Outdoor Adventures: The heat of summer
Storms build on the western horizon, dark smudges that rise and glower; you can see them coming. Chill rides a north wind that rises even as the temperature drops; you can feel the cold coming on the breeze. Rain, the all-day rains, show up in a bright splotch on weather radar; you can follow the progress on TV or computer screen. But heat, the all encompassing heat we’ve been having, that heat comes in like a heavy fog but invisible to the eye, comes in without accompanying wind, does not show on radar or satellite. The heat of this week simply becomes a force in our lives and we never see it coming.
Heavy heat for this part of the world is when the temperature rises into the high 80s, nips at the south side of 90, then pushes past. Heat like that usually brings humidity. Heavy heat; we usually see it in August for a few days then gone. This year we have it a full 30 days early and come to spend the week, a guest that overstays its welcome and becomes burdensome in its mere presence. People who welcomed the heat early in the week were not as peppy by week’s end. Heavy heat is like that; it does not hold its appeal for long. That is, of course, unless you choose to live in the heat baskets of the country, the low desert and the muggy lowlands. Heat here is not the norm, not like we had it this week.
A few days ago I took a call; wrong number. It was someone looking for tech support for his computer who, perhaps in the numbing frustration that comes when electronics balk at simple instructions, had mis-dialed. I had, for a fleeting moment, the temptation to play along, to put on the act, pretend I was tech support and hand out some bogus information. It was only a passing thought, and I fessed up to not being tech support and having no knowledge at all that might be helpful. But as I do with the occasional wrong numbers that I get, I asked him where he was calling from: Wyoming.
So we chatted, the guy from Wyoming and I, about what a pain it is when computers fail and tech support seems out to lunch (he’d already been on the phone for an hour and a half.) I asked how the weather was and he groaned and said it was 95, and I told him that sounded ugly. He agreed. We ended with him saying, “We’re sending it your way!”
He did, the Wyoming guy, sent the heat our way, and now it became ours to deal with. When it hit us early this week, it came in without fanfare, without bluff and bluster and winds or cloud. It just arrived and settled in. Afternoon sun took on new power; evenings offered up scant relief and mornings, while pleasant, held the feel of heat to come.
Heat like that is a burden that weighs one down. Heat, heavy heat dripping with humidity, like that has a weight to it as an overloaded backpack has weight. To live in heat is to carry the extra weight as you would with a pack on your back. You can do it for a while but it simply wears you down if you give it enough time. That was the weight of the heat this week. The heat this week was a pack on your shoulders, it was winter-weight wool worn in July, it was a heavy fog that reached into every corner of every house, heat that worked its way under shade of tree and open field and lakeshore all. It was heat that one could not avoid, could not run from.
Say what you will about cold, about real cold, the minus teens and minus twenties; cold is easy. With cold you add an extra layer or two of clothing or just hunker down close to the hearth. Heat you can’t do that with. You can be at skin only and the heat will get to you. You can embrace a puny window air conditioner unit and be tethered there as if on a chain. Cold is easy; heat is another story altogether.
Daybreak on the 4th held mid-day warmth and heavy air. I rode a bike, a two decades-old model that I take out on occasion, if for no other reason than to see how far bicycle design has come. I headed for the backroads where shade can bring comfort but on this morning held little relief. Still a bicycle on a hot summer day is not a bad place to be, with the breeze in your face and a bottle full of water close at hand.
The heat was building even then, and the horizon was indistinct in a haze of heat. There was no sharply defined edge to treeline and skyline; the haze blurred it all as if there was a fog or a low-lying cloud. In places I could see the road unspooled in front of me and at the distant end of the ribbon of blacktop the road seemed to lose definition and become more vapor than blacktop.
In mid afternoon at lakeshore boats and jet skis drove in endless loops in splash and spray of water towing screaming youngsters and wobbly-legged skiers. We sought shade under tree cover and reveled in the sweet but too-infrequent touch of an afternoon breeze. We talked of July 4ths now long gone, on cold days on the Fourth, of watching the parade in heavy sweaters, the fireworks in down jackets to fight the chill. Those were the cold exceptions to the rule of temperature; this year was the exception to the other extreme.
There are those who say that in a few months we will look back on days as this with a fondness, that as winter winds blow and snow piles up we will long for these hot summer days. They may well be correct. They may be prescient in their ability to predict future feelings. I’m not so certain.
I can deal with the heat; most of us can. I can ride a bicycle in some comfort and work as I need to and find relief from the heat. But it wears on you. It drags you down after a few days of it when you toss and turn in restless sleep and feel your patience wane and irritation at small things grow. The heavy heat does that, it drags you down, and for that I do not think that I will long for it come days of cold and snow.
For now we have it, that heat of summer. We carry it as a burden to be borne, a heavy load to be lifted and carried. And know even as the temperature rises toward afternoon peaks, that the days of the heat are numbered and this too shall pass, as passes summer storms and summer heat.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander; call (715) 362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNOW.com.