It is so damn hot. I’m letting Chatpeau spend the day sleeping on our bed, instead of looking like she’s dead from heat stroke out on the porch. Just north of us in Canada, they reported 300 extra deaths yesterday, attributed to the record-breaking hot temperatures. We’ve had hot days in the past here at the lake, but it’s always cooled down at night. I can count on one hand the number of times I didn’t need to put on a fleece or a sweater as the sun lowered in the western sky. Now, at 10 pm, when we reverse the hermetically sealed house by opening all the windows before bed, it’s still been 85 degrees. The ceiling fan is on high, in an attempt to draw air in from the woods, which will finally drop to 66 degrees at dawn’s early light. Then, before 10 am, it’s time to close all the windows again. It feels like we’ve been forever in the orange colored Heat Advisory Zone on the NOAA map, and they are predicting that in the next ten days, there will be an 80% chance our temps will be 10-15 degrees above normal, and 50% chance we will not have any soaking rains.
I read a headline the other day about how this heat feels like an “existential threat”, that climate change will cause this historic Pacific Northwest Heat Dome to occur more often. Streets have buckled in Portland, water and electrical grids are being stressed across the west, people are dying. Add the fact that now LA is back to requiring even vaccinated people to mask up in crowds, because of the Delta Covid variant, and it can truly feel like the apocalypse is upon us. While preparing dinner, we often watch BBC’s Outside Source, and a quick tour of news around the world is enough to lose your appetite.
In the light of a new day, this first morning of July, and with the hint of a few clouds across the lake, it’s a point of fact that when it’s been 100 degrees in town, it’s only 90 here at the lake. The water temperature is close to 20 degrees warmer than usual for this time of year, and a dip in the lake is footsteps away from the porch. You can’t really climb into bed until the sun has gone down around 10 pm, and by the time you’ve flossed and brushed your teeth, the temperature outside has begun its drop–slowly, but surely.
By 6:30 this morning, I realized I could sit with my computer and coffee out on the porch in cool air, and quit complaining about the heat dome for awhile. In the quiet of birdsong, I remembered this poem I saved, long ago, long before I had a bad hip or the brain injury from a stroke. I thought about the line that says how life lets you choose the way you have your eggs and your coffee. It’s good to be reminded that “This is what life does”, in the middle of it all, before the day gets hot again, before you read the bad news headlines, before it lets you begin a new month of summer.
Starfish, by Eleanor Lerman
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?
Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.
And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.