When I was growing up in Florida, our searing summer heat never seemed like an issue. Because I was actually born in the Sunshine State, I think I never really noticed the unbearably hot weather or thick-as-shower-steam humidity.
As I got a little older, though, and began spending summers in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I realized it was possible to enjoy July and August in a cool, green place where people actually slept with their windows open and wore sweaters on the porch at night. Trips to Maine and the upper Midwest confirmed this realization, and it recently dawned on me that Florida summers are really our punishment for escaping the terrible Northern winters.
This summer, thanks to high gasoline prices and a slack economy, I'm noticing that I'm not the only person who's sticking around town. The bike trail that runs in front of my condominium complex seems more crowded than ever. In summers past, I've had the trail mostly to myself, waving occasionally to the few other diehard regulars who venture out in the startling heat and humidity.
This year, though, I'm noticing more people than ever on the trail: families, couples, dog walkers, kids, joggers, bikers and people who seem to just be using it to get where they're going. More of us are staying home this summer and making the most of it.
Even the public pier near my house is packed in the evenings with fishermen, couples, teenagers and children — an unusual sight in the summer. They've all come, no doubt, to catch the whisper of breeze at the end of the day or glimpse the moon or a beautiful cloud-tweaked twilight sky.
Living through a Florida summer doesn't have to be a bad thing. My grandparents managed it in the days before air conditioning. My parents did it, too, in their first little house in Miami, where we all slept under light summer quilts and were cooled by fans.
I've noticed that old Floridians seem to have a knack for engaging the heat. They see it as a friend rather than foe, and welcome its presence by running ceiling fans, donning lightweight clothing and eating meals that don't require turning on ovens.
Even their home decor lightens up as the mercury rises. One Tampa woman I knew swapped out her heavy winter accessories for lighter fare, both in color and fabric, transforming her lovely apartment into a visual refuge from the punishing heat.
A few weeks ago, I toured the Palm Cottage and Norris Gardens in Naples' historic district.
The cottage, the oldest house in town, was built in 1895 by Walter Haldeman, a city founder and then-publisher of the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Though I visited on a warm day, the front porch was cooled by a breeze from the gulf, less than a block away.
The Palm Cottage is now air conditioned, but the guide pointed out that window transoms originally built over the bedroom doors allowed occupants to remain somewhat sane, even on the hottest nights.
Though I'm sure those first residents fled the summer heat (and looming threat of hurricanes), they undoubtedly endured some uncomfortable weather before air conditioning. But they lived through it sensibly and probably comfortably, I'm sure, by making a few adjustments for the heat.
For those of us sticking close to home this summer, take comfort in knowing that the hot weather isn't so bad if you just deal with it intelligently.
And it's a lot better compared to the alternative: living up North where it snows much of the winter. Maybe their summers are milder, but I'll take the good old Florida heat any day.
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.