Enough of the tedium of politics and culture! Let’s focus on the real enemy. Which in the South is clearly Summer. I was working in a Southern ER recently, in a location which is beautiful, full of Northerners, and which shall remain unnamed. We’ll call it ‘Vacation Memorial Hospital.’ Lying before me was a charming lady of some 80 years, who had fainted.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘Well, my husband and I decided to ride bikes to lunch. It’s such a pretty day and all. And after about three miles I just felt funny and when I sat on a bench I passed out.’
(Relevant fact for the reader: The heat index was 115 that day.)
‘Oh my! It’s very hot outside. Where are you from?’
‘We’re here from Chicago.’
‘Do you ride bikes at home?’
Laughing, says ‘Oh no, only when we’re here!’
So, living in a city which feels nearly Arctic most of the year, my patient comes to South Town and rides a bike three miles in heat that makes the hardiest Southerner cling to the AC unit with something akin to worship. But this was certainly not the only misguided person I saw who did something similar. There were variations of course: ‘I drank a 12 pack and went to the beach for a few hours.’ Or, ‘I paddle-boarded for 8 hours against the tide, starting at noon.’ You get the picture.
Please excuse my bluntness and paranoia, but the fact that non-Southerns don’t realize about our summers is this: nature wants to kill you. Heat and humidity are its favorite weapons, and dehydration and heat stroke it’s favored techniques. (It’s the opposite of life in the far North, where nature wants to terminate you by turning you into a solid block of ice.)
However, as I realized long ago, it’s more than the heat. Summer in the South has many weapons at its disposal. For instance, it has water. More specifically, water and alcohol, the combination of which makes a fine cocktail but a very poor form of recreation. Summer doesn’t mind drowning the unwary.
Summer also employs creatures. I spend a large part of my summer finding, and destroying, the dozens of wasp nests that inhabit our property in the summer, and which make every expedition outside an exercise in looking for ‘booby traps.’ (I’m not vindictive; one of my sons is dangerously allergic.) There’s a nest on every door frame, in every shed, in the ground over which we mow, under the diving board, in the old can in the woods. Ditto for spider webs; a giant black widow was living happily under my wife’s lawn chair last week.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention venomous snakes. Copperheads have been particularly busy over the last couple of summers, causing painful bites and no doubt receiving financial kickbacks from the makers of $2000 per vial antivenin. Apparently, they have also been communicating with the shark population on the Carolina coast to start some form of horrible insurrection worthy of a B movie.
However, perhaps the most insidious technique of summer is the use of the lawn. The lawn compels us to expose ourselves to the intense sun, to stinging insects and to power equipment. Now, I’m pretty careful about blades turned by engines. But if I ever have a heart attack, odds are it will happen while I’m trying to start the 2-cycle engine of a weed-eater, already partly destroyed by ethanol-containing gasoline. Furthermore, it’s not only a danger to my earthly body. The anger and profanity that boil up while working with the weed-eater, or reprobate mower, are surely enough to make a Baptist into a backslider.
I know, this sounds crazy, but I’m ready for Autumn. And especially for that first freeze when stinging and biting things take a break, when the lawn grows more slowly and when a bike ride needn’t be accompanied by a 9-11 call.
I have a theory about why Southerners make up such a large proportion of our Armed Forces. It’s because of summer. As Southern children we learn that nature, for all it’s wonders, has it in for us. And we spend our time fighting and enduring temperatures, creatures, Kudzu, Poison Ivy and every other nefarious thing thrown our way. We learn caution, appropriate distrust and how to fight dirty. These are lessons that our visitors would do well to understand. Because like it or not, Summer wants you dead.
Now go and enjoy your bike ride!