Growing up without air conditioning did not seem such a hardship, as we did not know the alternative. In grammar and high school we opened the windows and used oscillating floor fans. Sometimes we could not hear the teacher over the din, but we were reasonably comfortable. The gym was steamy despite huge exhaust fans high up at both ends of the building, but that was they way it was supposed to be. Refrigerated air made its appearance in some college lecture rooms and laboratories, and became the norm in medical school. Mary Lou and I enjoyed window units in our first apartment.
Upon moving to El Paso, we discovered evaporative coolers that consisted merely of a fan that blew air over wet excelsior fibers. They were noisy, but surprisingly efficient in the arid desert climate. Upon moving to New Orleans, and later to Dallas, it seemed we could not live without central air.
Then, at 7000 feet elevation in New Mexico, we needed heat during the winter, but there came a day in May when we opened the windows, and they stayed open until mid-September, except when it rained. We had evaporative coolers. But we used them only a few days during the hottest afternoons, or when we had company who did not know how to adapt to the dry heat by moving to more shaded parts of the house as the sun arced across the southern sky.
With the windows open, we felt a connection with the rhythms of nature. We awoke early to the songs of Canyon Towhees and Cassin’s Kingbirds in the pre-dawn darkness. Abetted by the two hour time differential from the East Coast, we bedded early after the evening news and thrilled if we were awakened by the yodeling of coyotes, the occasional hooting of a Great Horned Owl or the caterwaul of a mountain lion.
Here in Florida, we operate in reverse. Instead of four seasons, we have only two: wet and hot, or dry and mild. Now the windows open in early November, at first only at night. By December we can forget about air conditioning and leave the windows open all the time, up until the rains begin in April or May. Though our sleep may be interrupted by the call of a night heron, it is more likely to be the trumpets and bongos of mariachis and Caribbean combos that echo across our lake. Latin culture seems to require that parties must only begin to warm up at around midnight, and certainly not end before dawn. Still, the enjoyment of fresh air usually trumps our need for undisturbed sleep.