John's World: Not Heat-It's The Humility

August 23, 2013 09:21 PM
John Phipps

The trouble with global warming is it’s everywhere. Who knew? It used to be confined to the South and West—like grits and salsa and those invasive species that are kuzu-ing their way north, as well.

Nope—too much Fahrenheit is now a problem in places that used to import them, such as Maine and Great Britain. This is not just a whine about a little discomfort in July; it’s a realization that harvesting corn in shorts has become a little too ordinary in my part of the world. If you placed your grain bins where the lane is only solid enough when it’s -20°F, you’re probably sitting on way too much inventory.

Much of our farming infrastructure was designed for non-tropical climate. Whatever you call "paved" roads in your part of the world—blacktop, macadam, something-that-will-never-happen-by-my-place—we all hold our breath in June and July when some nincompoop truck driver hauling overloaded wagons of corn peels up the thin layer of heat-softened oil like a Band-Aid on a fresh scab. Only with more pain involved.

Harvesting corn in shorts has become a little too ordinary in my part of the world

Turn up the AC. There is general agreement in my circles of well-informed professionals that no matter how many times you recharge an ancient 4430 air-conditioner, mowing roads when it’s hotter than 90°F is an invitation to heatstroke. Better yet, people will believe this excuse.

Heat affects people differently, I realize. This fact became apparent when our small country church added air-conditioning. For older buildings without usable ductwork, contractors now use separate units that tragically can be individually controlled with a remote. Within hours of the first Sunday of use, all of the remotes had disappeared. Despite petitions for thermostatic fellowship, we had unwittingly created more temperature zones than a newfangled refrigerator.

Ordinarily this would have a logical outcome: People would move to sit where the atmosphere best matched their preferences. Only we’re Methodists. Some of us have waited for a generation to nail down the coveted back pew, and we’d sooner freeze than yield. Which is why visitors often comment on the blankets that are now scattered around the sanctuary.

My own climate needs are pretty modest. I can live with a wide range of discomfort. But then I’ve never been eight months pregnant in August. Judging from a relative who will remain nameless to protect … well, me, there seems to be a considerable extra thermal load when packing a heater, so to speak. Apparently part of the wondrous maternal instinct is to be able to moose aside men twice her size to get to an air conditioner vent. Mother Nature must have lived pretty far north, I guess.

Perhaps the most alarming consequence of all this mercury rising is our instinctive urge to wear less. Some cultures, such as Brazil, have mastered this solution by: 1. Employing enormous numbers of cosmetic plastic surgeons; and 2. People actually weighing what their driver’s license says. While Americans recognize our summer disclosure issues, regrettably, we have decided that Spandex is the answer.

It’s not just clothing that’s problematic during steamy weather. Practically any artifice to improve your appearance fails. Carefully coiffed hair, crisply ironed clothing and precisely applied makeup virtually melt into Halloweenish hallucinations in mere minutes. Any number of old wedding photos will attest to this—although those are strangely hard to find.

Despite attempts by advertising braniacs to make sweaty people look sexy or manly, we all instinctively know that’s only if you’re upwind. This is the great humbling aspect of heat for attractive people: 10 minutes of August can make any photos cringe-worthy, and therefore ideal for friends’ Facebook pages.

Keep your cool. Evidence to support my anti-heatism is abundant: 1. Isn’t Santa Claus always jolly? (To be fair, one wonders how that will change when the North Pole becomes liquid.) 2. Aren’t Nordic citizens, and even worse—Canadians, irritatingly polite, neat and cooperative? 3. Winter clothing can make almost anyone look dumpy—a powerful equalizer for those of us with "great personalities" as our best physical attribute.

My best heat-beater ideas: Go where the temperature inside you is warmer than outside. Switch to those newfangled metric degrees—40°C doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Finally, next winter, bundle up and hush up.

John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report." Visit for station listings. To view past columns, visit or

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