As news of the evacuations from the latest hurricane in the south hit the airwaves in the Northeast, I found myself rooting for the people in harm’s way to find safety. But I also found myself rooting for the storm in the probably vain hope that the rain and wind would chase away the heat and humidity I have had to endure for the past week. If there was ever any doubt in my mind that Alaska is where I was meant to live and die, this trip to the East Coast in August has wiped that doubt from my mind.
I don’t normally leave Alaska during the summer months. In fact, as my family and I thought about it, we realized it had been over thirty years since I’d ventured this far east in August. And there was a good reason for that. It’s because August in the Northeast is basically a horror of humidity that makes breathing a chore and heat that makes winter a blessing. I left Alaska only because my sister is turning fifty and I need to be here to mock her in person for getting so old. She’s the baby in the family so my brother and I want to make sure her passage into early old age is appropriately scarred into her memory.
I find myself amazed that there are not only people who voluntarily endure this kind of summer every year but who actually go out into it in order to sit on a beach where the temperature and humidity seem to create a reasonable facsimile of what my personal hell would be like. Yet they sit there sweating under umbrellas, sand in their pants and butts burning from the heat of their beach chair seats, smiling as though this is the most fun thing in their lives.
I resist the urge to scream at them that if this is so, they obviously have no lives.
I realize that coming from Alaska means I have a vastly difference tolerance for heat than do most of my East Coast friends and relatives. And I also realize that I spent the first twenty-five years of my life in this weather without benefit of air-conditioning. But thirty-three years in Alaska has shown me the light. It has shown me that man does not need to endure the horror of 90-degree heat with 350% humidity; that, in fact, there are choices.
I loved the summers in Barrow despite the mosquitoes because there were only one or two days in any summer season in which it was what I would call unreasonably warm – which in Barrow meant over fifty degrees. When I moved to Anchorage, it took some adjusting to accept that even in Alaska the temperatures could reach the eighties on a regular basis. But the nights always seemed to be cool enough to make the days bearable – especially with a big fan at the foot of my bed blowing directly on my body the entire night.
But here on the East Coast the heat and humidity of the day is inevitable followed by the heat and humidity of the night. My sister and I argue constantly about just how hot it has to get before the ceiling fans are uselessly swirling the hot air around and the air-conditioning needs to be turned on. Our bodies have about a twenty-degree difference in tolerance for when that should happen. I call it the Alaska factor.
And so each morning I wake up in a bed soaked from the humidity of the night before. I lie there quietly waiting to hear the door close indicating she’s left for work. I jump out of bed and run through the house shutting windows and turning the air conditioning on. I turn the thermostat down to sixty-eight and turn it back up to seventy-four right before her expected arrival home. I sit in her living room and tell myself I should take a walk, get some exercise, shake out the cobwebs. But when I open the door, the heat hits like a bomb blast and I quickly retreat to the icy cave I’ve created in her house.
My relatives can’t figure out why I would come down from Alaska for her party and leave to go back home so quickly. In my Italian family, that is tantamount to wasting the cost of the airline ticket. But even as I sit here watching the clouds roll in, a thunderstorm on the way, I know that when the storm ends there will be no relief. It will be even hotter and more humid and I will soon turn into one great green blob of mold.
So I’m coming home as fast as I can – home to my raspberries and my moose, my bears and my mountains, my cool temperatures and zero humidity. When I step off that plane in Anchorage and take my first breath of good Alaska air I’ll breathe easier again. And I’ll wonder anew why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else in this world.