Give Me Air!

I used to be much tougher; but the older I get, the more I enjoy the comfort of modern conveniences.  Yep, I’m turning into an elderly wimp.

When I was a kid there was no such thing as sunscreen; or if there was, the news of it hadn’t filtered through to our little rural backwater.  As a fair-skinned redhead, sunburns were inevitable unless I wanted to stay indoors all my life.

I didn’t.  I was out all day long in my shorts and T-shirt, playing in haystacks and crawling through tall grass and wading in ditches; putting cool compresses on the sunburn at night and peeling the skin off a few days later until I was one big freckle that lasted until winter.

Our little farmhouse didn’t have air conditioning in the early days, and there was no escape from the muggy heat of a Manitoba summer.  Even with all the windows open, the house was airless.  Clothing and bedding were perpetually damp and clammy from the humidity.

Big black crickets infiltrated the house in summer.  I’ll never forget the first time my brother brought one of his girlfriends home for the first time.  We were sitting at the dinner table when, in a momentary lull in the conversation, there was an audible *plop*.  Yep, a giant cricket had crawled out from behind the wall clock and fallen to the floor before scuttling into the safety of a nearby air vent.  The memory of the look on that girl’s face still makes me snicker.  (Their relationship didn’t last, oddly enough.)

But…

These days I don’t venture outdoors without slathering on sunscreen, swaddling myself in long sleeves and long pants, and donning a hat and sunglasses.

My skin is now sensitive to some invisible critter that lives in grass and dirt, so anytime I’m working or playing outside I have to tuck my pant legs into my socks to prevent giant red welts on my legs.  (This has the added bonus of making me look like a complete doofus.)

If even a single bug ventures into my house I instantly swoop down and annihilate it.  (Unless it’s a spider or a ladybug, in which case I gently pick it up and put it outside unharmed. But all others get heartlessly squished.)

And a couple of years ago we had central air installed.

Here in Calgary, air conditioning is viewed with a hint of condescension (until the temperature tops +30C/86F, at which point it’s regarded with envy).  We usually only get a couple of weeks of hot weather and even then the temperature rarely exceeds +15C/59F at night.  Most people just open the windows when it’s cool and close them during the day.  Air conditioning is for wussies.

So when I sit in my cool, comfortable living room while everybody else bakes… instead of feeling smug, I feel a bit embarrassed.

That is, until a few days ago when the air conditioner inexplicably quit.  And the temperature rose one degree inside the house.

Well.

The way I rushed off to phone the service line, you’d think the fires of hell were licking at the crack of my ass.  “OMG, the temperature’s gone up a degree and the air conditioner isn’t running!  What will I DO?!?”

Um… take a pill, that’s what.  A couple of years ago the temperature in our bedroom regularly topped +30C in the summer.  It didn’t kill me.

But apparently now it will.

‘Scuse me while I totter off to my rocking chair now…

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Camping’s Out

The long weekend is over, and I’m sitting at my desk, scratching the mosquito bites on my butt.  No, I wasn’t having that much fun out in the bush.  The little suckers were ferocious this weekend, and they bit right through my jeans.

We used to camp almost every long weekend.  Get a bunch of people together, grab a few adjoining sites at a campground in the mountains, and pitch a tent village.  The site in the middle was designated the “main” site, where all the cooking and socializing took place.

If we forgot to pack some critical piece of camping gear, there was always somebody in the group who’d lend us theirs.  The sites on either side provided a buffer zone between us and the other yahoos in the campground.  We sat around the campfire swigging cold beer and shooting the shit in the evenings while the mountains glowed around us.  Occasional bursts of laughter rose from other campsites, but the echoing silence of the Rockies always lay in the background, almost a presence in itself.

As we got older, though, the attraction waned.  The other yahoos in the campground got, well, yahooier.  (Honest.  Parks Canada backs us up on this one.  It has nothing to do with our age.)  The parks started to charge fees for a fire permit and a tiny bundle of soggy firewood.  The campgrounds were so teeming with humanity that the sites got packed closer and closer together, until the neighbours were only a few feet away.  We all attempted to “enjoy nature” while radios blared and children screamed and dogs barked and passing cars raised clouds of gravel dust that settled on us in a layer resembling the ash from Pompeii.

And driving the TransCanada Highway between Calgary and the Rockies was like taking part in a gong-show amateur hour at Race City Speedway.  By the time I made it home from my “relaxing” weekend in the mountains, my shoulders were up around my ears and my language was melting the steering wheel.

So one long weekend, we just… didn’t go.

It was quieter and less crowded in the city.  Everybody else was out there in the campgrounds searching for the elusive “wilderness experience”.  A few years later, we bought a tiny piece of treed property in the country, and we’ve been enjoying our own private wilderness ever since.

I hear there are fire bans and liquor bans in the national park campgrounds now.  I know it’s no fun to lie awake at night wondering if your neighbours are going to burn down the forest (and you) with their giant conflagration.  Obnoxious drunks bellowing at the tops of their lungs at three o’clock in the morning are vastly overrated.

But at the same time, I feel sad that a lot of people won’t have the opportunity to look up at the alpenglow and laugh around a campfire with some cold beer and good friends.  It’s really too bad that the sins of the few have once again resulted in a loss of freedom for the many.

Eh, sonny, let me tell you about the good old days…

Sigh.