The signal difference between the places I have lived Out West and where I have recently relocated – Louisville, Kentucky – are stark and prominent. In a word – it’s the “Humidity”. When you hear people speak of ‘dry heat’ versus ‘heat and humidity’, one often wonders what they mean. But when you walk out of an airport in Louisville on a hot, muggy Summer day, following the series of plane journeys to get there, it nearly takes your breath away. Nothing really prepares someone for it.
And of course, literally everything grows. Man, does it grow! I had a comment the other day from my good friend James at lostinthelandscape who, like my daughter, lives in San Diego. His words were essentially to the effect – “How odd that Louisville looks much more subtropical than we do here in the subtropics!” 😉 It’s true, too. Currently, summer in Louisville feels downright Equatorial. 95 degree days with high humidity ratings make those 108 degree temperatures in Reno seem nearly mild in comparison.
Here is a mid-July look at the local park. Bear in mind it is not irrigated. With that humidity brings a different sort of rainfall pattern. When it rains here, it’s a deluge on a regular basis. Electrical storms are the norm – huge, magnificent and scary, with peals of thunder and lightning strikes all around where the lights blink in near-cataclysmic disruption and the ozone is ripe. Later on the year, of course, there are tornado concerns. They are fortunately very rare and there is plenty of advance notice but they do exist.
I do understand the science of humidity. More than anything else, humidity controls the “moisture loss” from a plant. A plant’s leaves have tiny little pores called stomata. This is where they essentially ‘breathe’. Carbon dioxide enters and water and oxygen leave in a near pulsation of Nature’s balance. A lower humidity increases the water loss as it attracts humidity almost like a magnet. It is also why I always insisted – to some dubious looks – that I could literally “change the weather” at a home by adding grass and plants. Inasmuch as the humidity in the center of a plant is 100%, it acts like a little humidifier in its small circle of influence. Imagine what grass does.
Mornings in Louisville see the humidity averaging around 82%. Afternoons, it is always 10-25% less. The Sun acts to dry things out during the course of a day and, of course, the heavy dews of Kentucky mornings increase it dramatically. Even in Winter in this 4 season climate, where the seasons are nearly absolutely separated by conditions implicit in their times, it makes for a ‘colder cold and a hotter hot’. It’s real!
Back to how it feels 😉
The smells linger in the air. This can be good or bad, of course, but it is also the oft-referred to quality in fiction and in references to the American South. I remember how the air was redolent with the sour mash scents of bourbon-making of my youth. My home town, Owensboro, had some preposterously huge warehouses housing the whiskey barrels of fermenting sour mash, soon to become Kentucky Bourbon, a rather famous – or infamous – export. It is so accepted, of course, we took class trips to watch them make that good old whiskey. Needless to say, hours of speculation occurred involving having the job of “taster”, complete with giggles and wonder.
But the scents can also be attractive, alluring and very sensual. A lady’s perfume will linger in the air. After shave and colognes got great play at the male side of things, not just to hide your typical male’s sloppy grooming habits but simply because it added to the overall ambiance. There are some very sophisticated scents prowling the benches and outdoor seating of the many midsummer plays and musical events of Southern summer. It is a sensual delight, among many others. Needless to say, the floral scents can be stunning too, and there are many. Roses go in for some serious plays at this level, as do the Gardenias, Magnolias, Lavenders, Sages and the raft of odoriferous flowers and plants.
Impossibly beautiful Springs and Falls are a result, combined with atrociously hot and despairingly cold Winters which cut right through one.
I’m a big fan of “Impossibly Beautiful Springs”, myself.
Truly one of my favorites things to do on the Spring Days in Louisville has been to wander down to the free baseball games that the local university plays. It can be great, with excellent baseball. Plus, you never know who might show up, sitting a couple seats away! (it’s cool – Ali has a son playing – and he’s a freshman. I expect to see Muhammed Ali many times over the next few years. I’m a fan.)