We are in-between Sabbats and I had thought that perhaps I’d write a very Wiccan article about a Moon phase or something. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I’d like to write about something the Summer months brings that we are all both blessed and plagued by. That is… H-E-A-T.
Summer is in full swing- the Solstice just behind us- and while the days might be getting shorter, they WILL be getting hotter!
This weekend was a scorcher for us here in Columbus, Ohio, and the heat really got to me. It was easy for me to escape into air conditioned spaces and drink lots of cold and iced drinks to cool off. Now that I am getting older, I don’t handle heat like I used to. In my 20’s, I spent most every weekend outdoors at either some nature trail or at an outdoor festival for twelve plus hours daily. These days, I just can’t handle it. These days, I am very much a woman comfortable in modern, artificially simulated environments although I love to escape into nature and to do my gardening.
While researching for this article, I started to think- back in earlier times, our ancestors did not have climate control as we know it. As a matter of fact, air conditioning itself as we now know it was not invented until after electricity, with the first electrical air conditioning being invented in 1902. Large scale residential air conditioning began in 1920, not quite 100 years ago.
This led me to wonder how people survived for so long without our modern air conditioning. I did a little research and was surprised to find the answer was not toughness or being “used to the heat”. I admit, that made me feel a little better about myself! The way they braved the heat is that people have always used some form of climate control and cooling in the hot months!
Many of the techniques are lost knowledge to many of us because of our lifestyles today and the fact we have little to no prompting to remind us of days gone by. Unless somebody tell you things, or unless you are a history buff, you might not know how easily people managed to get by and cool themselves, and you might not know the most interesting thing is they have been doing so for centuries!
Instead of a working, I will be listing how people in different parts of the world used to keep cool without electricity, and how some of these can be used for tips for us in modern days.
Without further adieu…I give you my climate controlled tour through history, beginning with…
I lucked into an amazing article that showed the Celtic Round Houses that dated to the Iron Age. The houses were made of natural materials. How many of you spend as much time as possible near trees and gardens in hot weather? You can feel the difference in how much cooler this makes it than when you are just exposed in full sunlight without the plants. They also used wattle and daub, which is a woven reed coated in clay and manure, a similar method used in constructing adobe homes. Brick, clay, and stone floors and walls are cooler and block heat better than simple wooden homes. The roofs are also domed and high, because heat rises, and the roofs were vented to allow both heat and smoke from fires out. These structures were also practical for winter and for helping stay warm. You wanted your home to be sort of like a thermos- it kept things hot or cold as needed. Here is the link I found that shows amazing photographs to one sites well reconstructed Round Houses.
One of the best examples of architecture to beat the heat and the cold is right on the Orkney Islands in Mother Scotland. Dating back to the late Neolithic period, it is estimated it was inhabited for about 600 years. Skara Brae, is a perfect example of working smarter, not harder to live comfortably. While, in my opinion, interconnected homes sound like a bad idea for privacy reasons and for germ control, it was one of the very best ways people worked cooperatively to live well. Like a modern basement, these homes were built underground to utilize the earth’s perfect climate control. The homes were also constructed of stone, which was both durable, and insulated against heat very well. The settlement was so well-built, that after being abandoned, then buried in earth for 4,000 years, the stones and walls are still quite intact. I’m ready to move in today! Here is a link to one of the websites if you want to learn more.
What would a discussion of ancient technology be without including a tidbit about Ancient Rome? The Romans, known for knowledge and groundbreaking innovations had pipes built in the walls of the homes that ran cold water for cooling. They also paid to have snow hauled and stored in structures that were built underground to keep it cold and frozen. They visited baths to cool off as well. It was indicated in the article I will share that the richer classes had more access to these things, of course, with ice and snow being sold at a higher price than wine.
It gets pretty hot in Egypt. So home construction is crucial for survival. Homes were built of mud bricks or granite for the rich classes, and courtyards where gardens could be planted to help beautify and stave off heat were added as well. The more rows of bricks you had in your house, the better insulated against the heat it was. Clothing was also designed with weather in mind. Linen is famous for helping the wearer keep cooler in heat, and Egyptians are the ones who invented it, making it out of flax. The rooftop was used as another story for many homes, and people slept outdoors on the roof to catch the breeze at night. Much cooking was also done out of doors to keep from heating up the house when it was hot. A really interesting article about Ancient Egyptian homes in general is worth sharing. Enjoy.
In many ways, the people of China lead the world when it comes to inventions and innovations. I was especially impressed with their methods of keeping cool in hot weather. They built rooms in their homes that were strategically placed to allow a fan that harnessed the power of water to cool the room. Like the Romans, they also stored ice and snow for Summer use. They also used metal containers to store ice to chill their wine. Furniture could be made of stone as opposed to cushions that retain heat, and porcelain pillows, which sound painful, but kept cool were also used. I found the most awesome article to share about China’s cooling technologies.
While I love learning about many different peoples, I admit, one of my favorite historical period is the Victorian British and American one. Whenever I enter a home built in that period, I always want to stay. We used to think I just liked the look of it- but I have come to believe it is due to the use of space and how well air flows in the homes. They DO have a lot of my favorite things in them- besides great décor, of course!
*Stone and earthen dug out basements- Not only used to store foods , these underground spaces were a good place to escape to in extreme heat. They would likewise be opened up to allow the cool air to circulate into the upper floors.
*Large windows with differing openings for conducting airflow- Upper latches could be open in the daytime to let heat out, and closed at night so lower latches would allow cool night air in.
*Shades and blinds- The darker it is, the cooler it is. While in wintertime, letting the sunlight in will warm a room, in Summer, you wanted to keep the light out so as not to raise temperatures. Awnings on the sides of the house built over windows also helped shade the windows, and stones set decoratively around window openings helped with that too.
*Home décor fabrics- Clear back to the days of early America, people would switch out heavy winter curtains and heavy fabrics lining canopy beds with white, light ones to help keep insects out and allow nighttime breezes in come Summertime. For some reason white also releases heat, where dark colors retain heat. That is why you see light colors being fashionable in Summer, and dark ones being fashionable in winter.
*Ice creams, cold drinks, and icehouses- Like more ancient people, Victorians cut ice out of lakes and rivers, and hauled and stored snow and the ice in specially built above and below ground stone structures that kept the ice cold. Later in Victorian times, decorative iceboxes for inside the home were built. There were openings built into the side of the house so the ice delivery man could just slide the ice block right into the apparatus. Ice creams were a big deal, and trips to the pharmacy for iced drinks and ice creams were common social outings. After coca cola was invented, people would go to have a cold coke- and this was back in the day when an average person just had ONE or less serving of this a day- and each serving was about seven ounces comparable to today’s whopping 20 ounce servings several times per day.
*Ye Olde Front Porch- Sleeping outside on the front porch after spending quite a bit of time socializing out there to catch the breeze was common practice. When I was a kid, I thought front porches were for playing on outside to keep out of the rain. It turns out front porches were a huge part of how people survived heat. Lucky people could afford a house with a big wraparound porch as well!
*Wet sheets and sitting still- An interesting technique employed by people all around the world was to just wet down blankets and sheets to sleep under or sit between. Children would play in the grass in-between wet sheets pinned to clotheslines, and the wet sheets could go under the sleeping person as well as above them. Sleeping with your feet out from under the sheets helped as well. Doing as little as possible in the heat and saying still helped too.
*Trees and gardens- Trees to shade the home and plants that retain water and cool the ground help immensely. They created their own earthly paradise and kept cool in the process.
What about when you could not be home inside?
Besides dressing differently in Summertime, or moving from well-constructed building to well-constructed building, what could people do to keep cool in Summertime? Realistically, we know not everybody could just sit still at home in a cool dark room until Falltime. Crops had to be tended, as did livestock, and non agricultural business and travel had to take place as well. What were things people could do to help themselves while venturing out into the heat that people today can do as well?
*Stay hydrated- I know- sounds cliché, right? But heat is an easy way to get dehydrated. Drink a lot of water and eat moisture rich fruits and veggies in the heat. While they SAY cold drinks make the body’s metabolism work HARDER and to drink room temperature liquids, everybody knows you feel better on a hot day with a cold drink.
*Move from building to building if you have to- It is the ONLY way I survived the ONE Summer I spent in Phoenix. I drove my air conditioned car from place to place. So did everybody else. I will add that Phoenix and similar environments never supported large populations at any time in history. Air Conditioning and mechanical transportation has made that all possible. People stay inside as much as possible in the hottest months, and in the cooler months, do more out of doors.
*Be a night thing- For me, the only way to garden when the heat is bothering me is to do so once the sun has gone down. As a matter-of fact, my neighbor and I planted flowers last night at 10 P.M. by battery operated flashlights because it was too hot to do so earlier in the day. People in history found it fashionable to go out at nighttime as opposed to daytime because the weather was much more comfortable. That still works today.
*EAT MORE SMART STUFF!- Besides cold drinks and ice creams, eat cold raw, whole fruits and veggies as opposed to hot, cooked foods. Also, reduce or cut the amount of sugary and caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you.
*Go green and go for a dip- It’s always cooler in the woods or on the water. Visit your local metroparks and walk the forest trails as well as visiting local caves and caverns for fun outings to beat the heat. Hit the waterparks and pools and lakes and ponds as well. Maybe you can’t go swimming, or doing those trails just won’t work out for you, but doing as ancient people, and having gardens and trees nearby your home or just hosing off a little bit will be a huge help.
*Take breaks and get some shade- In days of yore, people worked from sunup to sundown in fields. Unless they had a masochist of a site boss, people would take breaks and get out of the heat of the sun for a time all day on and off. Even if you are not working in the heat, but just walking around in it, you need breaks too. It used to be fashionable for ladies to carry parasols, and a lot of gals still do to this day. Sunglasses can help shield your eyes and sunscreen will help shield your skin. I also highly recommend not doing as a lot of people prefer- and wearing flimsy flip flops when doing a lot of walking. Wear supportive shoes or you will get tired more easily.
*Conserve energy- The key to doing things without wearing down or overheating in the hot weather is to conserve energy. Hydrating, wearing protective clothing and products, catching some shade, taking sit down breaks, and venturing out after dark are helpful ways to make sure you enjoy Summer as much as possible while being at risk as little as possible to get overheated or exhausted.
I hope Summer is enjoyable for you in all its splendor and glory. I hope the warm days, festivals, and growing season brings many good times and productivity.