It has been a dry year in Oregon, too, but we have had rain. We will have more rain. It will be wet, and it will be cool. I’m sure my lawn is tall and green now and the berries and ferns are poking through the boards of my deck again. Meanwhile, I’m here, completely acclimated to the Oregon Coast, sweating in epic quantities, seeking shade, and wondering how I ever stood it before.
Once upon a time in California, I preferred shade to sun. I touched the steering wheel of my car on a hot day with caution and knew better than to leave chocolate or butter inside. I only wore sweaters for a few days in winter, and I bought a new pair of sandals every spring. I did not worry about things left outside getting wet, rusty or moldy. It rarely rained, only a few inches a year. My natural color was tan, and I believed I was a person who did not sweat. Eighty to ninety degrees was normal, and 70 was cold.
Then I moved to the Oregon coast. I sat in the sun whenever I could. We had plenty of shade. The steering wheel was cool, and you could leave groceries safely in the car for hours. I wore sweaters, hoodies and socks every day of the year while my sandals grew mold in the closet. Everything left outside got wet, rusty or moldy—or grew moss. Fifty to sixty degrees was normal, and 70 was hot. We had one or two days a year over 80 when we languished inside while the bugs went crazy out in the yard. Carpenter ants and flies swarmed our faces and knocked against the windows. But no worries. It would be back to 60 and foggy the next day. Or it would rain. It rained a lot. 80 inches a year. . I discovered my natural color was several shades whiter, but I still believed I was a person who did not sweat.
Not long ago, I discovered it was only 65 degrees out and I was warm. I did not need a sweater or socks. I could wear my California sandals. I had acclimated.
Now I’m in California. My father broke his hip and I’m back at my childhood home taking care of him. He’s healing, but progress is slow. The temperature has ranged from 75 to 95 outside and hovered around 84 in the house, with no air conditioning, minimal insulation, and windows left open all day. The living room faces east, the kitchen faces west, so the sun beats through the paper window shades. I never perspired so much in my life. Under my hair, down my face, down my neck, down my shirt, I’m soaked and salty. Cooking or doing dishes, I drown in my own juices, occasionally stopping to stick my head in the freezer or stand up against one of Dad’s fans. At night, I lie with my head at the foot of the bed trying to grab a hint of breeze from the wide-open windows. Meanwhile, Dad says it’s “cool,” asks me to shut the door, turn off the fan, and fetch his sweater.
A couple nights ago, the San Jose weather forecasters predicted rain. Big black clouds filled the sky toward sunset. A man I passed on my nightly walk broke the Silicon Valley code of silence and said, “Isn’t it a marvelous evening?” “Yes,” I replied, soaking in the cooling breeze and the hint of rain in the air. But it did not rain on San Jose. It has not rained on San Jose for four months. Clouds appear and promise rain, then fade away without dropping their load of precious water. The area is in a severe drought. The yards I pass on my walks are full of dead lawns and dead flowers. Cobwebs hang off of everything. Water is rationed, and people can be severely fined if they are caught wasting water.
The human body adapts. When my father returned from his World War II service in the Philippines, he could not get warm. He huddled in his father’s heavy coat in the middle of summer and shivered. Doctors told him it would take a while to reacclimate to the California weather. I’m hoping I’m not here long enough for my body to get used to California heat again. It turns out I am a person who sweats.