I’m feeling lazy today. Actually, I’ve been feeling lazy for several weeks, ever since the temperatures topped 90 degrees and started reaching for 100. Now they’re topping 100 and I’m feeling as wilty as my caladiums in the flower bed appear to feel each afternoon.
In Mexico, I did not feel this way during mid-summer. I lived there high in the mountains and while the summer days of July and August could get hot, the nights were still crisp and cool. Here in Central Texas the nights just seem less hot. Warm, I suppose you’d say. A brief respite but nothing to write home about. And certainly not cool enough to warrant sleeping under a sheet.
So for the first time in many years I am using an air conditioner. I didn’t even have an air conditioner in Mexico. Didn’t have one in Prague, either. If the weather got warmish, I used a fan, and that was enough. The right kind of fan could work here in Central Texas, too. I grew up in houses with fans called attic fans. These fans were large, and set into the ceiling between the living space and the attic. We opened all the windows and the attic fan sucked air into the rooms and up into the attic and blew the attic air outside through big vents. In that way we enjoyed a constant flow of fresh air from outside. Even warmish air can feel cool if it’s blowing. So we lived with a constant breeze created by the attic fan and I recall it feeling comfortable.
But folks don’t seem to use attic fans anymore. Every house has ceilings fans—sometimes one in every room except the bathroom—but they are mostly used to push around the cool air produced by air conditioning units. This whole setup—the air conditioning plus lots of ceiling fans—strikes me as an inefficient use of energy. I hear from friends who have monthly electric bills of $200-300. I’ve no idea what my next electric bill will look like. The last one was $50 but that was before the mercury topped 100 degrees. Though we still don’t use the air conditioner at night, we are running it from noonish until bedtime, so I suppose I’m due for a shock.
But the thing I like least about air conditioning is that it cuts me off from the world. Until recently I could hear birds singing and wind in the trees. During the night I could listen to cicadas and crickets and armadillos nosing around the bushes and even a bobcat barking now and then. You can do that if the windows are open. But now they are shut against the heat and they also shut out many things I miss. I feel less connected to nature. The world itself seems more distant. I don’t like that. So I’m looking forward to when I can leave the air conditioner off and keep the windows open all day and night and once again feel part of the natural world.
If I only had an attic fan, I wouldn’t be in this sad situation. I know the prevailing notion is that air conditioning has brought us humans a great improvement in the quality of life. But I truly think attic fans were a bigger improvement, and a better one, too. And the loss of them has represented a specific decline in civilization.
Well, that’s it for today. I’m wilting again. It’s time to eat a slice of that cold watermelon I have in the fridge. I’ll feel better then. And if the watermelons don’t run out down at the market, I might even make it until autumn.