Back to natures

Living in coastal California can dull one’s Eastern edge, forged in the heat of summer, sharpened by abrasive seasons, the recurrent swelters and chills of true summers and winters.

I’ve always been, as my old business partner David Hodskins correctly put it, comfort-imperative. Maybe that’s one reason I stayed so long on the California coast after David took our company there from North Carolilna for good business reasons: there was only one Silicon Valley, and that’s where we belonged. Temperate conditions certainly helped draw me to Santa Barbara, although I would have gone and stayed anywhere my wife liked.

Once my work life moved to the Net, I could live anywhere with a good connection. For a combination of that and perfect weather Santa Barbara was far more suitable than anywhere else. The dream home we left in Woodside had “IDSL” that was barely better than dial-up, though it did come with sixteen IP addresses and no port blockages — a grace I still miss. Connectivity was much better in Santa Barbara, although it’s better elsewhere now.

For the last couple weeks we’ve been getting ready for a year or more in Boston, where I’ll base myself at the Berkman Center, and where we’ll be within driving and short-range flying distance to Baltimore, where half our kids and our only grandchild live — he was born here four days ago. That’s why I’m in Baltimore right now, sitting on the front porch of that kid’s house at 2am, listening to crickets loud as factory noise while swatting insects away from the light of my laptop screen. It’s 78° outside, says. But it also says the humidity is 90%, a number Santa Barbara hasn’t experienced since the Pleistocene. It’s been hot every day we’ve been in Boston and Baltimore. The forecast for today is for 98°. Nothing new there, for Baltimore or for me.

I was born and raised in New Jersey and New York, in homes and schools with no air conditioning. By the time my parents finally put a room AC in their house, I was off to boarding school, where there was none. When I went to college in North Carolina, there wasn’t any there, either. None of the family cars had working AC when I was growing up. Nor did any of the cars I owned, from the time I grew up until I bought my first and only new car, a 1985 Toyota Camry. I turned 38 in that model year. Except for one double-wide in the woods north of Chapel Hill, none of my homes in North Carolina had AC, either. We just stuck fans in the windows, and everywhere else we could.

Our summer place in South Jersey not only had no AC when my father and uncle built it, but had no electricity or indoor plumbing either. Those came later, but never any AC. The living area of our home in the pine woods was a kitchen with a big round oak table and walls comprised of salvaged screen windows with hinged glass ones on the outside. My job every morning was to go out and open the glass ones, if they weren’t open already to let the air through.

The forest was a canopy of pine and scrub oak, with a floor of blueberries and huckleberries, which tasted sweeter than any you ever bought in a store. The berry bushes were perfect cover for hide-and seek, and the trees were perfect for building elevated child housing and hanging hammocks in clearings. My aunt and grandmother lived at the other end of a winding trail through the woods, every foot of which I still remember like it was yesterday. A second trail branched off to my great aunt and uncle’s house. Summers were filled with visiting relatives and daily drives to the beach, where we kids would play in the sand and surf while the adults fished or sat under beach umbrellas.

There was no sunblock in those days, just “suntan lotion” that made you smell sweet and look sweaty. We rarely put it on. Instead we just browned in the sun.

On the way home we’d stop at a roadside farm market and pick up tomatoes and corn picked fresh from the fields. I’ll die believing no species of fruit or vegetable tastes better than fresh New Jersey corn or tomatoes. We had a table with a porcelain top, outside our kitchen, where we’d shuck corn after we got home. Inside Mom chopped tomatoes into chunks to marinate in olive oil with garlic and other spices. Odd that my memories of dinner involve no meat other than the steamed clams or boiled crabs (caught by ourselves, in Barnegat Bay), served in abundance when large numbers of guests came over, which was pretty often.

It’s funny to think, as I sit here fresh into my sixties, that none of my memories of those summers involves weather-related discomfort. Yes, we knew it was hot, but it hardly made more sense to note heat than the recurrence of light and dark. Weather worth noting usually involved rain: summer thunderstorms or the edges of stray hurricanes, late in the season.

So I’m thinking that now, in the middle of a summer night on a Baltimore porch, soaked in sweat, that I’m getting my edge back. If you’re not actually burning or freezing, heat and cold are just sensations. You can call them discomfort if you like, but they’re a small price to pay for experiencing nature’s cyclic perfections.


  1. Hanan Cohen’s avatar

    A first grandson is a great 60th birthday present.

    Double Mazel Tov to you!

  2. Sue’s avatar

    That’s a “Corn Boil,” Doc. We had them every summer in a-little-tiny-bit upstate NY. A big huge boiling water pot and sliced tomatoes (olive oil and garlic and oregano) and it was dinner. In those does, a lot of butter got spread on corn and stacks of emptied ears sat in a big bowl, table center. A/C didn’t matter then because only rich people had it but they didn’t go outside and pick corn for dinner at a local farm. A good hot-night memory after schvitzing my way around Georgetown (DC) for August client visits (who ever does client visits in August?)

    Mazel tov on the grandbaby. I’m waiting for my first, but Kid#1 or #2 needs to get married first.

  3. lakelady’s avatar

    thanks for the walk down your memory lane. And congrat’s grandpa! You’ll have to start comparing note with my bro, Chip.

  4. JTH (Chip)’s avatar

    Good piece Doc.

    We’re blessed with freshwater lake when it get’s hot (no A/C)
    Maybe 75degrees right now (haven’t checked)
    The water that is

    Walk out to about waist deep and just sit on the bottom, cool off.

    And Congrats on both grandson and getting edge back.
    Seasons will make trips to Calif a joy.


  5. Adam Green’s avatar

    You’ve obviously never tasted fresh picked Wilson’s farm corn. It’s available right now, just down the street from Arlington:

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Not only that, but it’s likely we’ll be passing Wilson Farm every day after we move there. Can’t wait.

    Meanwhile, I’m in Baltimore, salivating.

    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  7. scott truitt is tankt | “If you’re not actually burning or freezing, heat and cold are just sensations.”’s avatar

    […] of my youth, rather than the distinct lack of either in my current coastal California life, Doc Searls saidbest: So I’m thinking that now, in the middle of a summer night on a Baltimore porch, soaked […]

  8. Amar’s avatar

    Jersey corn! Actually makes me miss Jersey just a little bit……

  9. Scripting News for 8/8/07 « Scripting News Annex’s avatar

    […] Doc remembers summer heat in New Jersey before air conditioning. […]

  10. Sylvia Paull’s avatar

    You sound blissed out, Doc. It seems that grandfathering is just as if not more sublime than fathering. As for weather, there’s a good reason Silicon Valley didn’t happen on Route 128 — it’s too cold or too humid for people to connect. I think although people are not always cognizant of their physical, weather-induced discomfort, it absorbs the energy that could otherwise be spent on high-tech pursuits.

  11. Kathy Sierra’s avatar

    Hah : ) You can tell yourself whatever you like, but after moving from Santa Barbara to Boulder, I’m thinking seasons are very overrated. I’m heading back to Santa Barbara before the snow falls again in Colorado. I’m sure I’ll appreciate it a great deal for having experienced living with Actual Weather, but I spent most of my life grateful to be living in such a wonderful and *easy* place.

    But I’d forgotten about the whole fire thing.

    Congratulations on the new grandchild!

  12. Harold Gilchrist’s avatar

    It about 7PM here in Jackson, New Jersey and the cuurent temp is 93. Unlike the 60’s and early 70s, on days this hot, like in most other places I’m sure, everyone is forced to stay inside to enjoy their AC. I don’t see anyone outside or walking around my neighborhood.

    I remember how these kind of days would drive everyone out of the house. To the street for a walk, front porch/steps to sit and talk or to the backyard pool to get cooled down with friends from the neighborhood. These kind of days created the perfect reason to socialize with your neighborhood. The good old days.

    I don’t want to make you feel bad but I just had dinner. It included a couple of jersey corns and a beefsteak jersey tomatoe. The corn is pretty sweet this summer. As you remember, when it’s this good you don’t want to add anything as it tastes so good just naturally.

  13. jan’s avatar

    David, hi,
    I enjoyed this east coast memoir so much.
    Congratulations on your first grandson.
    We’re so happy for you.

    Love to the family. Rick and I will see you in boston in Sept.
    We hope the leaves will turn bright colors early this year.

  14. Howard Owens’s avatar

    Welcome back to the East Coast and real weather, though I seem to be an odd one to say welcome. I’m a native Californian who thought I’d never leave.

    Now I think all those people in California, paying all those high rents, who can’t afford to buy houses, struggling just to make it — are insane.

    Why is it worth it?

    I love it here in New York, at least so far. Granted, it’s only a year, but the seasons are magical, there’s lots to do and see, some parts of the state are truly enchanting and beautiful … and it’s so much more affordable.

    Boston ain’t as cheap, but not outrageous either, especially in the Burbs.

    I’ll be in the Boston area in about four weeks, if you want to meet up.

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    I think it’s an interesting feature…It gives more people the chance to get views having more featured areas. Im in the US, but I found more interesting videos to me, were featured on the UK homepage so I did have it

  16. Nova’s avatar

    Hi Doc

    Great article the last paragraph reminded me of the film Stand by me, as for AC we have them everywhere here in croatia, they just ruin the architecture they even stick them on ancient buildings now!

  17. alto club’s avatar

    Hi Doc, Thanks for the article it really gave me some inspiration..i’m sat here in Manchester UK In the middle of winter – dark days and non stop rain – I have been looking seriously at the “work from anywhere option” we bought an apartment at alto club recently in the algarve portugal. The climate there is very similar to California and I would take this climate anytime. Reading your article iot all seemed so simple and I’m starting to think we should make a permanent move there … Thanks

  18. DirtDevil’s avatar

    The climate in Portugal is the same as Califorinia lol

  19. portable air conditioners’s avatar

    I had much the same upbringing, but my present house in NC does have ac, thank God.

    We did not have ac where I grew up in DC, but fans everywhere. In colonial times, British soldiers got tropical climate pay for being stationed there. DC was built on a swamp, and is still slowly sinking.

    We had this huge whole-house fan that blew air up into the attic. It was probably called the ‘Whole House’ fan, because it shook the whole house.

    I sometimes think of how our great-grandparents got by without our modern comforts. If we all had to do without AC as an example, we would get by.

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