Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hot Cold

Early September the temperature drops ten degrees from the summer's unbroken triple digits, falling down with scorched leaves. The feeling of winter coming on, when stars look brighter and sounds carry further in cold air. Early sunsets, less light in a day. In January, twenty-five degrees for five days, snow on the garden greens. When the weather is perfect, it is only shifting from one extreme to the other, a little window stuffed with feelings of anticipation for spring’s seedburst or the cozy melancholy of long winter nights.

We have been ricocheting between ever warmer summers and colder winters. This summer with the water blackouts the ground cracked open like it did in the middle of last winter's long freeze. The cracks are wide enough to shove down hay and manure. The ponds freeze six inches thick, goldfish and gambusia hibernating beneath the ice. Fleas and mosquitoes vanish. We weatherproof the chicken and bunny coop with shower curtains and heat lamps. In the summer a standing fan circulates the hot, stagnant air.

Sometimes we burn chopped up fallen branches in the chimenea, more for atmosphere than warmth. Compost heaps radiate free heat, warm enough to keep seedlings happy if you set them on top in the spring and rig up a plastic cover.* On hot days you can make a simple evaporative cooler by sticking your feet in a bucket of water. Wear as little clothes as possible.

We used to run an A/C that cooled the bedroom while shooting hot air at the pond. On the hottest stretch of days the A/C became useless with electricity blackouts. The big ice storm last winter knocked out the power but we still had water and gas. People are learning to conserve water and electricity not only because they got too expensive, but because they become unavailable to most for days at a time in peak use weeks. The cold isn’t bad because we have surprisingly cheap gas, but there’s not much you can do about summer heat.

Which is more inescapable and miserable, extreme cold or heat? Conditioned by air conditioners and heaters, bodies sweat and shiver outside. So vulnerable without our coolers and heaters, not to mention clothes. We get heat stroke, or body heat wicks off into freezing air. What are bodies, what is life, but this fragile balance of heat and cold?


* Gene Logsdon details his sheep manure heater for seedlings in Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing [2010], 132-133). "I keep wondering, nevertheless, if I am taking as much advantage of this free heat as I should. Red Cat Farm in Germansville, Pennsylvania, is testing an idea to use that heat in one of its greenhouses." 

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