Late spring in Hefei, China. The persistent rain had finally stopped and the outdoors was sunny and friendly. A steady procession of students was headed for the dining hall, all holding up umbrellas against the sun. All over town, many people wore white surgical masks. In the past I would have thought “ sunlight - ozone – pollution”. But it wasn’t so. “This is so we don’t tan,” one of my students explained. Pale is fashionable in China, requiring shade.
6,000 miles to the west, tourists travel far and pay good money to get a heavy tan on the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and France. Currently, though, there’s a heatwave blasting through the area that will make anyone run for shade, and beach umbrellas are at a premium.
Hot weather has arrived in North Georgia as well. If you’re house-hunting, think shade. Traditional Southern homes have large porches and wide roof overhangs, both designed to provide shaded space. An awning over an extra entrance or a garage door also helps keep heat out and is very attractive. However, we had no luck with a huge awning that came with the house, reminiscent of a sidewalk café in Southern France. But those places have the awnings high above seating level. Our Southern roof overhang necessitated a very low awning. It provided shade but trapped heat at the same time. On hot days, it felt like sitting under a dryer at the hair salon.
The better solution came in the form of a pergola. It’s a set of 2x8 inch slats which provide shade but don’t trap hot air. It keeps the high summer sun out while letting low winter rays reach underneath.
The yard area requires a longer-term strategy for shade. The burning desert at the front of our large rural lot looked out of place. North Georgia is forest land, not a prairie. I removed the few exotic trees that some builder had put there and planted native maples and poplars. Money outlay was zero because there were plenty of volunteer seedlings growing at the edge of the forest. There were almost no losses because the young trees are in their native environment. Within a few years they have grown to 30 feet. Our new park landscape now provides ample shade and a pleasant environment that’s much cooler than it was before.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.