SOLILOQUY:Open window policy disturbs sleep

Farm Forum

My brother once worked in the air conditioning business in Bakersfield, Calif. Bakersfield is not quite Death Valley, but close. The high, as I write this, is 106 degrees. So it’s a great place to live if you’re in air conditioning.

Once, when he visited our home in Aberdeen, my brother offered to help install central air in our 100-year-old home, but since the project involved extensive duct work in plaster walls, we turned down the offer. Every summer since, I’ve questioned that decision.

Our home is only slowly being modernized. We do have indoor plumbing, but we still hassle with old sash windows twice a year: storm windows come down in spring; then screens go up.

In fall, we reverse the process. I say we, but I really mean my husband, Art.

Art creaks more as he moves, and my own joints moan and balk, so I wonder how much longer this system will work.

Still, I love fresh air wafting through open windows. Sometimes, Art’s allergies kick in, but it’s a small price to pay for fresh air. A small price for me anyway.

Eventually tiring of fresh air, Art lugs the window air conditioners up from the basement. For Art, this involves two trips up narrow stairs, as he staggers under the weight of massive units. It also means hauling them downstairs when summer’s over. Usually, when summer’s long over and there is danger of the Freon freezing.

Because our window air conditioners only cool the living room and one downstairs bedroom, our own bedroom remains, uh, warm.

This means open windows all night long. We hear activity that people with air conditioning miss. If a distant neighbor experiences car trouble, we hear the engine turn over and over.

If a kid installs new stereo speakers in his car and zooms up and down the street with a big, bad, bass-booming beat, we’ll be the first to know.

We can always tell when it’s 2 a.m. and the bars close.

We can identify, by bark, dogs on our block.

We know which neighbors use a fire pit late Friday night and which neighbors mow before 9 a.m. on Saturday.

We also learn the habits of local birds. Some birds stay up pretty late. They do it for spite.

Other birds are up even before the dogs, even before the sun, even before the worms.

We put up with our own resident mockingbird, who offers a huge repertoire of bird sounds and other environmental noises, starting at 5 a.m. He doesn’t know the Jetboot Jack computer game noise one of his ancestors repeated. Still, this bird returns each year and hangs out in our neighbor’s walnut tree, clicking, chirping and whizzing at early hours.

This year, he’s picked up a new call which sounds like a woman screaming in terror. I’ve gotten used to it now, but it was jarring to wake up to that call at first. I kind of wonder where he spent the winter and whether anyone has gone missing from that community.

My husband is annoyed that I hear a neighbor’s air conditioner and think it is water running in our own house. I also hear large trucks back up and think the beeping is from a smoke alarm upstairs. With an open window policy, you just never know, and somebody needs to check out potential trouble. That someone is usually not me.

We may install central air someday. Until then, we’ll just be one with the environment. It could be worse. We could be one with the sweltering environment of Bakersfield.

Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at