A Contemplation on Heat

Spring is turning to summer. Temperatures have risen to triple digits in the East Bay, depending on where exactly you are. The green grasses which have grown thick and long from an El Niño winter now have golden kernels of seed dangling down and dancing gracefully in the wind. The time has come to prune the fruit trees, and it’s probably past time to figure out what to do with the grape vines. I have never had a grape vine, so I don’t have the smallest clue of how to care for them.

In the peak of the day, the light streaks down bright and sparkling in waves of heat. Summer weather is such a visceral experience, calling your very molecules back to historic days when the heat was just as heavy. While I was out in the heat at around noon, I recalled the Florida summer I helped my grandparents move their shelves and displays from the smaller location of Palm Harbor Natural Foods to the new, larger location. The truck we rented had no air conditioning but it sat up high on the road. Higher even than the few trips I’d taken on the school bus. The novelty of this made the radiating heat in the truck cab more bearable.

But once we arrived at the storage unit to unload the dozens (or was it hundreds?) of metal shelves the novelty wore off and exhaustion rolled over us like the mushroom cloud of heat that escaped when we rolled up the storage unit door. I struggled to be helpful as a scrawny eleven-year-old with an able body, but melting will. Eventually I just sat under the elevated chassis, dripping into a puddle, while my uncle and grandfather hauled metal shelves and stacked them like dominos. I can’t remember the particulars, but I think that we went to the beach afterwards. Maybe we didn’t, but my memory will be better if we did.


High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

Back to current-day California, the hills are beginning to smell of composting grasses. Grass has a sweet and nutty smell if you let it break down into soil. All around our Alhambra hills region of the East Bay there is a nutty warmth raising up like reflected light from the hills. The smell is almost as visible as the golden hue of the grasses.

This same warm nuttiness permeated the air at the farm the one time I bailed hay for a horse farmer. The barn was warm and dusty, the air wet with humidity. Our feet balanced on pyramids of hay, stacked so intentionally in an alternating pattern so that the farm workers would not fall to their doom in a cavernous void in the middle of the barn come January. The hay would have long since given back it’s heat, the nutty smell faded to a stale mustiness. The only other time I’ve smelled the baking of grasses was in our compost bin behind the house in Ohio. That grass pile, added to from March until September would give back it’s heat and smell of nutty decay well into the autumn, melting the snow from the top of the heap on November afternoons.

There’s one key difference between all of my previous high-heat experiences and this crackling dry California heat. Florida and Ohio have a humidity so high you need a snorkel to breathe. The water molecules in the air transfer the heat energy even into the darkest shade of the forest. There is as much similarity between California’s heat and Ohio’s heat as there is between a raspberry soda and a raspberry cobbler. Same scent, completely different mouth-feel.

What will our kids think when we bring them to Ohio again? Will they even be able to lift their bodies against the weight of the air?

Summer Boredom

We’re getting used to being bored again. The first week out of school we all cried and begged to sit in front of the TV. I let them watch more than I’d like, and I argued with them more than I’d like. But school has a way of getting everyone used to being told what to do next. So when faced with 12 hours of free time, it’s intimidating.

After we returned from camping I determined that we would not just sit in front of a screen all day. What a lame way to spend the summer. But, the weather decided to rain all over us so we couldn’t really go outside either.

Now what?

Well, Olivia had the wonderful idea of making a cardboard maze for our pet hermit crabs. So we cut and taped and glued for about an hour. Then we dropped Rapunzel and Turquoise into the maze and rewarded them with glittery stickers and raisins.

Today we worked on our chicken coop together. The girls held wood in place while I worked the screw driver. I have been using scrap wood from the garage and the basement to build it. I’m trying to keep my costs down. I found two old pantry cabinets in the basement crawl space and they work perfectly for the front of the coop. One of them even had smoothly turning hinges! It was meant to be!

The little jobs have been good for reminding us how to balance our boredom and busyness. And so today when the rain rolled in I didn’t feel bad putting My Neighbor Totoro on for the girls to wait out the storm.


Way back at Christmas time Rob’s dad gave us their hand-me-down canoe which they kept at the Grandparents’ house in Virginia. We finally picked it up and drove it home to our garage over Spring Break.

On an angsty day in the late spring I complained that I never get to do anything fun, not even take out our own canoe because I’m always home doing the day to day stuff. So I named the canoe Barefoot-in-the-kitchen, and got a babysitter for the day and Rob’s sister Molly and I took Barefoot-in-the-kitchen out for a ride down the Cuyahoga River. We had a leisurely day out exploring the strip of wilderness which runs between Kent and Waterworks Park. There were deer with their fawns, herons, geese and goslings and groundhogs. There was quiet and peace, and moderate adventure. It was completely worth the trouble of loading Barefoot up and taking it  back down.

I hadn’t had the chance to take the kids out yet, so I brought it to an end of the year picnic with some Redeemer families. The river was flooded over the banks so it wasn’t safe to take the kids out, but I just couldn’t resist. We pulled it over to a section of the parking lot which flooded and canoed around the puddle instead. It wasn’t exactly an adventure, but at least I knew all my kids, even Cressida were sea ready. They followed the rules and stayed in their seats.

So when we left to go on our annual Mom/kid-only camping trip with our friends the Penns (Colleen from Clever Nesting), I brought Barefoot with us. We spent three days in Hocking Hills State Park. On the second day we took Barefoot out on Lake Logan. Two moms and 5 kids.

This guy saw us unloading Barefoot and said, “Where are your men?” I chuckled, “Our men travel for a living so we have fun without them.” The man chuckled back and said, “Ah, revenge.” It’s not exactly revenge… more like not giving up and being boring just because it’s hard. When you’re a kid, challenging adventures are worth doing because a lot of the things you have to do are already challenging, you might as well put up with more challenges so you can have some fun. Once you become a grown-up you know how to avoid the challenges and walk the easier route. There’s so much to do, you don’t always have time for the challenge. But I’m finding that the stuff my kids enjoy doing as a family the most are the things that take the most effort and patience on my part. Also, I’d rather be out on Barefoot-in-the-kitchen than be at home, barefoot, in the kitchen.

The challenge is worth it.

And then when we come home and spend the whole next day on the couch playing Minecraft, I don’t feel so guilty.