Tue Jun 11 08:14:45 PDT 2002

Essay on a Hot Day
by Joseph Woodard

Restless sleep. Very hot. Slept under one sheet. Heat from the previous scorcher drained from the attic all night into my room. The partial solar eclipse near evening stretched sunset through a twilight hours long. The day seem to retreat rather than end. Nighttime seemed only a pause before the sun recovered itself from moon's interference with summer's errand. No relief of wind came during the night. The incomplete darkness, spoiled by daylight's lingering mark, never cooled. Until the sun returned.
Now a breezy breeze stirs up street debris. My windchime busies itself with clattering. But the air is warm, not cool. A natural air conditioner should be spawned by the collision of hot air arriving from inland with dampness extracted from the sea by the sun. Not yet. Not today. The sun will have to stir the ocean some more. Today will be hotter than yesterday. Round Two. All the air and swimming weather sunlight for a whole warm season shimmer on the Eastern horizon, all ingredients arriving today in one day. Tomorrow or the day after the air conditioner will knock that off stride. Heat doesn't last long here, or it never used to. The weather's changing. This heat has arrived early. This is August or September that has jumped up and run through the door early in June. Why so soon this heat? The weather's changing.
An underground coal fire in the mountains of Colorado, ignited during coal mining decades ago, still rages. Now and then the inferno, forgotten by those who don't like to remind others of such things, bursts a blood vessel on the side of a mountain and ignites the mountainous brush. The spectacle of a mammouth forge, pounded by unseen godly blacksmiths forging chains for hell, hits the papers and TV screens then. Flames and smoke are seen, rising from a spontaneous fury that envelops half a mountainside. The coal fire has burned for years. No one knows how to put it out, or cares to spend the money to do so. No profit in that. We breathe the results, or toss under sweaty sheets wondering when cool air will admit sleep into the bedroom. No profit in that, or any income at all. How is this problem to resolve itself?
My windchime is busier now. The pipes are not metal but bamboo. The windchime makes a village music. The wind blows from inland, where hot air is stored. In California that kind of wind is called a Santa Ana, in Rome a Sirroco. In Rome, hot air can bring dust all the way from the Sahara. If that heat is tempered by rain, the rain is red, making silt streaks on cars and windows, red with Saharan sand. In California the air conditioner that often follows a Santa Ana has no exotic quality, only relief from the incessant heated winds that carry embers readily. More than once a wind like that has charged over the Berkeley hills down into the East Bay city of Oakland spewing firestorms. No romance in that.
Heat leads to more heat, exhaling more green house gases. Green housing may remake the landscape into a jungle, if there is rain enough, like Australia before it migrated north on its tectonic plate and became desert. Nature can adapt to that sort of slow climate change by altering the recipe of plants and animals. But nature can't accelerate its processes to cope with coal fires that burn for years, and fifty million cars built within a half century. First the burn, then the scar, and afterward, a re-emergence. Of what?
In thirty years, scientists report, humankind's activities will occupy 30% of the globe's surface. To what effect? That all depends, given our current social organization, on whether there's any money in it for those with money to make more money.
The wind is picking up. Good. It will make today's high temperature of 97 Farenheit bearable for anyone who has to be outside. Inside, well, what's coal for if not to fire the generators that power our unnatural air conditioners.

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