You Keep Winter -- Most of the Time


Just before the temperatures really got hot two weeks ago, I noticed a squirrel lying prostrate on my front lawn.

Thinking it was dead, I strolled up to the little animal.

As I got within about 10 feet of it, the squirrel looked up, gave a quick shake of its tail and sprinted for the nearest tree.

Since that morning, I have noticed several other squirrels doing the same thing.

Last week, I really began to sympathize with those little critters. The extraordinary heat was driving me crazy, too. I began entertaining strange thoughts -- like wishing it were winter.

Unlike a colleague of mine who in all other matters is very sensible but adores the cold and longs for winter, I detest it. We often engage in meaningless discussions about which season is more dreadful. I have yet to convince her that winter is the worst season of the year.

Of course, she had yet to convince me that she was right and I was wrong.

At least that was true until last week, more specifically July 15. I will long remember that infamous Saturday.

I have lived and traveled in places renowned for their hot climates. Most of them are closer to the equator than Maryland. I even lived through a 106-degree day in Las Vegas two summers ago, but I can't remember being more uncomfortable than I was last Saturday.

In the morning, my wife and I decided to run a few errands.

Big mistake. Just walking 15 yards from the splendor of our tree-shaded, air-conditioned house to the car was enough to send my sweat glands into overdrive.

By the time I opened the car door, took the anti-theft device off the steering wheel and started up the engine, I was bathed in perspiration. Beads of sweat were collecting on my neck and pouring down my back. My palms were so soaked with perspiration I had to wipe them on my pants before taking the steering wheel.

I had about 15 minutes of relief before we arrived at our destination -- a garden shop. Our errand for the morning was to buy new concrete planters for the front steps.

As I got out of the car, the heat assaulted me. I could feel the waves radiating from the asphalt parking lot and the hundreds of concrete and clay planters scattered around the outdoor garden.

Since it was midday, each one of them had been baking in the sun for several hours. I lifted one pot up to see if the price was written on the bottom, and my fingertips burned. The pot felt as if it had just come out of oven.

I didn't see one bit of shade. The bright sky and extremely high temperatures committed assault on the eyes. I recalled the passage in Albert Camus' "The Stranger," when the narrator describes the blinding light and heat of Algiers that put him into a swoon after the death of his mother.

Although I was still standing, I felt like a boxer who had taken too many punches.

The air-conditioned interior of the sales shop beckoned. My wife, smart woman that she is, had already retreated into the cool confines of the store, ostensibly to use the bathroom. I quickly followed.

Rather than pick through the thousands of pots and planters in the outdoor sales yard, I decided that we would describe what we wanted to the sales clerk and see if she could locate a suitable planter.

As soon as I began my explanation, I noticed she looked drenched. She must have noticed I was gaping at her clothes. "Don't mind me," she said, "I just squirted myself with a hose."

Even though I had not been near a hose, I was soaking.

As hot and uncomfortable as the jaunt to the garden store, I was nevertheless unprepared for what happened that evening.

My wife and I had been invited to a neighborhood dinner party. Since it was summer, hosts set up the tables in the garden, which resembles a forest glen.

By the time we arrived, the sun had mercifully retreated to the west and the entire garden was shaded.

I was wearing a freshly laundered, loose-fitting polo shirt and cotton pants, clothes that supposedly keep one cool in hot weather.

Everything looked lovely. Hors d'oeuvres were laid out on tables and tubs contained bottles of beer and soda. All the other guests looked fresh and crisp in their summer clothing.

I grabbed a beer and began to mingle as folks do at these kinds of affairs. Within 15 minutes, I noticed a line of sweat forming around neck of my shirt. My back was feeling clammy.

I finished my beer and went to the tub to retrieve another. I stuck my hand into the tub. Instant relief. It felt so good I took several minutes to find just the bottle I wanted.

I also noticed that everyone else was clustered around the tubs. Some guests were dipping handkerchiefs into them and swabbing their faces.

By the end of the evening, I was soaking wet. Even though the most strenuous activity of the evening was lifting my hand to my mouth to pour in more liquids or some food, I was soaked. A cross-country race I ran in high school was the last time I produced such copious amounts of perspiration.

If we go through another hot day similar to July 15, look for me underneath a tree with my face buried in the grass lying next to a squirrel.

Just don't tell my winter-loving colleague.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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