Sleeping with the windows open

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 5, 2015 10:14 PM

Fall is arriving in tiny increments. The small leaves on the ocotillos have turned from a nearly fluorescent green to a gentle gold. The desert’s version of changing colors. I don’t think they’ll become orange and red, like the glorious colors of the north east, but it’s a change nevertheless. I have been waiting for fall. As much as I love the desert and the heat, I am now ready for cooler temperatures. I don’t even mind that the days are getting shorter. It’s time.

With this change of colors comes something else: the official opening of the windows. It, too, is time. 

When we lived in California, we rarely used our air conditioner. Even when it was hot during the day, it almost always cooled down enough at night that we were able to sleep comfortably. Sometimes we needed an additional fan, but otherwise we slept well. Slept comfortably. Often it would be cool enough that the house remained comfortable for the next day. The last few years before we moved it seemed to get warmer. There were times when the heat was unbearable. My office was upstairs, and thus hotter. Kevin’s office was in a separate building in the backyard, and while it was adorable and had two windows for a cross-draft, it didn’t have air conditioning.

But we were stubborn. We didn’t turn on the AC unless we couldn’t stand it anymore. Or when the dog was suffering. We’d turn on the air when we saw him – which ever him it happened to be – panting because we didn’t want Maguire/Cooper to be too hot because we were too stubborn.

In Tucson, the summers are hot. June and July have daily temps around 100. But the nights don’t cool down, necessitating air conditioning 24/7. We knew that would be the case; we’re not surprised. And we’ve been fine with it. We don’t keep the temps on either side of the house low. Both thermometers are set at 78º. We’re weird that way. 

The first year we were in Tucson, in the rental, we turned the air off on October 6. We did the same last year. This year, we’ve been waiting. August was cooler than normal, with a lot of rain. September warmed up quite a bit. Just when it seemed it would start to turn the seasonal corner, it would run into a red-hot wall of huh-uh.  

Last week was hot. When Roy and Bobbi got here, it was hovering near the century mark. On Friday, when we went to Phoenix, it was 96. But Saturday seemed to change. The daytime temps were warm, but not hot. I don’t think it got to 85. Sunday was comfortable and partly cloudy. By evening, the breeze had picked up and the temps were hovering around 60. We turned off the air and opened the windows. October 4.

When we were building the house and Mike was designing the window formation, it never occurred to him that we wanted windows that open. Evidently a lot of people don’t want their windows to open. Odd. When we told him we wanted screens in the bedrooms as well as on the sliding French doors in the great room, he looked at us as if we’d asked for him to put a horse stable in the dining room. You want windows? he asked somewhat incredulously. We do, we told him. And we got them.

Last night, we opened them wide in the master bedroom. Before we went to bed, we had the two sliders open in the great room. The house was breathing. Outside the small gold leaves of the ocotillos rustled against each other. An owl hoo’d. Somewhere coyotes howled. Crickets chirped incessantly. We snuggled down under the covers listening to the sounds of the desert at night, feeling the cool desert air. Breathing fresh air. It’s fall. It’s time.

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live out loud

I am awed and sometimes frightened by the power of nature

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 16, 2015 7:56 PM

I’m not sure my mother has ever really understood why I choose to live in the west. Our family never strayed from the east coast until I decided that I was born to live here. I don’t know if, even now, I can articulate what drew me here but I always wanted to live in the Southwest. It had somehow always been in my soul; perhaps I was a Native American in a former life.

I’ve lived in the west since 1984, first in San Diego, then in Scottsdale, then in LA for 27 years, now Tucson, for nearly 2. One of the things I heard a lot was “aren’t you afraid of earthquakes?” I suppose I never really thought about it. I try to live in the moment and not think too much about what ifs. Like every other human being, sometimes I succumb regardless to worry and wonder, but I also actively practice the “everything happens for a reason and when it’s supposed to” mantra. Granted it can often be hard to see what the reason can possibly be. Disaster and death can be so seemingly random. Think about the person who kisses his or her loved ones goodbye in the morning with a “see you tonight” and then is killed in a car crash.

So I never worried too much about earthquakes, even after I experienced the Northridge quake in 1994. 6.8 on the Richter scale. It was terrifying but not enough to make me pack up and move. After all, every part of the country, indeed every part of the world, has their own version of disaster and most people don’t move from where they’ve made their homes. They simply clean up the mess and continue living.

I remember my dad calling me days after the quake – it took a while for phone service to resume and cell phones were not common – and saying “honey, don’t  you think it’s about time you started thinking about moving back here?” I didn’t think so and I didn’t leave, not for another 19 years and when I did it had absolutely nothing to do with earthquakes.

The awesome power of Mother Nature is always something that astounds me, something I try to respect. As human beings, we believe, foolishly, that we can somehow control our fates. That we can build towering skyscrapers near fault lines and that as long as we include the latest sway technology, those buildings will withstand a quake. Yes it will shake, sure it will sway enough to make you feel seasick, but it won’t fall.

Bullshit. We cannot build anything that truly withstands the power of nature and I am forever humbled and awed by such a fact. There is no force greater than the earth itself. We build bridges and we retro fit our homes and we believe that we are fine. And then Mother Nature clears her throat and a city is leveled in 20 seconds. Look at the poor people in Nepal, or Fukishima, or any other city that has experienced an earthquake. Look at the Midwestern towns that have been laid flat by tornados. Look at the gulf coast that has been flooded and destroyed by hurricanes. Look at avalanches and fire.

We are small and insignificant, and I embrace my miniature status.

Remnants of the storm above and beyond the hill

Last night, sometime around 2, the wind began to howl, that bracing, low roar that alternately whistles through open windows and cactus needles. Soon, rain began to fall. Actually, fall is too soft a word. It began to pound. The skylight in the bathroom sounded like it would fracture. I got up to close the windows as the rain turned to hail and hammered the deck. The winds, I found out today, were nearly 50 miles per hour. The house stood firm but the air vents screamed in agony, the deck furniture scraped and whined. I was sure the pillows from the couches would end up down in the desert, blown over the rails. The cactus bent nearly over in two before snapping up. This went on for two hours, maybe more, and I laid awake the entire time, listening, wondering and marveling. I wasn’t worried; I was awed.

Today, the sky was still overcast. The ground was still wet, the air cool. I watched as heavy clouds oozed over the hillside above and behind us. And as I watched, blue sky opened, just enough to allow the sunshine to squeeze through and bath the hill in warmth. Mother Nature had made her point and now she was feeling better. I smiled and nodded in agreement, forever humbled by this part of the world that I choose to call my home. And as I watched, I realized why I love it so much here. It’s the mystery, and the glory, of it all.

In the summertime

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 8, 2011 7:09 PM

Summer has officially arrived here in Southern California. For the past few days, the temperature has been flirting with 100º with only the slightest of breezes. Even the wind is hot, like a gush pushed through a furnace or a heated oven. The palm trees sway lazily, and the flowers bloom boldly in the morning before closing back into themselves in the afternoon. In the evening, they peak back out, hesitantly at first as if trying to make sure the sun and its unrelenting rays have gone away. Then they breathe a sigh of relief. All is well; let’s have a drink. As if on cue, the sprinklers come on.

The dog lays in the entrance-way on the tile where it’s coolest. Actually it’s coolest in the bathroom but evidently he only likes the bathroom at 3 am. We put a fan on low just in front of him, and it seems to keep him comfortable. We’re very strange people and don’t particularly like air conditioning, not in the house, and not unless the heat is absolutely unbearable. Most days, it remains OK. Warm to be sure, but a nice ceiling fan does wonders. And once the sun dips behind the foothills and darkness descends, the air cools, and the house cools as well. We get a lovely cross breeze between the back of the house and front bay window in the kitchen. When we sleep, a top sheet is perfect. By the middle of the night, I’ve often pulled up the comforter.

As long as the dog isn’t in distress, we leave the AC in the off position. So far, with his tile and his fan, he sleeps through the worst heat of the day with nary a pant. All is well; he rises occasionally and saunters into the kitchen for a drink. We put ice in his water bowl.

According to meteorologists, summer extends from June, through July and the whole of August in the northern hemisphere where the country resides. The southern hemisphere is the polar opposite with their summer taking place in December, January and February. From an astronomical perspective, the summer days lengthen from the equinox to the solstice with the days beginning to shorten after the solstice. The solstice happened on June 21 but the days don’t seem any shorter to me. I doubt I’ll notice any changes until fall.

Much of the country experiences severe storms and even hurricanes in the summertime. In the desert southwest, we swelter in the dry heat. Though frankly, when it’s over 100º, it doesn’t matter what kind of heat it is. It’s just hot. We have fires and earthquakes. That’s part of our summer season. The ground needs a drink; it rarely gets one.

In the summer, people vacation, the kids go to camp, the studios release their summer blockbusters. There is much splashing in pools and the beaches over flow; sunscreen gets slathered on and the world smells like coconut and bananas. Bicycles make an appearance again after the drenching spring, and motorcycles roar along the roads. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops abound. Barbecues are the norm. Iced coffee temporarily takes over for hot coffee, at least after the morning’s first pot, and iced drinks from soda to frozen margaritas and daiquiris to good old-fashioned ice water refresh us. It’s a glorious time, one of my favorites. Maybe that’s why I live in the desert, where it’s summer most of the year, where the heat evaporates at night to leave us comfortable, joyous and celebrating the reprieve.

The day has begun to cool now, and the sun is drifting lazily toward the sea some 10 miles or so away. I’m sitting on the patio waiting on my husband. It’s just us tonight. Our friends cancelled and that’s OK. I’m still recovering from my whirlwind trip last weekend, still nursing a bit of a sore throat.

We’ll sit here and listen to the birds, to the music playing softly in the background, to the dog stirring from his position on the floor inside. It will be time for a walk soon. It’s July 8. Summertime. All is well.

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live out loud

Open windows

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 4, 2011 11:07 PM

I love opening the windows and feeling – smelling – the fresh air as it rushes in. Even in Los Angeles, there is such a thing. Granted, we live north west of the city and just outside of Los Angeles County so we’re not really part of the smog thing that Southern Cal has long been known for. Out here in the OP, the temperatures often remain cool even deep into the summer and so the windows remain open.

There is something so freeing about an open window. It means welcome, bringing the outside in to spend some quality time. It allows a freshness to flow through any room. It is sweet and real and full of clouds. I always wonder why people automatically resort to air conditioning, even though deep down I understand. It gets hot; why not cool down any way possible, even electronically? My mother does it, though she’s older and the humidity where she lives gets fairly nasty. My sister and her family are big on AC in the summer as well. Again because of the humidity and the lack of air movement in the night. I remember it well.

When I was growing up in the North East, no one had air conditioning, even the most posh of homes. It wasn’t because people couldn’t afford it; it was because it wasn’t usually needed. An open window and a nice breeze was usually sufficient to cool things down even after a hot day. Our family had one large floor fan that my mother would place at the start of the hallway leading to my brother’s bedroom on the right and further down, my sister’s on the left and mine directly across on the right. We would open our windows and my parents would assure us that the fan would help draw the fresh air, the cooler air, in. It rarely worked, especially on those nights when the air refused to move and the warm hung like rain. On those nights, the open windows didn’t really help and we simply roasted. I imagine I wished for AC then but I don’t remember even knowing that AC existed.

Then I moved west into the desert and while the summer days are often brutal, the nights normally cool off nicely. Open windows allow the house to cool naturally, bathing the house in a gentle, earthy fragrance unlike the stale conditioned air that blasts from a machine. Kevin and I also don’t like air conditioning. It cools the air to be sure but it leaves the house feeling artificial. We’re also lucky because our bedroom is on the first floor so it never gets horribly hot and when we open the windows in the master bath and the slider in the bedroom, the cross draft is lovely. Perfect for sleeping, for breathing.

People existed for centuries with nothing more than open windows to bring fresh air into their bedrooms and their homes. I know that modern technologies have made our lives easier, but not necessarily better.

To me, open windows are a metaphor for the ultimate freedom; for the air that we breathe. Open windows are also a metaphor for an open mind, an open philosophy, an open sky; a true communion of industry and nature.

A welcome celebration of both. 

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