I learned exactly one thing from a poetry professor: Air Conditioning has killed summer.
Air conditioning is a barrier that separates us from the world. It keeps us from the perfumed breezes of the growing season, the smell of far away rain and the sound of the world not filtered through the television.
On a more practical level, it has killed our relationships with our neighbors. Instead of sitting on the porch of an evening, or greeting passers-by through open windows, we live in cocoons, breathing the same chemical air summer and winter.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
This summer, in particular, has been a wonderland for people who hate air conditioning. There has been a steady stream of cool, breezy days and a surprising abundance of rain showers. It has really only gotten very hot once this summer, and that was only for the span of a few days.
I’m not what anyone would consider an environmentalist, nor am I particularly worried about my energy costs. And I am certainly not a poet. But if you are any of those things, turn off your AC. Your body is remarkably able to adjust to most temperatures if you give it the chance.
This recent New York Times article claims that many people are cutting their AC for purely economic reasons. It also suggests that the act was initially a struggle that, over time, has made these people stronger. Hogwash. Doing without the luxury of AC could only be considered a tribulation in modern American. In central Illinois this summer, it has not even been slightly difficult.
If you need further incentive, consider it your job to counteract the man who lives next door to me. He turned his AC on in May and, quite literally, has not turned it off. I know this because with my windows open I get to hear it rattle to a start when the thermostat gets above 68. Sequestered from the world like some character in Brazil, except for the brief trip between home and car, his summer is exactly like his winter. It smells the same, it feels the same and it is lit with exactly the same flicker of blue from the television.
Air conditioning is a fantastic device and, particularly for people in the south, sometimes a necessity. But in central Illinois, it’s a treat that should be reserved for hot and humid days. I constantly hear people say that one reason they like living in Illinois is the change of season. But many of these people spend these seasons indoors, walled off from the world. For them, it might as well be January the whole year round.
Here’s the secret to a cool house in the summer. Open your windows at night and, unless it’s really breezy, close them during the day. That will see you through all but the most stifling weather. And if it gets too hot, turn the AC on. (But just for the record, it hasn’t been that hot in several weeks.)
Eschew your air conditioner. You’ll save energy. You’ll help the environment. You’ll get to know your neighbors. And maybe you’ll even reconnect with the beauty of summer.
I give you the word of a poet on that one.