This week, before 6:00 am the air has been pretty pleasant. With protective sunhat and the right clothing, one could walk right into the sun for half an hour or so, then loop back home and hide out for the day after taking a picture or two.
This is record breaking weather, totally unprecedented. Yesterday afternoon in a nearby town the temperature rose to 119 F (that’s 48.333 C, for the rest of you), and ours got to 111 F, or 43.888 C. It was too hot for me to walk, or even hang out at the bus stop and commute to work, so that meant taking a vacation day. That may sound comical to the rest of the country, and certainly the rest of the world. But around these parts we are are not used to that sort of thing.
I had all these good intentions of arranging with one of our local churches or public cooling centers, and to volunteer handing out cold drinks or helping people to settle in. But the heat knocked me all off kilter. It took some concentration even to walk a straight line down the street for those dawn strolls. My pulse was rapid enough that I kept lying down in the dark bathroom to time the beats for 60 seconds, then falling asleep before the minute was up and waking up an hour later. Towns around us were losing power, and cars were breaking down on melting highways; that made staying home seem wise. In all humility, it seemed a fair goal to just stay out of the emergency room myself and not cause some overworked paramedic extra fuss.
Few people here have an air conditioner or even a fan. So for three days I turned on the computer only for a bit before dawn and after dark. It was a good time to wash down and shine up the kitchen, go through closets, and declutter old paper. Every 30 minutes I drank water, soaked my head and feet, and took a quick basin bath and put on wet clothes. For meals, the best menu idea was kimchi with grated raw vegetables and some cold beans. At one point I hand washed all my bedding after 4:00 pm, then sat on the balcony in the shade in a tent fashioned from wet sheets, with a pillow streaming water on my head. That made for a wholesome interlude. So were naps with rice milk cartons full of ice.
As usual, I kept toting all my wash water down four flights to pour on the vegetable garden. But this time I hauled the buckets after dark. Turns out, Bucket Lady is by now a recognizable fixture around the complex. On Day 2 those neighbors who own air conditioners, even people who don’t even know me, were leaning outside to holler at me to get into their homes for a cooldown break. So before each visit I washed up and brought my bowed psaltery and a clean bedsheet and sat on various floors playing medieval tunes, to the amazement of various household pets. One sturdy protective 60-pound cattle dog has always barked at me; but he was deeply impressed when his owner ushered me right indoors. The dog seemed to see this as instant VIP status; he approached courteously with lowered head for a sniff, then every few minutes sidled over for a back rub.
There’s still wildfire season to contend with, but now the temperature is lower and the wind is blowing in from the water. That is a lot to be grateful for. Last night, leaving the last pilgrim stop, I told my host “It’s been wonderful meeting and visiting with neighbors. This has turned out to be a delightful Sunday after all.” He looked at me with compassion and said “Mary? It’s Monday. Soak your head some more.”