Friday, July 22, 2011

hot and cold weather

Once upon a time, I lay down in a stall next to a horse. It was a frigid night in upstate New York. Winter temperatures routinely dipped to 20, 30 and even 40 degrees below zero.

A friend and I had volunteered to do all of the barn chores the next morning (feeding a dozen or more  horses, milking the cow, mucking out the stalls and gathering eggs) if the school we attended would allow us to sleep out in the barn. Since getting up early was no one's idea of a good time, I think the school saw our offer as a godsend. But we hadn't counted on the cold.

At first we buried our sleeping bags in the hay mound. But hay is a poor insulator and so, deep in the night, we both decided that bunking in with a horse would ease the freeze. My friend trusted horses and he seemed to fall asleep immediately. I, on the other hand, lay next to a breathing behemoth and could think of nothing but the fact that if the horse inadvertently rolled over, I would be squashed beyond all recognition. I was between a rock and a hard place: I didn't want to freeze to death and I didn't want to be smothered to death either.

I solved the problem eventually by going out to the manure pile, digging a shallow trench, putting my sleeping bag in it, covering all the but the bag's entry point, and crawling in. Whatever else anyone might think, manure is very warm and I slept like a baby.

But the fear of being smothered by that horse lingers even to this day ... especially in the hot weather that has descended here. The dense inescapability of the heat reminds me of what it might actually have been like to have a horse lolling on my body. No where to run.

The Associated Press, which, like other news outlets, has trimmed away its quotient of competence in an effort to bolster the bottom line, announced today in a news story that "residents are bracing themselves for temperatures near and above boiling point." There are plenty of other indicators of slovenly reporting practices these days, but that one small bit of uncorrected hyperbole gets under my skin ... reporters so excitable and inept that they are willing, together with their editors, to throw physics into a cocked hat. Give or take a little, the boiling point of water (which is over 50% of the human body), is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures around here have been several points shy of  100 and are predicted to continue in that range.

No doubt my own hyperbole -- imagining that hot weather is like being smothered by a horse -- is also off the mark by a fair bit, but at least my imagination doesn't run around pretending to report or embellish the news.

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