Brutal, Punishing Heat

There are many times each week when I am glad Amanda chose to marry me. Saturday was another, because she made me rest.

We had decided Friday evening to bring down two trees in the area we call Veg Hill, as part of our work to build a solid sun-soaked garden area. We got a late start because we invited Amanda’s Mom up to see what we were doing, and afterward we drove into Tallassee to have breakfast at the Huddle House on Gilmer. Excellent, by the way.

I cut down the first tree, a 13-inch DBH sweetgum, by about 11:00, and started cutting it into firewood-length logs for splitting. “DBH” stands for “diameter at breast height,” the way forestry types describe how big a tree is.

As fire season approaches I will post about our results burning sweetgum. There’s a controversy raging between my brother Dave Gray and me about whether we can burn sweetgum in our wood stove, but we have tried it in an open fire and thought it burned just fine. I think the trick is going to be to make sure we allow plenty of time for it to season, which of course we will do.

Okay, back to the reason for today’s post. Because of our poor planning, I missed the cool-of-the-morning window and ended up cutting firewood in the heat of the day. I didn’t check the temperature at the moment, but we know the mercury was in the 90s with high humidity, resulting in a “feels like” of 104 or so.

We knew we needed to be drinking lots and lots of water and talked about it, but for reasons I can’t explain, I wasn’t as careful about that as I should have been. I think the main challenge is that I just get focused on a task and keep my head down too long. So I kept working away, sweating profusely, giving up moisture by the bucketful, and not drinking water to replace it. Working away, in the direct sun. Sweating. Dehydrating. Working.

I’m not sure what I would have done if Amanda had not stopped me and said, “Honey, we need to rest.” Maybe I would have figured out on my own that it was time to stop and drink water, or maybe I would have become more and more focused, more and more dehydrated, and more and more dysfunctional until I collapsed. She stopped because her stomach started to hurt.

We sat in the shade of the pole barn together for 20 minutes or so, and I drank a couple of quarts of water. We talked about what had happened and about this new danger we have discovered. Here’s what we think we have learned.

We are fortunate to have a large outdoor work space in the barn where we can get full protection from the sun during the heat of the day. The pallet rack takes up part of the space and cuts it in two, but we have 3,000 square feet of open space, so even with the pallet rack there’s plenty of room to split firewood, to shell peas, to work on a project, or to crank up a canning operation. On the hottest days of the summer we will do most of our outdoor work early in the morning. I would say we would do it in the late afternoon too, but the late afternoon is almost as punishing as 2:30 pm. It’s really about getting out early in the morning. And we will reserve tasks for the middle of the day, from 10:30 am until 6:00 pm, that can be done mostly under cover of the pole barn. It will require a more thoughtful design of each day’s work.

We also got some good news. Even with the heat index bursting through the 100 mark, we felt quite comfortable sitting in the shade of the pole barn. There’s a reason we call it Longleaf Breeze, and the breeze was there even in the punishing heat. So we know that we will always be okay in the heat, as long as we have the good judgment to sit down and rest in the shade from time to time. Later we worked to split that wood I cut, and it didn’t bother us to be working hard, as long as we were able to do it in the shade.

Again yesterday, I worked under the pole barn for an hour and a half in the heat of the afternoon. I was working hard, and I sweated a lot, but I didn’t feel wasted the way I did after working in the sun on Saturday.

Here’s another piece of good news, this one about our apartment. Even in the brutal heat of the summer, the temperature dips into the mid-70s each morning before dawn. So we know we will be able to open the windows and cool down the apartment each night. When the apartment is closed up, even with no insulation, it stays noticeably cool during the heat of the day, because we have designed it so no sun enters it directly during the summer. When we add the foam insulation, as we plan to do next week, we expect to have a nice little hiding place that will stay cool. More about that later.

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