When the days turn steamy, there’s nothing better for sleep than the cool night air humming over you.
Before the rains started, my parents visited to escape the Tucson heat. We gave them our bedroom and slept outside on cots and sleeping pads. The night air was cool, almost cold, and I slept with my down bag zipped up and relished the chilled air that comes down off the mountain into our neighborhood. I awoke periodically and noted the constellations’ changing positions, the way the dipper pours out its contents over the course of the night.
It took until I was nearly 40 before I discovered the delight of sleeping unprotected by walls or tent. Before that I never saw the sky directly overhead from my bedroll. Now I take any excuse to do it.
A few summers ago I slept out for nearly a month straight, intoxicated with the sounds and smells and the air, oh, the air. Meteor showers rained down through the Milky Way. Satellites scudded across the night sky.
Our old windows were replaced a few years ago with more energy-efficient ones. To my deep regret, the guy who measured and ordered the new windows flipped the opening of our bedroom window from right to left, so that I can no longer sleep with my nose to the open window. Now the window opens to my feet. Occasionally, I’ll rip the top sheet out of its tuck under the mattress, and sleep with my head at the foot of the bed, just to be able to smell the outside air.
At my grandparents’ house in Tipton, Ind., I often slept on the front porch when we visited. Actually, it once was a porch, but had long ago been enclosed with knotty pine paneling and real windows. That room housed a jumble of reading material—car collector magazines, ancient novels with drab blue and green covers, abandoned children’s books—plus trophies from car shows, and granddaddy’s hunting trophies, most notably the stuffed deer head that we put a red nose on every Christmas and called Rudolph.
Because the porch faced Green Street, the curtains were pulled shut at night, and waking in that space was often gloomy and a little muggy. Sheltering the porch was a huge spruce tree under which squirrels fed on ears of field corn stuck upright on nails pounded through the bottom of a board. I’d sit on that porch for hours every summer, watching the squirrels, reading those musty books, doing puzzles and daydreaming, as every 10-year-old must do.
My aunt Nina’s record player and collection of 45s also lived there. That’s where I first heard Ray Charles sing “Hit the Road, Jack” which struck my impressionable self so much so that I walked around singing it aloud to my younger sisters most of that summer.
In the mid-’80s as newlyweds, Mike and I rented a four-bedroom farmhouse near Iowa City from Glenn and Marge Miller. (In the Kalona phone book in those days about half the population bore the surname Miller or Yoder.) In the summer of 1985, I was pregnant with our first child and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. Outside it was 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity, and relief was not forthcoming, as it barely cooled down at night. The house did have an upstairs sleeping porch with a pull-down Murphy bed, but a mouse-ruined mattress spoiled its appeal.
We probably would have slept on the front porch if we could have, but alas, sleeping unprotected—by netting or pesticide—in the Midwest only leads to heartache in the form of mosquito bites that itch so much you want to leave your skin behind. Finally, in August, we installed an air conditioner in one bedroom, and dragged our mattress onto the floor. During one particularly miserable week, I barely left that air-conditioned room.
But this is Flagstaff, the original home of good sleeping weather. This morning I awoke to crows barking in the back yard and squirrels careening through the treetops like monkeys. The cloud cover softens the early morning light, making it feel earlier than it is, and my rousing was slow and dreamy. Empty-headed, I pull on clothes, let the dog out and make my tea. I sleepwalk to my desk.