This is the time in each year when the unrelieved heat suddenly is relieved, at least once or twice, and more often during the night. This is the time, I note, when those who use air conditioners in their homes comment, Oh, I turned the air conditioner off last night. This is the time when I pull the blanket back over my shoulder. If my husband had his druthers, the first floor of our house would have been far less heavy in the air. But he gives in to me on this, and the sole air conditioner is upstairs in his room/studio. My room here on the first floor, southwest corner shaded by the weeping English birches, relies on cross breezes — as does every room on the first floor; every window on the first floor of the house is open, that is the summer modus operandus. I do not like air conditioning. When we are in the livingroom, he has a fan close at hand, and a hand towel to mop sweat, and sometimes a damp washcloth to cool his neck. I think that’s pretty kind.
Recently, I had a bunch of errands to do, bank, library, post office, hardware store, and when completed at the hardware store, found myself at the foot of a street I didn’t remember pedaling ever. So I took it. It was, as many streets in this city are, a mix of large and small houses on large and small plots, in varying levels of tending and planting. It also was, one of those streets with no street trees. I felt like I was pedaling through a heated tunnel. Each house had multiple air conditioners perched on windowsills, held in tight by closed windows. A couple also had one of those low profile air conditioners the body of which hugs the wall below the window and a small hose opening in its own frame sits beneath the almost closed window, not as aesthetically disruptive on the outside. One house had central air. An urban desert. You hear about it, you read it, and see the maps showing heat zones, all disturbing to imagine. But to see it, to stand at one end of the street in New England, tree abundant New England, and see the unmitigated heat rising from pavement, it makes me sweat just to look. As these years progress, this heat will only be worsening. I won’t argue the cause, you know pretty clearly what I believe about humans, designated stewards serving, instead as excessive users, you may think it is cyclical. No matter! It is hot, getting hotter (and stormy getting stormier, and cold getting colder, and dry getting dryer). Trees are natural coolers, natural air conditioners in the real sense of the word, natural shade, natural. Let’s plant them!! And where they are planted, let’s keep them!!
What is the first tree you remember noticing? For me, a city kid, it was the sycamore. They are determined by arborists to be excellent city trees, as they are particularly efficient in scrubbing the air of carbon dioxide and re-emitting oxygen. That sycamore and its companion trees along the block were taken down years ago in interest of widening the street in front of our apartment and the three other apartment buildings on the block and for about twenty blocks east and west of us to five lanes, plus two parking lanes. The noise that rose into our 3rd floor apartment increased most noticeably. A constant dull roar, punctuated frequently by the wheezing buses pausing at the bus stop below us. Then about 10 years ago, trees were planted again. A small but urgently needed success.
Urge your community to plant trees, real trees, shade trees, ones that will grow, breathe, withstand even as they help to diminish the stress. And, this I just learned the other day during a tree identification walk through the local cemetery, make sure that the roots are not totally covered up, not even by dirt, because these roots breathe, and need to not have their noses covered or they will suffocate. I conjecture that this is probably why so many of the trees along Route 3 in Massachusetts , and so many newly installed city trees fail, the roots are buried in dirt, under bricks or grates or concrete–death guaranteed. We need to be mindful of our neighbors including those that keep us breathing. Do you know, even the cracks between concrete blocks of sidewalks benefit the trees’ breathing. Air seeps in however it may, and root noses inhale.