This is my third A/C-free summer, and I don’t think I could return to the refrigerated home life.
It’s a choice, not a hardship. The first July in my no-central-air house, a friend gave me a window unit for the bedroom. I installed it, never used it, and took it out again.
To me, kicking the A/C habit feels liberating, not limiting.
Being in the country means I can keep the doors and windows wide open from June through September and fill the house with birdsong and ever-changing scents: dewy grass, white clover, approaching rain. The air inside the house feels alive, moving, never stale. At night, coyote choruses and the surf-like sound of wind in the cottonwood trees lull me to sleep.
On the hottest days, with blinds lowered on west-facing windows, the inside of the house can stay 10 or 12 degrees cooler than the outside. On a 96-degree day, that’s pretty warm, but it eliminates the A/C-induced sensations of walking into a furnace or a walk-in freezer when exiting and entering the house.
It’s funny how many people tell me they could never live without air conditioning when you think that 50 years ago, only 10 percent of American homes had it, according to Slate.
Pope Francis got in trouble recently for calling air conditioning an example of “harmful habits of consumption,” so let me issue a disclaimer: Air conditioning can be a life-saving technology in some situations, such as homes with poor natural ventilation and for the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.
But the pope is right: We could reduce A/C use considerably without endangering public health.
We just need to learn how to keep cool naturally, like chickens do.
When I open the coop at daybreak, my six hens dance across every square yard of my one-acre property until the heat settles in about 10 a.m. The frenetic pace resumes an hour before sunset, when the sun drops below a railroad trestle to the west.
In the afternoon they hide beneath bushes to nap and nap, occasionally rising for a drink of water.
I mimic their activity patterns when I’m home, limiting strenuous work to the cool early morning hours and intentionally seeking shade and keeping well-hydrated in the scorching middle of the day.
Dressing properly helps prevent overheating, too.
In historical photos you can see that farmers used to wear long-sleeved shirts and broad-brimmed hats in summer when working in the fields. Today’s T-shirts and baseball caps leave too much skin exposed, increasing the risk of skin cancer and also heating up the body. Visitors to India, Vietnam and other hot climates notice that locals cover up to keep cool.
I wear shorts, strappy tops and flip-flops inside and in the shade, but make sure my legs, arms and head are covered in the sun.
Another good idea is to make your own shade, as my neighbor does by using an umbrella as a parasol on walks.
At the end of the day I cool off by getting wet. I have a 6-foot oval stock tank that I fill with hose water in the afternoon — in two hours, the sun and metal heat the chilly water to comfortably refreshing. (If I want warm water for a late-night dip, I fill the tank in the morning.)
You can achieve the same cooling effect with a pool or a shower.
Sitting next to an open window with a night breeze tickling my damp skin, feet up, sipping an icy cold beverage in a tall glass while watching a classic summer movie like “Jaws,” “Body Heat” or “Night of the Iguana” is a pleasure that can’t be re-created in a cold, season-less room.