All day I’ve faced a barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water
Cool, clear, water
Two-a-day football practice in August in Oklahoma could be pretty bad. Even the mornings were hot, and the late day practice was nearly insufferable. Watson, at six-four and 250 lbs, came in after practice red-faced and sweating heavily. He stripped, walked into the showers and turned it on full cold. He stood under the stream, letting it run over his head and down his body and groaned with pleasure, then toppled over like a felled tree. He had forgotten the instructions to cool down slowly, and for a few days the knot on his head served as a reminder to us all.
Heat has been a theme in my life – Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia where the heat and humidity ensure you are always wet and uncomfortable; Arizona known for that ‘dry’ heat that sucks the sweat out of you before it even wets your skin (they say “it’s not the heat…” but they’re wrong); and Colorado, where “it isn’t really supposed to be this hot.”
I’ve spent large portions of my life trying different ways to escape the heat. Growing up I learned the enticement of “sweet tea”, a big glass full of ice and tea with the sugar dissolved into it when it was brewed. Lemons optional. We also survived summers on watermelon, cooled in a tub full of ice and water and sliced up on a picnic table in the shade; eaten shirtless with juice running down our arms and chest and spitting seeds on the lawn and at each other. In the Arizona desert, I frequently stopped at a trading post for my favorite hot weather lunch, a Zero candy bar and an ice-cold strawberry soda. That burst of sugar carried me through the afternoon heat.
There’s a scene in a movie with Steve McQueen where he rides into town out of the desert, buys a can of peaches and drinks the liquid while sitting on the store steps. Having done the same thing on a pickup tailgate in the shade after a morning dove hunt, and I can affirm its wonderfulness.
In the Middle East, I learned that the way the locals beat the heat was to drink strong, hot, black coffee. It made you sweat (as though you needed help) and the sweat cooled you off. I’m pretty sure the first part of the formula worked, but I’m not sure I ever cooled off over there.
I’ve learned the value of shade in combating heat. It’s pretty primal; the Anasazi found recesses carved by the wind in the sandstone cliffs, and built their stone houses in them. They situated them where the high summer sun cast shade, but the low winter sun shone in. Thus the houses would stay at a moderate temperature all year. My grandmother’s house had a similar design with a wrap-around porch that took similar advantage of the sun’s angles and provided a great place to wait out the day’s heat. Somehow contemporary architects seem to miss this point, and porches on modern homes became mere ornaments, just a place for the newspaper to be thrown.
In spite of the humidity, we ran a swamp cooler and fans where I grew up. Maybe “refrigerated” air was not scaled to normal residences back then, but stores used to advertise the fact and it served to bring us in. I remember Saturday afternoon movies could be so cold we regretted our T-shirts and shorts before the first feature was over.
The cooling effect of even a little humidity draws us to streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. The contrast between the hot sand that can burn your feet and the seemingly freezing water makes even dabbling your toes in it a thrill. On Lake Havasu in Arizona in August, people had erected tents and shades where we lay on lawn chairs in the heat of the day. Periodically, one of the young’uns was ordered to put on sandals and dispatched to the lake with a bucket. They returned and poured the water across the shaded sand. The effect was an immediate drop in temperature that slowly subsided as the water evaporated.
Similarly, we tubed the Salt River below Roosevelt Dam one summer and the incongruity of the ice cold water and the surrounding desert full of cactus added to the charm. Once in, your body gradually adapted to the intense cold until you had to get on shore to avoid shivering. In the cold zone over and adjacent to the water, you could adjust your body temperature by moving a foot or two towards or away from the river. Once you warmed back to normal and began to grow hot, you had to be careful returning to the river too quickly. Ring fingers swollen in the heat could shrink instantaneously, allowing your rings to slide off your finger and away. Luckily, on our trip, both of us were able to recover our rings, since they sank straight to the bottom of the clear water.
It’s like going to Texas in August. If you’re outside, you need to wear as little as possible, but inside, it’s kept to about 50 degrees and you really do need that fur coat that those “Dallas women” wear.
Heat makes you sweat, and sweating is how your body cools down. But sweating is considered uncivilized. We created deodorant so we didn’t have to smell sweat, and then antiperspirant to keep us from seeing it, even though both are natural functions of the human body. I envision a future where the widespread use of antiperspirants has changed how humans sweat. Maybe we will sweat like dogs, through saliva and drooling, or through our scalp, feet, palms or nostrils like other animals.
That will make an interesting challenge for the antiperspirant industry, though. Not to mention personal interactions.