Humidity, I love thee: a comic
Volatile weather in the bones
HEAT, a comic, is here. I made it last year. This is part 2: HUMIDITY.
Wednesday, July 21, 2022.
It was one of those weirdly stuffy days where the air was unsettled and everything felt two degrees off — work went wonky, my brain felt unfocussed, the guinea pigs were more jittery than usual.
I went to a musical with my favourite special ladyfriends but I felt the anhedonia that materializes when everyone in a room is laughing at the jokes but you. I needed to get away from the neon pop songs and into the hot summer air, so I left at intermission.
Though it had been beautiful on the walk to the theatre, the rain was coming down as I emerged into the night. My phone flashed with a warning of possible tornadoes. But it was my perfect kind of humid drizzle. And I love nothing more than a walk home through the city on a summer night. I felt strangely delighted and appreciative that I’d get to walk through this pancake humidity, with no kids or obligations to rush to, and only the conversational snippets of twenty-somethings in crop tops and blindingly white sneakers to overhear.
The news of the planetary heatwave was heavy on my mind, and I felt the rote twin pangs of “this is terrifying” and “this is beautiful.”
But it’s no longer just about the heat when I feel the warmth worry. Years ago my friend Andy, a brilliant architect and climate activist, told me he was designing structures to withstand stronger winds because, along with the heat, climate instability means more volatile weather, gustier and more erratic currents, a broader range of once unlikely events. I used to pine for thunderstorms because Toronto didn’t seem to have them. Now summer crackles with humid lightning storms that would not be out of place in Miami. And, you know, tornadoes!
I notice this movement of air more now, the extremely windy days that throw trees to the ground, crushing parked cars. The glass that flies off shoddily built towers, the poorly-affixed street signs that creak under the force of these newish gales. Thick, humid nights feel the strangest. Portentous in a way that’s both menacing and compelling.
My kids make fun of me because I always say the same thing when we land in Florida.
But it’s a thing I cannot deny. (And why I will always choose a steam room over a sauna). The humidity seeps in, it was there when my bones were formed. And so for me, it’s calming. But we know that even the tiny climate-induced upticks in heat and humidity have effects that lead to increasing violence and domestic abuse against women. Not everyone responds well when the air turns to soup.
I get home to a house that is cooled to the icebox level my visiting dad likes, and this feeling, too, is familiar. In Florida I never went anywhere without a sweater, because every store and restaurant was air-conditioned to the max. My glasses would fog up, my system would brace for the bewilderment that comes from such a rapid change in temperature. And I would just barely keep myself from yelling at the shopkeepers who left their doors open to let the air-conditioning escape into the hot hot heat. Florida Man levels of ridiculousness before Florida Man existed.
Days later I am up in the furthest north and the humidity has broken a bit. My friend Tyler suggests we jump into the frigid lake and swim around the island we’re staying on. We do so, but towards the end I have to abandon the group, and front crawl back to the dock at speed, because I can feel the cold squirming into my bones. I know that if I don’t warm up, I’ll be forced to perform my hypothermia party trick.
I get warm by laying flat against the dock and calming my breathing down. I tell my teeth to stop chattering, and they listen. The joke has always been that I’ve inherited the worst of my dad (always hot) and the worst of my mom (always cold), which means I’m comfortable only in a very narrow window of temperature. Which may be acutely true for me, but is broadly true for all humanity. It makes me wonder what this weather volatility will mean for the world? Not good things.
As with all climate effects, more cognitive and physical attention will be required of us. Adaptation. But adaptation is a luxury, just like the dock I’m lying on. Humidity isn’t a gorgeous feeling when you’ve no reprieve from it, ever. Never mind the fact that no one is immune.
I get an email from my son’s camp saying their overnight trip had to be cut short because an unanticipated storm suddenly blew in. Kids were ferried back to the main camp on speed boats, tended to by the nurse, plied with hot chocolate. An experience that my son recounts with no small measure of enthusiasm.
At the most basic level, my 21st-century awakening to the gradations of moisture in the air is nothing people without the weather app didn’t do by heart hundreds of years ago. But their weather was less fickle. And until we get the climate crisis under control, this volatility is here to stay. I can feel it in my bones.
This planet: It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity
What do you notice about the weather where you are? Let me know!
Last planet: Tree talks with Todd
I joined the move back to nature a few years ago by simply planting some saplings and tiny dry-root cedars (from a church sale) in our backyard, and also allowing native plants to share the vegetable garden. Cities and towns could do a lot more to encourage such development, including liberalizing rules about “lawns.” We have all been brainwashed into behavior that leads to downgrading our Earth.
Agree! Let’s liberate the lawns!
And from a previous newsletter on community, from Zoe:
We installed a little free library. It’s a little broken but dry and people also leave clothes and canned food and it’s wonderful.
And in my work at play:groundNYC we organize play pop-ups so kids can meet and play in public space. So much more fun and intergenerational than the typical playgrounds.
I love this, thank you!
Climate policy has been as erratic as the weather of late, but good news (breath held, fingers crossed, eyes closed) came in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act this week. A welcome bit of news for the planet. Here are some of the good things in this legislation.
Such an inspiring thread on people leaving their jobs to go work in climate from the always thoughtful Akshat Rathi:
Substack has rolled out polls. Fun. Answer a few questions for me? When I started this newsletter, my goal was to help people do things that mattered. But somewhere along the Covid way, I felt that people didn’t need a TO DO list from a yappy lady with very humid hair, so I walked back the prescriptivism. Let me know your thoughts!
I used to do a lot of weird art. Now I do less weird art. Thoughts?
Harry’s dancing + outfits are a summer lewk. (Yes, I’ve shared these sailor pants before. Yes, I will do so again).
As always, thank you for reading and sending me your thoughts and ideas. Hope you are happy and healthy and neither too hot nor too cold.
Have a beautiful weekend,
Loved this one, Sarah. Such a beautiful use of art for storytelling, linking the personal to the global. And I just learned about Substack polls from you-- trendsetter!!
I experienced this in New Orleans on a Holiday, I was gob smacked at the air conditioning blasting away while doors ( often big sliding doors to open up to a patio) & windows were wide open
My husband thought hydro must be extremely cheap, but it still didn’t make sense to me??
I know people here who do it in their cars, blast the air & open the windows
As he always reminds me Common Sense isn’t so Common