It may seem untimely to be whining about air conditioning just as the crispness of fall arrives, but I guess that’s part of my frustration about it.
In my other life, I help people going through divorce. Amanda and I are spending several days this week enjoying the sumptuous hospitality of the Grand Hotel at Point Clear, Alabama so I can attend a family law seminar. What we’re not enjoying is the ridiculous obsession of the Grand Hotel (apparently shared by every guest save two) with keeping buildings ice cold.
The Grand Hotel is a marvelous fantasy world where no weed ever grows more than two inches tall before mysteriously disappearing, where flowers bloom year-round, and where every morning begins with a sumptuous breakfast buffet (if you don’t mind paying $20 a head for it).
It even has a daily afternoon tradition, clearly designed to compete with the ducks at the Peabody, that involves marching around the grounds and banging on drums and culminates with the ceremonial firing of the hotel’s cannon into the bay. Never mind that this tradition didn’t exist until a few years ago; what sport!
Our beef is with the climate control. Air conditioning (even in early October) is fierce, uncompromising, and ubiquitous. The notorious gulf coast humidity condenses on the windows some mornings and blocks our view of the meticulously manicured grounds. All indoor spaces stay cool, for us uncomfortably so, so we have learned never to attend an indoor event without some form of long sleeves. Fortunately, we are allowed to maintain a more normal temperature in our room, but the wolf lurks nearby; the chilled air on the other side of our door to the hall causes moisture to condense on the inside surface of our door and run down onto the carpet.
Our sensibilities about what is normal, what is comfortable, are probably still mostly a product of our life in the city, but we are far enough along in our infant journey toward subsistence that we cringe from spaces that are too cool when the weather is warm. Our bodies are not yet acclimated to the new life we are entering, so we still crave coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter (as well as lots of other things that will soon be unrealistically extravagant). But weeks like this help us see that we’re already becoming different from most city folk.
What does this have to do with subsistence farming? Not much, except to acknowledge that the concepts we all have of what is normal, what is comfortable, even what is appropriate in polite society have been formed during a brief and unprecedented burst of resource slurping. And as that brief era wanes, those concepts about what is normal, what is comfortable, and what is appropriate are about to change — quickly, violently, and disconcertingly.
Perhaps some of our older buildings can be made habitable again for life after air conditioning disappears. Most of the newer ones will become useless hulks. Some of the food we have grown up loving will still be available if we can find a farmer nearby to supply it or grow it ourselves, but not year round. Some of it will be unavailable to all but the very rich. We will all know much more about where our food came from and who grew it, not because Mother Earth News tells us we should but because we will starve if we don’t.
It will become folly to travel 300 miles in a single week to attend a meeting, as we are doing this week. Most of us will spend all our lives within 50 (20?) miles of the place where we were born, as our ancestors did. The sky will become quieter, as air travel becomes reserved for the very rich and increasingly indefensible military adventures.
And those of us who continue to insist on urinating and defecating in our drinking water are in for a paradigm shift. The days of taking the most useful fertilizer available — our urine and feces — and using it to foul 15 gal. per day of previously pristine drinking water are numbered. We and our descendants will look back on them with bemused incredulity.
One of the most delightful features of the grand hotel is the magnificent live oaks that adorn the grounds. One particularly remarkable one seems to cover about 1/2 an acre with its foliage. No one knows how old these majestic beauties are, but we assume at least 500 years (live oaks grow S-L-O-W-L-Y). Having lived through the arrival of the white man and his continuing desire to move around the earth around them and beneath them, the live oaks at the Grand Hotel surely have earned the right to be called survivors. Let us hope that some of us humans prove worthy too.