Sweet Heat

Heavenly summer heat

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW's bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.

The instant I step outdoors, it hits me: summer heat, heavy and oppressive, crawling onto me like some animal that has waited all night. Before I make it even halfway to the mailbox for the morning paper, my skin dampens under a blanket of air saturated with relative humidity and yesterday’s searing sun. The forecast calls for highs in the nineties again.


I don’t have many innate gifts – I’m not a natural musician, and never ask me to dance unless you’re trying to win cash on one of those funny video shows. But I do have one talent that I’m pretty proud of: heat tolerance. When a restaurant server brings my meal and warns, “Hot plate,” I touch the plate. And when the dog days of summer show up, I’m a happy hound.

This time of year, water seeps out of me – across my eyes, down my neck, off my fingers. The heat makes me grungy and gross (or maybe grungier and grosser, depending on your opinion of me in milder seasons). Summer makes me sweaty. Happy.

Out West they say, “It’s a dry heat.” Here it’s a wet heat. The Atlantic Ocean rolls up to us. Rivers, swamps, and marshes slice our woods. Our air holds barrels of water. In the heart of summer, the thick humidity and roasting temperatures give the outdoors the feel of a terrarium. Like a fern, I can’t get enough. I mow my lawn in the heat. I prune my shrubs in the heat.

I spend my workdays indoors, sitting in an office where the windows won’t open and the air conditioner never stops running. It’s clean work: lots of computer time, tons of paper, and the occasional book. I deal with email, automated calendars, and online reminders that jingle when deadlines approach. I wear long-sleeved shirts and presentable chinos. I stay cool and dry.

After work, I climb into my car and thaw out on seats baked in an oven of trapped summer air. Often I drive home with the windows cracked and no A/C, letting the swelter blow in around me.

At home in my tidy subdivision, I peel off my shirt and go to my yard, looking for dirty work in the mean heat. No doubt, the homeowners’ association will send a letter informing me that my semi-nudity violates some obscure subsection of the voluminous rulebook, and I’m drawing down property values.

I don’t care. I need this. I spread fertilizer in the heat. I clean gutters in the heat. I water plants, pull weeds, and pressure wash the porch in the heat.

I need to feel the scorching sun bear down on my pasty office skin. And in case my dermatologist is reading this, I’ll say that I limit my exposure – I protect myself against sunburn, but I invite the heat and humidity to pull from me the tepid water that backs up beneath my surface in all the perspiration-free hours at my desk, on the sofa, in conference rooms and classrooms and restaurants and shopping centers. I see it as a cleansing ritual, draining the artificial indoor-ness from me.

The sun holds serious power. I say bring it on. Let me soak in the sweet summer heat. It’s hellish. It’s heavenly.

To view more of Mark Weber's work, click here. www.markweberart.blogspot.com