25 July 2006

Finally cooling down

Those who float mumbo-jumbo weather predictions are telling us wilting Left Coasters that today may be the last day of serious heat wave.

Let me be among the millions of sweaty ones to say “Hear, hear!”

I expected a long, hot summer. This is normal in California. Most people who live here do it because they love the bright sunshine and the heat, which makes them, inexplicably, feel good.

I am not among them. I live here because of family ties. After many years of living in the faraway, even putting the entire Atlantic Ocean and most of the landmass of Europe between me and sunny California, it was finally time to come home and be close enough to my aging parents to be a daughter again.

But let me tell you. When the thermometer hits 110 in the shade, this wee bird has her doubts about family loyalty. Like (insert plaintive whine) “Why can’t they come live near ME in some cooler part of the world?”

Up here in the mountains, the wren’s nest sweltered right along with the rest of the West (and, I hear, quite a lot of the East, South and Center). The little thermometer I have stuck on the refrigerator in the kitchen has been steady at 83 since last Wednesday, except in the wee hours of the night, when it drops down to the mid-70s. The outside thermometer, at one point, edged up over 106.

As you might have surmised, The Wrens do not have central air conditioning.
What we do have is a swamp cooler in the master bedroom window, a whole house fan that burned out its “high” setting last summer, ceiling fans and, here in my little den, a free-standing swamp cooler that I pour cool water into the back of. Frequently.

Swamp coolers, for the uninitiated among you, are low-tech evaporative coolers of the genius variety. A continuous supply of fresh, cold water fills a wide, inch-deep pan at the bottom of the machine, a pump forces the water up to the top of the boxy contraption, and then then it trickles down through a filter as a fan blows air through it. The water cools the air, which blows into the house. And the house stays cool, the air moist and healthy.

That’s the idea, anyway.

When the outside temperature stays below, oh, 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this little system works nicely. The cooler isn’t powerful enough to cool the entire house, but it makes a fair stab at it. Supplemented by its smaller, portable cousin in my den, the ceiling fans and then the whole house fan after the blazing sun sets, we stay pretty comfortable here in the summertime.

But holygod. When the outside temperature goes above 90, the hellish indoor heat we’d successfully held at bay wins the game. That poor old swamp cooler just can’t keep up. The water in the pan gets warm, then very warm. And the air that blows into the house is warm, too, though it’s still a couple of degrees cooler than the outside.

And if the power fails, we’re cooked.

So I’m very glad to know the Heat Wave of ’06 has broken, even as I remind myself that in Iraq, our soldiers are dealing with temperatures much higher than California dishes out. And the Iraqis are suffering terribly, with only a few hours of electricity a day, gasoline that requires maneuvering through a shooting gallery to obtain, and civil war all around them.

I’m having a hard time even thinking about what’s happening in Israel and, particularly, in Lebanon right now. That situation is pure evil.

I guess I have it pretty good.


Kevin Wolf said...

Heat and humidity rule hear in Boston-Salem. I think it may break late tomorrow after some thunderstorms but I can't seem to find a forecast that really addresses the humidity piece.

I just have fans. So far so good. Only one or two tough nights when it was really too warm.

Neddie said...

Bet that house fan's switch is busted -- a ten-minute fix. If it runs at Low and Medium, there's no reason it shouldn't run on High.

When we moved into our place in Lovettsville two summers ago, I was mystified by the house fan. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn't. Sometimes, click whirr ahhhh! Other times, click -- and nothing. Couldn't figure it out.

UNTIL.... This spring I happened to flip what I thought was a useless wall switch downstairs near the foyer. Click whirr ahhhh!

Can you believe that? Duh! Works as designed -- and actually is designed pretty well, so you can turn the fan on when you walk in the door!

I felt stupid! And not for the first time!