When it gets warm like this, I can still see in my mind's eye my mother working in her gardens on Pine Street early in the morning before the sun's rays ever reached her.
I also remember the days after we took over the Pine Street gardens. We would exhaust ourselves by doing a day's worth of labor before 9 AM.
Having grown up in North Carolina, heat in the summer plays almost no part in memories of my youth even though we did not have air conditioning in our home until I was a teenager.
Working around heat is part of the rhythm of the South. Life outside in the summer happens before the heat of the day and when the sun loses its power in the afternoon. At least it does for those of us who still venture beyond the air conditioning.
At the peak of the summer sometimes even those strategies of working early or late fail us. When the heat penetrates the ground and warms the water around us, there is little hope of relief unless a powerful weather system somewhere in the world pushes some cooling air down from Canada.
And so for the first time this year of 2014, as we begin the second week of July, the heat here on the Southern Outer Banks has us on the run. On July 8, the temperature in the evening seems stuck near 80F. From 8 PM until 8 AM, the temperature will only fall to 78F before bouncing right back to 80F not long after the sun comes up.
There is no real surprise in this. It is a pattern we always see for a few weeks during the summer. I went out in our skiff early Sunday morning, July 7. During the trip I measured the water temperature at 78.1 F. Later in the day, I made another trip out and found the water temperature to be over 82F. With water that warm, any hope of us cooling soon is pretty remote.
With little or no cooling, mowing the yard gives you membership in the fraternity of true Southerners. Still we are fortunate. Unlike some places we have lived, we do usually have a breeze here on the coast. In Columbia, Maryland, it was hot and the breezes could not penetrate the thick canopy of trees.
On July 8, 2014, we were pretty close to 90 Fahrenheit along the White Oak River near the beaches of Emerald Isle. It was hot but we got a reamkable breeze with winds gusting almost to 30 MPH. Still I thought my feet were going to cook when I slipped on my crocs that had been drying in the driveway. You have to be careful what you leave in the sun during the peak of summer. One of the first things we do every morning is open the windows on my car which does not have a place in the garage.
People thinking about moving here sometimes believe the humidity will kill them. The ones that worry the most often run as qucikly as possible from one air conditioned environment to another. Living in a cold air conditioned home makes it hard to survive outside. We set our downstairs heat pump to 82F and keep the upstairs one at 78F. Otherwise coming inside feels like a visit to a meat locker. You actually do get used to the heat and gives us the ability to have some remarkable luck growing things.
When we were kids in the fifies, heat would drive us from our homes to the pool in the morning and we would stay until we were thrown out. In a certain respect heat was a social thing. The heat pushed us away from unairconditioned homes. We met in groups by shade trees, along the edge of public pools, or high in the mountains along the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Time and the heat pump have changed things in the South. Rarely do people gather under shade trees or by the edge of the pool as you can see from the picture at the top of the post.
Still we have some cards up our sleeve in the challenge of surviving summer's hottest weather. Since we live near the ocean, we can always count on getting away from the humidity and heat by taking a dip in the ocean. Sometimes a fast boat ride can also cool you down.
The heat and humidity are not all bad. Since so many people live in their bunkers, it is easy to pick a warm night to enjoy a dip in the pool. There is nothing better than hearing palms rattling in the wind and feeling the warm embrace of the warm waters of the neighborhood pool as the moon shines down on you and the pool lights flicker in the waves.
Heat might scare potential residents of the South, but it just makes most of us who live here appreciate fall even more.