Luskin: Shade

Aug 5, 2016

“What do you mean, the party’s outside?” my cousin blurts into the phone. “Outside with no air-conditioning?”

I have only a moment in which to calm this New York relative, who’s traveled the world, but thinks Vermont is on the dark side of the moon.

“We have air-conditioning,” I say. “It’s called shade.”

This wasn’t always the case. Twenty years ago, our house sat like an island in a sea of lawn, exposed to full sun year round. This was a passive-solar blessing three seasons a year, but a scorcher each summer. We planted trees the summer we moved in, and now deciduous hardwoods cast deep shade on the south-facing windows. We also planted trees to the west, where the sun blisters the driveway in the afternoon.

“But what about the bugs?” my cousin asks, still not convinced that anyone could be comfortable in such wilderness. “The bugs are gone.” This is at least true about the black flies, though not necessarily the mosquitoes.

But the date is set, the invitations sent, and the party’s on. We can only hope for the westerly breeze that keeps most mosquitoes away from the river terrace on which our house sits. This is where we’ll serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres. We’ll serve dinner in a tent after the heat of the day lifts.

My cousin arrives early. As soon as she walks into the house she says, “I thought you didn’t have air-conditioning. It’s so cool in here.”

“It’s not air-conditioning,” I say. “It’s insulation.” And then I bite my tongue.

If I explained what we do to achieve this thirty-degree differential between the heat of the day and the cool of indoors, she’d think it was too much work. But closing the windows, dropping the insulated blinds, and shutting the doors to keep the cool air in and the hot air out is part of the morning rounds, like checking the poultry and garden on the way to fetch the paper while the coffee brews. The result is a house so cool, I pull on a cardigan when I come in. It’s also dim, which is restful after full sun.

Of course, these natural methods don’t touch humidity when it hangs like a damp cloth in the air and on our nerves. The only cure for that is a dip in the river – and I’m pretty sure my cousin won’t go for that.