Thursday, July 18, 2013

Only a Hat

Mid-July, 2013
Meadowbrook Road, Queensbury NY

We are in the middle of a heat wave, a normal mid-summer occurrence in this part of the Northeast. They usually last for 3 or 4 days, but this weather has gone on all week without a break.
When I arrived home from work last night – at 11:30 p.m. – it was 82 degrees
I had stepped outside for a break at eight o’clock, and was amazed to hear cicadas up in the trees, lazily zzz’ing to each other in the thick-aired twilight.
It is a high-noon sound that makes me think of days long ago, 
swimming in a shallow river to cool off.

It gets plenty hot this time of year in Concord, too. Even back in Henry's time.
Bear in mind that in those days, there was no indoor plumbing.
Men would go bathe in the river on summer mornings – some of them more regularly than others. Thoreau knew some old farmers who avoided water at all costs.
Only young boys played in the river.
Lord knows what women did to cool off, being draped in yards of fabric, and for them, going for a swim was not even an option.
Proper male attire, even on the hottest days, included a hat, long sleeves, a high collar and a neck-cloth.
Whew ! I'm roasting just thinking of that. Time to walk over by the river.

 Sudbury River in Concord, Massachusetts

July 10, 1852
Another day, if possible still hotter than the last.
We have already had three or four such, and still no rain. …

2 P.M. – To the North River in front of Major Barrett’s.
It is with a suffocating sensation
and a slight pain in the head
that I walk the Union turnpike
where the heat is reflected from the road …
I have to lift my hat to let the air cool my head.

We undressed on this side,
carried our clothes down in the stream
a considerable distance,
and finally bathed in earnest from the opposite side.
The heat tempted us to prolong this luxury.
This river here has a sandy bottom
and is for the most part quite shallow. 

I made quite an excursion up and down it in the water,
a fluvial, a water, walk.
It seemed the properest highway for this weather …

I wonder if any Roman emperor ever indulged in such luxury as this, -
of walking up and down a river in torrid weather
with only a hat to shade the head.
What were the baths of Caracalla to this?


  1. Heat wave here too. And they had no air conditioning back then. I love the way you knit this together into a meaningful post.

  2. Same zzz-ing here! I heard it last night for the first time this summer! We had some thundershowers overnight that quieted them down and upped the humidity :o)