the vents, and sucks in fresh, cooler air from the open windows. By 8 or 9 p.m., we generally achieve an indoor temp of 70.

I was never meant to be a native Californian. My parents got it wrong when they decided to settle down near Sacramento, because they doomed their firstborn child – a child meant for much, much cooler climes -- to a lifetime of summer doldrums. I can remember, as a toddler in Modesto (even hotter than Sacramento in the summer), laying in my bed with the rails still up, flopped on top of the covers like a beached fish, sweating, tossing the stuffed animals out because they were too warm.

I did my best to settle where the summers are cooler. I spent several years in the Pacific Northwest, and several more in Northern Germany. But family ties brought me back to California, and at least where I live now, it’s a little cooler than it is down-mountain.

If I could go anywhere for a summer vacation, I’d choose Australia or New Zealand, because it’s winter there right now. Nice and cool. Or maybe Antarctica. I can think of nothing more exhilarating than standing on the deck of an icebreaker in my parka and mittens, oohing-and-ahhing over the fabulous blues, purples and whites of the icebergs.

The forecast tomorrow is for 103 degrees in the valley. It’s gonna be a longggg summer.

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