Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Particular Season

Up until a few days ago, this was one of the most pleasant Kansas summers I recall. Warm to the point of hot, but not unrelenting. Frequent lavish rains have encouraged luxuriant growth of weeds and trees, and cool nights have kept the potato plants growing and the pasture green much later in the year than usual.

Now the season is changing to one unique to this bioregion, a season somehow more than ordinary summer: a season called August.

It's hot: the intense, draining, relentless heat that characterizes Kansas between mid-July and mid-September.

It's windy: a firm south wind pressing the hot air against me like an invisible wool sweater.

It's humid: the heat and wind pulling the water from soil, plant and puddle, racheting up the humidity, making it seem hotter--the humid wind can't hold any more water so the sweat runs down my body without cooling me in the least.

And my middle-aged body, in its own shifting of seasons, forges an internal heat most triggered by just such external conditions as make said internal heat most unpleasant.

This is the time of year to sit by the fire and spin--oh, I mean sit in the shade and spin. Winter, which most folk think of as my season of rest, is too cool for sitting still. Spinning is a quiet, low-energy occupation--mesmerizing, an easy way of passing time while expending a minimum of physical effort. And in past years, when I've been just farming, I've had the freedom to lurk in the shade during the heat of August days, engaging in slow activities like spinning, knitting, reading, chatting with friends or grandchildren, even napping. That languid summer pace is what allowed so many generations to survive pre-air-conditioning, in the days of long-sleeved, long-skirted dresses for ladies and suits for gentlemen.

But now, by virtue of my full-time off-farm job, I'm subject to the relentless busy-ness of the workaday world. No wonder so many people feel air conditioning is a necessity! Modern life is a tyrant, forcing people into the same daily routines in every season, rather than allowing us to fit our work to each day as God creates it for us. The farm provides work for all weather: quiet tasks for a shady bench in the heat, indoor work for rainy weather, vigorous chores for chilly mornings. In the long run there is a fit season for everything that needs to be done.

Considering my season of life, and my yoking to the workaday world, and Emily's desire (which I can't bear to discourage) to bake bread and simmer potroasts, I gracefully relented to the needs of this particular season. Yesterday I installed the window air conditioner that was purchased several years ago to make afternoon quiet times more comfortable for my grandchildren when they visited the farm from air-conditioned homes. The small unit brings the room its in down to about 80 degrees, and with fans the rest of the house is kept nicely below 90. That doesn't sound terribly cool, but the day was barely under 100. And the dehumidifying effect of the AC works wonders for the human body's own cooling ability.

At the same time, the AC unit blocks my view of the farm from my writing table (table is slated to be relocated to another room soon). AC encourages me to stay inside more, and do less work on the farm...so often it's hotter in my imagination of the outside than it would really feel if I went out there. It's noisy, and I don't hear the cicadas or the roosters or restless hens. Disaster could befall the farm, and I'd never know. It consumes expensive non-renewable energy resources. It's terribly inconsistent with my values and goals, in terms of ecology, environmental and economic justice issues.

But for this season of my life, the season of hot flashes and working full-time off the farm and renovating the house and rebuilding farm infrastructure and housemate adapting to a new way of life, it seems a reasonable concession.

The particular grace of not having central AC is that next year will be another year, and next year's decision about bringing the window unit out of storage will belong to some particular day next year, in the fullness of time, when there is a sudden knowing that the season of August has begun. And how that particular season is to be met will be decided then: a decision informed by, but not dependent on, yesterday's decision.

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