Our apartment has no windows in the main room. There is a patio door and a skylight, but neither do much to improve circulation in our little box.
We live in one of those mountain states in the western US. Our lowest elevation is above 3,000, and the average elevation of the state is well above that. The air here is thinner than at the beach. So when I say that in the summer, it stays in the 90s for months at a time, just pretend I actually said 100, because that’s what it feels like. The sun is bright and hot, with less atmosphere between it and us than if we were a mile or so lower.
And that bright sun beats through our skylight as strongly as if it were a giant magnifying glass and our apartment was a home for ants. And we, my husband and I, sitting inside sweating, are the ants. Slowly cooking, roasting, burning.
Of course, we have air conditioning. We’ve learned by now that our summer sun is nothing to screw around with. After a summer spent in a different box with nothing to cool us but a wall unit in the kitchen, which cooled only the kitchen, we learned our lesson. When we moved, central air was at the top of our wish list.
But in order to battle that sun beating on our heads, and that 90 degrees roasting the outside of our box for fifteen hours a day, we have to blast that air conditioner. In summer it pretty much stays on at all times. You’d think it would cool down at night. Normally in our state it does. But not last summer. It was 80 at night, 85 by six in the morning, 90 by 8 in the morning. There was no defense, save for the air conditioning.
So we used it, all the time. At first, everything was fine. We’d go out and about because we had to. We had to work, buy groceries, go for walks. Walking was torture this summer, worse than anything else. Getting up at four in the morning didn’t appeal, but if I waited any later it was already boiling outside. Torture.
But then we’d step into our super-cooled apartment, and everything would be better. We kept the shades of that patio door closed at all times to keep the sun out, and could only bemoan the fact that the skylight was too high up for us to reach to put something over it. We were happy enough. Cool enough, content to use lamps to light our box even when it was daylight.
And then we got the first electric bill.
It was four times higher than normal. And normal was high enough for us. We panicked, first calling the electric company to see if it was a mistake. We spent about five minutes secretly blaming my mom and sister, who were staying with us, for using the dryer too much. Eventually, we admitted the problem. That damn air conditioning, which we loved so much but hated for its abuse of our wallets. We knew that was the only explanation for that bill. And so we turned to our patio door to save us.
We opened it up, propped a box fan on a chair in front of it, and blasted it. Other people cooled their homes that way. It would work for us, surely.
Except that our patio door faces east. And that damn bright mountain sun beats through it until around 3 in the afternoon. By noon, there’s more sunlight shining in through that stupid skylight. For three hours each day, we were roasted from two different directions. The fan was no defense at all. The temperature in our apartment rose from 80, which we viewed as comfortable enough, to over 90 within an hour or so of turning off the air conditioning. There are no trees in front of our patio door, either, nothing to weaken the sun’s bright, stabbing rays.
We compromised. We ran the air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day, and “cooled” the box with the fan for the rest of the day. The sticky, disgusting 80 degree night air didn’t do much to cool our home. Our nights were spent sweating on our sofa, feeling excited on the rare occasions that the temperature in our living room dipped below 90. It was like a game. My husband would grow excited and say,
“Look, it’s 89.8!”
And I’d cry,
“Hooray! I wonder how long that will last? Maybe it’s cooling off!”
It didn’t cool off until mid-October. It was over 80 in our town from April until mid-October. I’ve lived in this state my entire life, and last summer was an anomaly. We have four distinct seasons. We have cold winters. We normally have moderate springs and falls. But this year, we skipped spring and went straight to summer in April. And from there, in June, we went to hell. A broiling, burning, miserable hell.
Literally burning. Wildfires raged across our state all summer, the largest only fifteen miles from our town. So we had the pleasure of roasting and baking while being afraid that any day, the smoke that sometimes hung in the air over town was going to become overwhelming, and we were going to be evacuated just like the small suburbs to our west had been.
It was, in short, the crappiest summer I can remember. I’m not a summer person to begin with. If it’s over 65, I complain about the heat. If the sun is shining too brightly and spoiling my lovely 55 degree day, I complain about that, too. I like a chill in the air. I like coming inside to a warm apartment after being out in the cold, feeling my numb face regain feeling as it’s caressed by the heat. I like sitting in front of a roaring fire, contained within my fireplace rather than roaring through the foothills, and warming my chilled insides while I watch the flames dance.
It’s fall now. It’s December, in a mountain state, at a high elevation, but the weather outside is distinctly fall. It gets cold at night now. We had such a long, miserable, drawn-out summer that I’d forgotten what cold nights feel like. Last night I had the pleasure of saying to my husband,
“It’s freezing! I bet it’s under 25 degrees!”
Really I meant I bet it’s under 20, but I didn’t see how it could be after that hot summer. I was afraid that maybe I was deluding myself. I went inside and checked the weather. It was 17 degrees.
It made me indescribably happy. Because it finally felt almost like winter. Two weeks from Christmas, and our mountain state is rolling into winter at last. Maybe we’ll even get some snow soon. I’m not going to hold my breath.