This thought is not intended as morbid; by it I simply mean that I wish never to move to any other house. I love the place, I love the way it combines hoary rusticity with lovely understated contemporary flair. I love the grounds, I love performing the upkeep on it, I love the garden, the orchard, the breezy screened porch and its wraparound view of a cathedral of green, the songbirds, the butterflies.
So unless something terribly untoward happens, I will cling to the place as long as I can possibly keep it up. If all goes as planned, then, it will never fall to me to have to sell it; with any luck, that task will go to the executors of my estate.
It will not be my problem, then, that the one, single Tragic Flaw of Jingo Acres will appreciably lessen its resale value. For you see, for all its amenties, its wonderfully well designed kitchen, its plantings of native Virginia
In all but the worst heat of the summer, an attic fan, combined with ceiling fans in most of the rooms, cools the house as well as any heat-pump you could wish for. Wisely planted trees shade the southern exposure, keeping the sun's heat off the roof. Only in the last few days of this waning June, as the really hot weeks come on, have we needed to resort to the window-units we keep in reserve.
Last night I sat and watched TV in the den, basking in the coolness of the room. The day had been one of the first truly miserable scorchers of the summer, the sort of weather in which the legendary Washingtonian humidity causes a body to come out in a muck-sweat that never dries. Toenail-fungus weather. Crotch-rot weather. Heat that only an anaerobic microbe could love. I wore only pyjama-pants and a t-shirt, all deliciously loose, air-flowing cotton. Bare feet. A glass of cold wheat-beer, its own sweat soaking the coaster-napkin to the point of disintegration, sat on the table.
I stepped out onto the porch to look at the night before going to bed. The glass door from the cabin was nearly opaque from the hundreds of country moths that battered against it, begging to come in and dash their brains out against the one light left burning inside.
The coolness of the night was a revelation. Yes, it was still humid and muck-sweaty, but the air, now at eleven in the evening, had cooled -- and this coolness was so much more alive than the dry, modern, silent coolness I'd just left. This coolness was alive with night-sounds, night-smells, the redolence of mud and mold and falling dew, with the muted racket of insects and frogs and birds. Breezes stirred the leaves of the walnut over my head, brought wafting in other, more distant night-noises: a dog barking a mile away, a car crunching on the gravel road, an owl far off up the mountain.
This, it struck me, was exactly the coolness that, years ago, was a grateful reward for a day's labor in stifling and relentless heat, in starchy clothing, in dusty fields and smoky forges and deafening manufactories and muddy stockyards and windowless, dark, choking work-spaces. The sort of respite that was longed for during the workday: Lord, please let this day be over. Please, God, bring on the night.
This was what city-people worked so hard for in the days before air conditioning, what laborers strove to earn: just enough scratched-out recompense, just enough extra whipout, to buy a ticket to the mountains, to the breezy beach in July, so as to enjoy the very thing I now consider utterly routine, a birthright: a little bit of coolness at night. In tenements packed to the rafters with workers, mattresses were spread on every fire-escape on every street in every city in the world, entire families in their night-clothes spread-eagled in the humid dark hoping for the blessing of a whisper of a breeze, dreaming, when they could dream, of a day when they could afford surcease from the heat.
Billions of us still operate under this calculus of cool. Billions still long for sundown when the evening zephyrs begin to promise a temporary respite from the daylight's cruelty. Billions still spread bedclothes on rooftops and porches and verandas, to catch a breeze in which to sleep. I have no real wish to join them -- my air-conditioned privilege, my rigidly controlled little 72-degree pleasure-dome, is far too comfortable to give up voluntarily. But here in this box, this tightly sealed, antiseptic ecosystem, I can't help feeling that I've unlearned a hard lesson that my ancestors knew only too well, and for this I am mightily sorry.