It’s summertime on Long Island. It’s hot and humid and there are too many annoying mosquitos.
I’m a lifelong New Yorker and I’ve lived most of my life in Suffolk County, the last 36 years or so in Riverhead. I don’t remember summer being anything but hot and sticky. It’s the “dog days” of summer, after all — so named because July and August coincide with the rising of the “dog star,” Sirius aka Alpha Canis Majoris, the the brightest star in the sky besides our own sun. See the Old Farmer’s Almanac for more about the “dog days.”
Yet it seems like every other day, there’s a heat advisory. Were there always so many heat advisories? Was I just oblivious to them until I became the editor of a local news website? Or is this something new?
I’m in no way a climate-change denier. The annual average global temperature has been reaching record highs. So far in 2022, the average global temperature is higher than five of the 10 hottest years ever recorded. Those are facts. We can argue forever about what they mean for the future of our planet. Some other time.
Personally, I’m willing to accept that I’m like that frog in a pot on the stove, not really noticing the gradual change — until it’s too late.
But, jeez, really. I just want to enjoy a summer Sunday afternoon and not have to worry so much about so many things. Heat exhaustion. Ozone and particulate matter in the air I’m breathing. Skin damage from UV levels at the top of the scale. Mosquitos carrying West Nile virus or Zika or God-knows-what-else. Ticks and Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Alpha Gal. (I’m sure I’m missing a few more worries, like water shortages and pandemics, but that’s enough for now.)
So turn on your air conditioner and stay indoors, the CDC says. But wait — that means using more electricity, and that means more pollution spewing into the air from power plants. More ozone and PM warnings. Never mind the electric bills in one of the most expensive utility systems in the nation. (Used to be the highest in the continental U.S. but I’m not sure if that’s true anymore and I’m too hot and tired to check — hence the “one of the” copout.)
If you don’t have air conditioning or if you want to be environmentally conscious, you can go to a public air-conditioned place, like a store. God knows we have plenty of those around here. Of course, you’ll be fighting traffic on Route 58 — and likely contributing to the smog problem.
You can pack your sunscreen and umbrella and head to the Sound, where it may or may not be cooler, depending on the prevailing breeze. But keep your clothes and hat on, otherwise you’re risking skin damage.
I prefer to stay in my backyard, where I have shade and a pool — which also enjoys partial shade beginning in mid-afternoon. I can sit in the shade and sweat, escape the heat in the refreshingly tepid pool water, and enjoy ready access to cold water from the fridge, snacks and a relatively clean bathroom.
And when it gets too hot, I can go inside, where air-conditioning cools the house to a comfortable, dry 75 degrees.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize how lucky I am. And I realize how these “problems” I have are decidedly “first-world problems,” as they say, afflicting spoiled, comparatively well-off people like us here in the USA. I have no right to complain about these things.
Yet, I’ve reached an age where life’s simple pleasures, in a “first-world” way, matter most. And it would be nice to enjoy them on a summer Sunday afternoon on Long Island without worrying about all the things I’m constantly told I need to worry about.
I guess that’s exactly the problem with my generation. We didn’t worry enough about the long-term future consequences of the lifestyles we pursued. And in our old age, we sit around complaining about having to worry about those consequences now, having to worry about things we didn’t have to think about — or chose not to — in our youth. They didn’t dub us
“the me generation” for nothing.
We can only hope that’s a lesson for the generation following ours. And hope that they’ll have the ability — philosophically, politically and technologically — to clean up the mess we’re leaving them.
My husband just read this and says I’m too damned serious and worry too much. He’s been telling me that for more than 30 years. Maybe he’s right. But one of us has to! I’m going to go sit under a tree now and ponder how opposites attract. It’ll keep my mind off all the things I have to worry about, at least for a little while.
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