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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life in the Desert

The desert Southwest where I live is experiencing a major heat wave, with temperatures in the high 90s to low 100s F (38-40 C). Arizona temperatures are even higher. Humidity has been as low as 4 percent. Wildfires are burning thousands of acres and destroying or threatening hundreds of homes and other structures.

I usually stay inside my air-conditioned house during the heat of the day, but yesterday I found myself sitting on the covered patio for half an hour or so with my dogs. The satellite television installer was working in the living room, so I wanted to keep my three dogs out of his way. I knew they wouldn't be happy being outside in the heat while I was inside, so I took a book and sat on the patio. There was a slight breeze, but there was no denying that it was HOT outside.

This reminded me of my childhood, living in a house with no air conditioning. Back then, very few places had air conditioning. On hot summer days in the Midwest, when humidity made the heat seem even more unbearable, we used oscillating, table-top fans to provide whatever cooling we could get. And it wasn't much, as the fans simply blew hot air across the room. I knew only one house that was air conditioned, a brick home that belonged to an elderly couple who were friends of the family. What a treat it was to go visit them on a hot summer day!

My grandparents' house wasn't air conditioned either, and I don't remember even having a fan. I do remember sweltering as I lay in bed at night. And I remember spending lazy summer days sitting in the shade of a big tree in their back yard. But my siblings and I were young, so we spent much of those hot, sticky days playing outside, tramping through the woods, riding horses with our cousins, and getting so hot we thought we would melt. My paternal grandmother lived in a big brick house that trapped the heat like a brick oven.
I also remember the taste of icy cold watermelon, a cold bottle of my favorite soft drink and the wonder of homemade ice cream. Somehow those treats made the hot days a bit more bearable.

And just think about the Native people who inhabited the southwestern desert long before the first Spaniards arrived, and about the white settlers who moved to this hot, dry, desolate land. They had no electric fans, swamp coolers or air conditioners to help them endure the blasting sun. They had no electric refrigerators or freezers to provide cool drinks or frozen ice cream treats. And the whites typically wore long sleeves and long pants or dresses. Imagine!

I think we in the early 21st century have it pretty good, with only brief forays out of the house or air-conditioned car. I think our ancestors were made of sturdier stuff than most of us are.