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Bears and shifting winds

My wife, Mary Lou, and I headed to Compass Lake this past weekend for a few days.  We were expecting hot weather, but we still had a few things to do before our extended family comes down for the July 4th weekend.  All our children, along with our grandchildren and my mother will be joining us for that holiday weekend.  It will be the first time this entire group will have all been together in almost two years.

I arrived a couple of hours before sunset only to discover a steady breeze blowing across the lake directly into our dock.  Winds over the water cool things down considerably, and although the Weather app on my phone said the temperature was in the high 90s, the temperature was quite comfortable.

The next day we both walked around the lake.  It is 5.6 miles unless you take an added side road or two.  If you do not walk early, you will pay the price.  High humidity and high temperatures mean you will be thoroughly soaked with sweat upon your return.  At least, you can jump in the cold water just before you are exhausted from the heat.

The second day of our visit we enjoyed the same winds.  I took a nap on the hammock and the breeze was strong enough that I was a bit chilled.  Mary Lou wore a jacket on our evening boat cruise, thanks to the still steady chilling breeze that lingered into the evening.

Our third day was projected to have a heat index above 100 degrees.  I was walking by six o’clock in the morning.  I should have started earlier.  Once again, I was soaked with sweat by the time I returned from walking around the lake.  

The breeze was not quite as strong and shortly after lunch a calmness hit the lake, at least on our side.  The winds shifted and someone else was receiving the benefit of a breeze over the water.  It made a huge difference.

The chores I was doing became more difficult.  I was pulling some weeds in my lawn that seemed to have sprouted overnight during the rains of the past two weeks.   It was not just humid.  It was hot.  I call it watermelon field hot.

My first job was in the watermelon fields.  I was paid six dollars a day, with a dollar deducted for lunch.  Lunch consisted of a Coca-Cola and a couple of packets of crackers.  We could eat all the watermelons we wanted, which was often what we did when the heat became truly oppressive.

As the kids would succumb to the heat in those fields, the boys would say, “The bear is getting on your back”.  After those first few days, everyone understood about the bear, and what it meant if the bear was about to jump on you.

I do not really remember any breeze in the watermelon fields.  I remember crouching in the shade of trees at the end of the fence row.  I remember busting open a melon and reaching to grab the seedless heart of the melon.  It was water and sugar, though I did not know it at the time.  I just knew it gave me the strength to go a few more rows.

It was watermelon field hot this weekend after the winds shifted.   I could sense the bear lurking as I worked around the yard.  Over fifty years later, I am better prepared.  I had the air conditioning running inside for quick breaks, Gatorade in the refrigerator, and a cold lake to dive into when the temperature got too hot.  The bear never had a chance to get on my back, but it was that hot just the same.

The watermelon fields made me hard and lean.  It gave me money to spend.  Most of all, the fields taught me there must be a better way to make a living.  I suspect my parents knew exactly what they were doing when they got us those jobs. 

We feel the shifting winds throughout our lives.  Most of us have even had the bear on our back occasionally.  As we age, experience teaches us to expect those brutally hot days.  That is what makes the shifting winds so unexpectedly pleasurable.  That is what makes us respect the bear.


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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