Sunday, June 26, 2011


A cottonwood in the bosque
or In Search of an Oasis

Whoever said, "Oh, but in the West it's a dry heat," as if heat in a dry place isn't actually hot, was obviously visiting in May when it wasn't actually hot.  Ovens also have a dry heat, may I point out, but we don't expect turkeys to come out of them looking refreshed.

Having just woken up from an accidental nap, I am groggy and a little grumpy.  The whole afternoon siesta thing as a way to escape summer heat—I don't get it, not if you're supposed to be functional afterward.  Not that I can complain, because the house is perfectly comfortable.  The swamp cooler is chugging merrily away, and from inside, the heat of the day is pretty much theoretical.  I pour a glass of herbal iced tea and fix a bowl of farm-fresh cherries and curl up on the bench by the kitchen window to eat, sleepily watching the play of light and wind across the sand cherry leaves in the garden.  Sir Marley is there, spread-eagled on the path where it's been mostly shady all day, limbs stretched out to maximize the surface area exposed to the cool ("cool") brick.  As I watch, he gives it up for a lost cause, stalks over to the water dish to drink, then out to the bird feeder in the side yard to bother the finches for a while.  He looks ready to spread some irritation around.

Ponderosa pine and gambel oak in Paliza Canyon

Afternoons have hit or neared the 100°F (38°C) mark for the last few days, with relative humidity below 5% and gusty late-day winds.  (Where my sister lives in the southeastern corner of the state, one day reached 117.)  Even the shade is hot, and that's saying something.

I'm remembering summers in the humid northeast, where my strategy for coping with the un-air-conditioned over-90° days was to imagine myself in a movie scene wearing a floating, white linen dress and broad-brimmed straw hat; the strains of a swing orchestra would be wafting over the manicured lawn from the veranda.  I figured that any time you could insert the word "veranda" into a mental sentence, you would automatically slow down and relax, and then you couldn't help but be cooler.  A student trudging up the hill in shorts, T-shirt, sneakers, and heavy book-bag to study at the library will be hurried and sweaty; someone in miraculously unwrinkled white linen, who expects a waiter to swan into view with a tray of mint juleps, will be cool and poised.  That was the theory.  No harm came of it, at any rate.  Jumping in a lake later on worked pretty well, too.

Turtles at the Rio Grande Nature Center, finding respite from all that cool, still water in some glaring hot sun.

Since the heat was inescapable, the idea was to embrace it, to turn it into something with entertainment value if nothing else.  I've thought about trying the same thing here, not with whatever imaginary movie the white linen dress/orchestra/mint julep combination came from, because it just doesn't "go," but maybe with something out of Carmen.  Not only is it my favorite opera, but it takes place in a similarly dusty location (and the film version with Julia Migenes-Johnson and Placido Domingo is out of this world)—surely one of the scenes would help me romance a hot, southwestern summer day.  But whenever I ask myself, "What would Carmen do on a scorcher like this?" the answer is, "Nothing legal," and that puts the kibosh on that.

Shelling peas for dinner, I am lulled by the steady, easy rhythm of the task.  Sir Marley stalks back into the garden and flops down in a new place on the path.  After a minute, he gets up, moves two feet farther on, and flops down again.  An indoor oasis isn't a bad thing.  In fact, I really love it.  Maybe it's because I'm in my 40's instead of my 20's.  Maybe it's because I have the option.

A wildlife blind overlooking a natural spring at Elena Gallegos Open Space Park

But when did the idea become to escape from summer rather than to embrace it?


  1. The first time I went to AZ to college it was August and 115 when I stepped off the plane into that oven of dry heat. I was in my 20s and perfectly capable of beating the heat. I had to walk to classes at least a mile away so I embraced this wonderful dry heat. I was back for more classes 2 years later with a car and no air conditioning...yes I know foolish but again I could bear in my 50s I brave the heat and humidity of the NE with air conditioning, ice water and working outside for brief stints...with all the snow we get I am determined to not hibernate inside no matter what!!

  2. On nice hot days like this I like to imagine having an old adobe house, one with walls nearly a foot thick, that stay nice and cool inside. Or an 60 year old cinder block house with a noisy swamp cool and a cottonwood shading a patchy backyard.

    But the best thing to do on a hot day is head up to cochiti lake for a swim.

  3. Not sure how hot it's been here today - over 30C though and I've been mowing all day. I'm so bushed I can barely keep my eyes open.

    Floating with the turtles looks like the only option.


    P.S. Sir Marley has been re-knighted. I'm pleased.

  4. Stacy,
    Oh my... that is hot no matter what the conditions! I've been to Yuma when it was 117 during the day and 112 one night at 3 AM... (My husband used to drive truck) and that is HOT!

    Do you take all your photos? They are incredible!

    We used to do camphosting in the mountains and one summer it was 100 at 2900 feet. Even the trees complained, but offered up shade for us. There was no breeze. Then came the thunder storms and the fires... no fun at all.

    I always imagine being barefoot when I'm hot with my feet on green grass.

    Thanks for the images both in words and pix.


  5. Well, I'm one that likes to escape when the thermometer reads 99 or above, and I retreat into the air conditioning. Although, I guess I'm used to humidity. Dry heat reminds me of being in a convection oven.

  6. No air con. And dry heat here too. But we never quite hit 40C (104F). Over 40 is just frightening. (That's temperature, not age ;~)

  7. Every summer I vow to enjoy summer by going and doing and not staying inside the house to beat the heat. Now in middle age, I find it harder to tolerate the heat. However, I hope to keep to my vow this year...cross my fingers.

  8. Today our temps were in the mid 90s, and the air was so humid it felt exactly like a sauna. One can get accustomed to it, but it takes practice and some mental workings. I ate lunch outside under a large umbrella and enjoyed it. After visiting the Arizona desert in September a couple years ago, I can say I prefer moist heat. I think the dry heat you experience in your part of the country is more dangerous. I never saw anyone out there without a big water bottle in hand.

  9. P.S. I love your photos! Those turtles have the right idea.

  10. The swamp cooler is coming in handy this year. I seem to be using mine more often. I usually only make mental images of warm things like fire in the winter. I like the white linen dress idea, but it would have to be a mojito for me and not a mint julep.

  11. You're right about the white linen and the veranda. The way white linen works is that when you wear it, you can't actually do anything to get the linen dirty, so you have to sit still on the veranda and wait for people to serve you. Living in the South, I realize why Southerners move slow. They're not lazy, they're trying to stay cool ...

    I love the photo of the cottonwood and the turtles. I visited Rio Grande State Park when I was in Albuquerque in January and enjoyed the solitude, the wildlife, the expanse of sky, the cottonwood bosque, the mountains in the background. So different from the Southeast, and so beautiful. But no heat to deal with that day!