Hot Hot Hot

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It’s hot as hell: August in my beloved American South. August is the hottest month here, even though fall comes just next month.

The cicadas buzz, a sound that rises and falls and disappears. I love to hear it at night. Days are sticky and brutal, even here in the mountains where it’s decidedly cooler than lower areas. Just about the best thing about mountain life is the way that the air cools down in the evenings. In Charlotte, NC — a flat, piedmont part of the state where I lived for almost a decade — hot nights were a summer curse. I remember waking one night with insomnia and wandering out into a nightmare Southern world of heat and humidity under a full moon.

Here in the mountainous western part of the state August is as merciless as it gets, with 94-degree daytime highs and nights of a sticky but bearable 70 degrees. I don’t have AC and don’t want it; I don’t like how it feels dry and unnatural, too much of a change from outside. There are some places where AC is required for human operation, but for me, western North Carolina is not one of them. I face summer like a Southerner, with sunscreen, river trips, ceiling fans and clothing-optional bedtimes. (And indeed, are any of these bad things? I say no.) Born in Harrisburg Pennsylvania to a Pennsylvanian mother and a father from Maryland, I am no native. But I have gone native.

And damn it’s hot here.

I went to the Edible Park with Rowan yesterday, who brought her new 10-month-old puppy, Sullivan, a pit/Boxer/lab mix. He’s an incredibly amiable and chilled-out young dog who lives to nap and give kisses. After church we were dreaming of grape tomatoes and ripe black mulberries, so we walked to the park in the middle of the hazy and kudzu-choked summer afternoon.

We passed only one person on the way there, in a neighborhood that’s usually a busy human anthill of women in shorts and curlers, men smoking and fixing their cars, small herds of kids on bikes. We hit the grape tomatoes like two big pink locusts, taking every last one that was ripe, digging in the vegetation like hungry raccoons. Delicious. Then we walked to the mulberry tree, which didn’t have many ripe fruits. I got 3 or 4, black and juicy and wonderfully sweet.

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Rowan hung back with Sullivan, which isn’t like her.

By the time we got to the bike bridge Rowan was growing quiet, turning pale with a blotchy face. Not everyone does as well in the heat as I do, and even I was growing uncomfortable. As we stood in the kudzu shade under the bike bridge, all at once we suddenly realized how hot and still and quiet it was. And that hardly another soul was stirring but us. On a Sunday in summer. “Let’s head back,” I said.

Going back home it finally sunk in that it was about 88 degrees out, and by rights we should be lolling indoors like everyone else in the neighborhood. Sullivan, rather comically, kept flopping rather amiably into every patch of shade we passed, refusing to rise, just panting and grinning until Rose finally dragged him to his feet, promising him that soon we’d be home in the air conditioning.

We made it home gasping and damp. Rowan switched on her wall-unit AC and ran right for the bathroom, returning with two cool cloths. We fixed ice water, put Sullivan in front of his water dish and flopped on the couch, slick with sweat and delighting in the delicious feel of the AC. Sullivan collapsed in a corner on his side, licked the wall three times, and laid there panting.

He must have panted for five minutes or more, worrying the fire out of me. If you called his name he’d wag his tail and look up at you, but he wouldn’t stop panting. I finally got up to put my cool cloth on him. Rowan took the cloth from my hand and wiped Sullivan down with it as he lay on the cool of the hardwood floor. He slapped the floor with his wagging tail and quit panting.

Then I went home. Funny how you can live here all your life and forget that August in the middle of the day is really not the time for a park outing.

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