Summer has arrived on the eastern seaboard. I know this not because of the date or the temperature (although they are both relevant), but because I’ve just been inflicted with the first mosquito bite of the season.
The calendar says the official start of summer is the equinox on June 21. Most Americans say it begins on Memorial Day weekend — roughly equivalent to the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend in the UK. The Monday of Memorial Day weekend (the last full weekend in May) is a Federal holiday to remember those who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. But around here it’s mostly noted as the date when summer businesses start to open “Down the Shore” — which is how Philadelphians refer to the New Jersey beach towns.
The weather is certainly getting in a summer mood; it’s been climbing rapidly the past few days. This is today’s forecast (92 Fahrenheit means 33.3 degrees celsius) and the car’s temperature reading a few minutes ago.
An orange air quality alert (issued by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) means that “air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups … children, people suffering from asthma, heart disease or other lung diseases, and the elderly.” The heat advisory means “hot and humid conditions are expected…heat and humidity may cause heat stress during outdoor exertion or extended exposure.” Lovely. The local news is reminding people to check on elderly neighbors and relatives. If either advisory turns red (which can happen come August, when the heat and humidity really build), it basically means don’t go outside today, and if you must then try not to breathe.
But for me, the real Start of Summer is the day of the First Mosquito Bite — which happened to be today. When I first came to the States, back in August 1985, I had no idea that mosquitoes were a serious concern. My first night in the graduate housing dorm I innocently threw open my bedroom window. Next morning I woke up with two massive bites on my leg — I freaked, grabbed my neighbor from the room next door, and asked if she had any idea what could have caused these? A New Yorker with a well-developed sense of disdain she laughed at me and said, “Mosquito bites of course. There must be a hole in your window screen.” I hurried back to my room, and as I slammed the window shut I realized that yes, there was a screen I was supposed to have pulled closed once the window was opened. Lesson learned.
So now it’s time to start checking regularly that there are no puddles of stagnant water collecting at the bottom of the drain pipes or around the garden furniture, and to put dunks in the bird bath (little rings of Stuff that gradually dissolve over the course of a month, harmless to the birds but lethal to mosquito larvae). It’s also time for the daily decision: stay indoors; spray self with lethal chemicals to keep the mosquitoes at bay; wear long sleeves and trousers and cook; place lit citronella candles all over the back yard (which are patchily effective at best and smell kind of icky); or risk getting eaten up. There’s a reason anyone who has the time/money tries to decamp Down the Shore as often as they can in the summer.
It’s also time to start closing all the blinds at the back of the house (which faces west) every afternoon, to try to reduce the heat radiating in through the windows in a bid to ease some of the burden on the air conditioning. Yes, we have central air conditioning — nice, cool dry air that blows out of the same vents that the heat comes through in the winter. My very first summer in a rented apartment in West Philadelphia, we had no air conditioning. Just strategically placed fans. I woke up one morning in early August nauseated and shivering from what I later learned was heat stroke. So we graduated to one air conditioning unit, placed in the bedroom window. We basically migrated to the bedroom for the summer, emerging only for quick forays to the kitchen for food. As soon as I got home from class or work I’d take a shower then stand and drip in front of that window unit to cool down. But now I’m a proper grown up and central air is absolutely essential for me to survive a Philly summer.
Meanwhile, the poor dog is Not Happy. She detests the heat just as much as she detests the snow. The last few mornings she’s gleefully bounded out of the back door, only to quickly slow down and visibly start to droop. Within minutes I’m getting the baleful doggie look: “Why are you making it so hot?” She can only get a walk first thing in the morning or late in the evening (when the mosquitoes are out. Joy). As soon as she comes inside she flops down in front of one of the air vents, where the wood floor is nice and cool.
Yesterday I actually saw people walking their dogs at midday, which strikes me as pretty harsh for something that’s basically wearing a fur coat in 90 degree weather. I read somewhere that you should rest the back of your hand on the sidewalk; if you can’t hold it there for at least five seconds, then it’s too hot to walk the dog.
At least the humidity isn’t at its worst yet. When the glasses fog up in the five seconds it takes to walk from the house to the car, THAT’s when you know that summer is fully underway.