Friday, May 27, 2016

Hot and cold

The most difficult part of living in the north country isn’t the cold. Rather, it’s the heat—which comes on like a bomb before one’s body can acclimate.

For three-quarters of the year, it’s cool here, and one of those quarters is usually cold. I’m no fan of days that don’t get above freezing, or nights that drop to twenty-five below zero, but at least when it’s cold you can keep adding clothes when outdoors, and another log to the fire when indoors (or just turn up the thermostat for you oil, propane, or electric folks).

When it’s hot, however, you can’t take off your skin. It’s hard to justify central air conditioning in a cool-for-three-quarters-of-the-year environment when you’re self-employed with restricted cash flow. And it’s socially unacceptable outside the home to do the next best thing and take off all your clothes. (Naked isn’t a desirable option, anyway, because by the time the air gets warm enough that you want to, the bugs are out—and a lot of them bite.)

Hot and cold, of course, are relative conditions. For my body, 35 to 45 degrees (Fahrenheit), on a sunny day, is the best temperature range for outdoor labor. It’s cool enough to keep your skin covered against cutting and bruising, but warm enough that you can remove layers once your blood gets churning. Depending on what you’re doing, you might even work up a sweat and peel down to a T-shirt. Not so if you’re just standing around, or working with cold items bare-handed, or if it’s wet or there’s a stiff breeze.

45 to 60 is the best range for light recreational activities, and work like gardening. The plants may disagree about that temperature range, but it lets you move comfortably in lightweight long sleeves and pants for skin protection, or T-shirt and shorts if you don’t mind dinging your forearms and shins. Bugs are less pernicious at this range, as well.

60 to 70—tops—is my comfort range for short clothing or none at all, just as this is the preferred temperature range for most people indoors during winter. Higher temps than these usually come with humidity, and that’s when my energy gets sapped. Over 80 and I can barely move. Over 90 and I’m semicomatose. Tough to stay productive in that condition!

People in southerly climes might wonder why this is a problem. It’s because we don’t get a chance to ease upward gradually. We acclimate to the norm of cool and getting colder. Come springtime, however, temperatures spike and rollercoaster, sometimes ranging 50 or even 70 degrees in a single day. After months of consistent teens through 40s or 50s (woo-hoo! Heat wave!), suddenly there’s a gorgeous day of 62 and you can fling open the windows and roll up your sleeves. But overnight might bring a killing frost, followed by three wet days in the 40s. Then another pop up to, say, 54. Then 71. Then down again. Up again. Down, up, down, up, down—and suddenly it’s 88, sunny, and humid for almost a week. At that, most of us northerners topple like trees!

While we’re going down, plant life is thrusting up at a rate that’s almost scary. Growth and reproduction have to happen in a short window, so sometimes it feels like we’re watching a fast-forwarded film. Unlesslawn mowing is your favorite recreation, it’s impossible to keep up with the grass growth. And weeds in the garden. Until July, when suddenly everything shuts off then reverses, like that strange suspension in water when the tide changes.

For now, however, entering Memorial Day weekend—the official launch of summer, calendar be damned—it’s freaking hot and we’re praying for a thunderstorm to cool things off again.