There is something to be said about a large cloud on a hot day. I’m talking about one of those days when the sun pierces your skin and you regret wearing thick socks. Imagine pouring sweat into a garden, watching the soil bake in the sun, and pulling a weed to watch it wilt within seconds. Suddenly, the lights dim, the intensity of the sun switches off, and you are left with a feeling of immense relief. This week, I send my gratitude to the clouds.
Working outdoors in hot weather requires sunscreen, a hat, and a positive attitude. I am constantly amazed and inspired by the adaptations Wisconsin’s native life uses to relieve heat stress. While weeding in the vegetable garden, I noticed several frogs buried deep enough to escape the hottest layer of soil. I also noticed more above-ground insect species making their way into the earth to join the cooling party. Turtles at the pond seem to be relishing in the heat: they bask in the sun throughout the day, dipping into the water simply to cool off. Plant adaptations to heat stress happen on a very small and detailed scale, such as making heat-shock proteins to prevent damage, changing the composition of their cell membranes to become more flexible, and growing smaller, thinner leaves. These are difficult changes to take note of individually, but we know the plants are hard at work in the heat when they stand tall, green, and unfazed by the sun’s rays.
As a human, I know that my body is also hard at work to protect myself from the heat of the day. The most obvious of these cooling mechanisms is sweat: water travels through our pores to collect on our skin to evaporate, taking excess heat with it. Our bodies bring blood flow to the skin’s surface as well, which shifts the body’s heat to the surface. Armed with my body’s incredible mechanisms of coping with heat and a large water bottle, I too can stand tall in the garden!
While heat can sometimes feel uncomfortable, it is a wonderful reminder of the amazing cooling strategies we see around us. This is also a great time to reflect on the capacity of our bodies to beat the heat. That said, I do appreciate the relief of a big, fluffy cloud!