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You Get Used to It
A heat-hater’s approach to easing into summer

I have a little bit of a catch-22 about summer: I hate the heat. And I hate air-conditioning. Well, you might say, move to Calgary or Nome or some such place. Problem is, I also like the sun, wearing short sleeves, and getting to go swimming. (And Iím not so fond of black flies. As if anyone is.) If summerís temperatures never went above the low-to-middle 80s and the humidity stayed that of a nice windswept beach town, Iíd be home free.

Of course Iím also fond of having four seasons and not needing to live behind a seawall. So I figure I can sacrifice two weeks or so to all my other multiple reasons for being quite content with my climatic region.

Two weeks, you say? Surely you exaggerate a littleósummer in upstate New York isnít that short. No, itís not. But itís the minimum amount of time that it takes my body (and my psyche, and my habits) to adjust once the full-scale heat kicks in. Itís not that I donít still bitch and moan during those insane, breathing water, steering-wheel-burns-bare-skin interludes. But after my two-week easing-in period I can generally handle most of summer with equanimity.

The first few days are usually sheer misery: descent into hell, listless, you-expect-me-to-move-let-alone-work? days. My usual complaints about stale, over-air- conditioned spaces fall by the wayside. Sure, 50 degrees sounds like a reasonable alternative to what itís doing outside.

The same way you never figure out that a cranky mood was PMS until after the fact, it always takes those first few days for me to remember that Iíve made it through this before. In fact, 75 percent of what Iím feeling is probably dehydration. Itís time for survival mode.

Summer survival mode is sort of like struggling not to come down with a cold modeóonly instead of the barrage of zinc tablets, echinacea, orange juice and extra sleep, my every spare moment is focused entirely on preventing heat lethargy.

It starts with what goes into my body. It goes well beyond the obligatory increase in ice-water intake. Somehow I have to dredge up the memory of non-hot foods that I like to eat. Being an oatmeal-in-the-morning and soup-and-roasted- vegetables kinda gal, it always takes an unusual force of will to remember that granola and a cold black-bean-and-corn salad can really be quite satisfying, without adding unneccesary BTUs to my system that Iíll just have to sweat out later. But this is all small shakes compared to the emergency measures, which are really all variations on consuming iceóeating frozen vegetables without defrosting them or having sorbet for dinner.

Next is what goes on my body: Often my clue that the transition is in full swing is when I give up on my periodic attempts to grow my hair long (people tell me if I make it through the afro long enough itíll fall down in long flowing ringlets. Maybe 15th timeís the charm, but Iím starting to suspect they just donít understand my hair). Removing what amounts to a very thick wool hat with the solar collecting power of asphalt works wonders for temperature regulation. Combined with unearthed sundresses, sandals, and tank tops, it at the least gives easier access for the emergency measuresódunking my feet in a bucket of ice water, three cold showers in a day, or sleeping with my wrists resting on cold packs.

As I get into week two, the habits that make the emergency measures less necessary start to kick in. A fanatical devotion to shade, a strict speed limit on the walk to and from work, keeping the lights off and the shades down, sleeping on my stomach (donít ask me why this is cooleróit makes no sense, but itís the only way I can sleep through long hot nights) are only a few.

After a few weeks of this, some of it becomes ingrained and feels normal. But also the survival part of it starts to feel a little less urgent. Some primal tropical (OK, semi-tropical at best) ancestral response kicks itself into sluggish gear and says ďOh yeah, this isnít the end of the world. You can do this.Ē Hell, (donít tell my family), but if the stars are aligned right and Iím in the zone, by mid-July sometimes I can even enjoy the heat.

óMiriam Axel-Lute

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