Summer is coming to a close. It’s February…season of sweats and humid yucky-ness. Had John Keats been around to write about the end of an Sydney summer he would probably have been even more florid in his praise of autumn.
It’s funny — summer is something we long for, but by the time Australia Day has rolled around and we’ve yelled kung hei fat choi as fireworks burst against the backdrop of an eventually darkening daylight-savings sky, we’re slightly over it. Not the long evenings of sunshine and endless twilight, not the many happy hours at the beach, nor the impossible stretch of bleached blue skies that pilots refer to as “severe clear”. No, those things we’re happy to embrace, to celebrate, and — come July — to immortalise.
It’s the humidity.
Humidity, that drooping, relentless, monsoonal wet blanket. Those never-ending February days filled with hot, moist air dampening all that it touches, followed by nights when the temperature does not dip below a balmy 23 degrees. Nights when bedclothes are abandoned, and sheets become stained with sweat. My children sprawl across their beds, legs and arms flung into starry shapes as they sink into turbulent sleep, disturbed by short, sharp bursts of rainfall on the roof. In our own bed my husband seems somehow distant from me, separated as we are by the contorted, constricting snake of doona, squished between our torpid, somnolent forms.
And then there are the really hot nights, when all the old stories come out: tales of being taken to the beach in what felt like the middle of the night to splash in the shallows and cool down. Of nights when the heat defeated any prospect of sleep, and people sat around having a quiet yarn and maybe the odd beer, and everyone knew that the occasional “How hot is it?” was not even a rhetorical question, but an admission of surrender.
The word “humid” is actually derived from an old French word for “moist” or “wet”, but is probably influenced also by the Latin word “humus”, meaning “earth”. It’s remarkable accurate, really, because that is what it feels like, this Sydney heat — moist earth. And it smells like overblown frangipani flowers, trodden into the mouldering undergrowth. It wilts us, saps us of our energy, sends us to our knees. We droop in ancient deckchairs, waiting for the southerly winds to blow in and trace cool fingers across our brows. We know, only too well, that the humidity won’t last, and neither will the summer.
Yes, here in Sydney, summer is coming to a close.