The Case for Fresh Air

It was one of those breezy, fresh-washed days that follow intense thunderstorms. Through my open window wafted a tantalizing scent. Delicately floral, slightly spicy, and unfamiliar.

The scent drew me outside. I bent my head to this patch of flowers and that, but the scent’s source proved elusive. It was a gift of the breeze, given to me because my window was open to receive it.

I live in what is becoming increasingly rare in southern Ontario: a house with no air conditioning. When I was growing up, air-conditioned houses were rare. Only posh people had such luxuries. I can still recall the sole house with central air I was ever in as a child.

Years later, window air-conditioners became a luxury within reach of more households. One or two rooms of a house or apartment turned fridge-like in summer, while the rest baked.

Now, central air conditioning has become the norm—almost essential. On sweltering July days in southern Ontario, residents dash from house to car to office to store—all in air-conditioned comfort. One need not sweat in summer any more, it seems.

Except in our house. Built only 25 years ago, this house was never fitted out with central air. I’ve lived here for seven years and have not had any enduring desire to change that.

Although Ontario summers are notoriously hot and humid, we manage to keep the house at a comfortable temperature. We close windows on hot afternoons and open them on cool mornings. We track the sun and close blinds to keep heat out. At mealtimes, the barbecue is used more and the kitchen stove less. When we come inside on hot days, it feels almost as though we do have central air. Almost.

Only during long hot spells—the kind where it climbs above 30° during the days and doesn’t dip below 25° at nights—does it get uncomfortable in the house. Then we turn fans on and talk about sleeping in the basement (which we never end up doing.) We look longingly at our neighbour’s pool.

Then the heat breaks with a cracking afternoon thunderstorm and lashing rain. In the cool that follows, we throw open windows to flush the heat out. With windows open on all four sides of our bungalow, it takes only minutes to cool the inside.

By August, scorching summer temperatures are already behind us. We may have hot days, but they are usually followed by cool nights. We have more windows open more often. They are why I won’t give in to air conditioning’s allure.

Through open windows I catch the scent of flowers and the tang of fresh-mown hay. I hear wind rustling the silky tassels of corn and distant rumbles of an approaching storm. I catch the chattering of squirrels and the chirping of birds. I follow the rhythmic whirr of farm machinery as they plow, seed, and harvest their way through the season.

Would I trade all that for the sterile hum of refrigerated air?

Right now, a distant whistle heralds a passing train. A choir of crickets sings a symphony. A young bird calls out for its next feeding. And an elusive floral scent wafts in my open window.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.