As I write this, it is hot, damned hot, insufferably hot. I can take a bit of heat in the daytime, but at night it is just too much. What my family terms the “humditity” is also high, so the heat can’t wick off my clammy skin. It’s muggy and uncomfortable. Our house, on the edge of soggy woods and marsh, is like a sponge: our rugs and couches are damp and fragrant — you might even say musty. There is no sleeping.
I wish I had an air conditioner. I do not.
Funny term, “air conditioner.” How, exactly, is the air “conditioned”? It used to be via a gray metal chill box inserted into a window, but these days most homes have “central air.” In either case, these machines “condition” the air. Using energy (lots of it), they suck in the air and blast the ever-living essence out of it, thereby cooling it, but creating in its stead a bland, artificial doctor’s-office-shopping-mall ambiance, the atmospheric equivalent of piped-in elevator music. The air is sterile; it lacks character. But it is comfortable.
Fifty years ago, we made fun of houses that had air conditioners. Now our house is the exception. What happened? There have been two fundamental changes: one in climate and the other in attitude. I don’t have to delve too deeply into the change in our climate: those of a certain age remember when Cape Cod summers were more moderate and even the hot days of July and August were tempered by cool nights and sea breezes.
The attitudinal change is a more recent phenomenon. Hubris has incrementally risen. We no longer feel the need to be subject to the whims of Nature. We have the power to be comfortable in spite of everything the environment throws at us. We are hermetically sealed into our houses and cars. Sea breezes are not even noticed through our closed windows. The same goes for bird song. We are disconnected to the outdoor world that surrounds us.
Am I a fool to decry this change in lifestyle? Probably. But do you remember being a child caught in a sudden downpour, seeking refuge under a giant oak? Do you remember the smell of the supercharged ionized air and the sudden drop in temperature, the wind picking up? Do you remember being alive and feeling connected to the forces around you? Or perhaps you have had the rare and unique privilege of staying in one of the Provinceland’s dune shacks, living with kerosene lamps, pumping your own water from a well, traipsing to the outhouse when necessary. There is a decided contentment in all these activities, a sense of living closer to the elements. Of being real.
Am I a hypocrite? You bet I am. I rely on my oil-fueled heating system in the winter. I revel in a hot shower (although it is outside in the summer months). I am partial to indoor plumbing. I drive a car when I have to.
But this does not negate the point I am trying to make. The earth will survive whatever cataclysms are ahead; it is human civilization that is at stake. We cannot rely solely on technology to save us from an increasingly hostile environment. We need an attitudinal change. Each of us as individuals, and collectively as communities, must look for a balance between the complexities of modern life and the simple pleasures of living closer to the natural world. For each of us, the result might be different, but each of us must try.
The unavoidable question is: will our separateness ultimately be our doom?