May 20, 2024

A lesson in liquids and solids

The human body is 60 percent water. Seventy percent of our planet’s surface is covered in water. Every day, in order to live healthfully, human beings must replace 2.4 liters of water, taken from the planet, for their body. The world, it seems, is kept in balance with water. Which might explain why my fence gate won’t open in the morning.

At first I thought the latch was jammed. Kicking at the bottom of the gate, I reasoned, would probably help. It didn’t. And then I realized something that blew my mind. My gate was frozen shut. Soon after, I would learn that my car door also was frozen shut, the windshield wipers stuck in the down position. If I wasn’t careful, my children, who had never seen snow until this November, might get so excited, they would lick the light post and freeze there as well.

Water posed a different kind of challenge for me when we lived in Florida. First, the water in the South comes in only two forms: regular and mist. Gates don’t freeze shut down there. But leave a bottle of water in your car on a day when the temperature reaches 100 degrees, and you will find out what happens to water molecules when they get very hot. They create steam. Pour that water onto the concrete (careful not to let your bare feet touch the hot ground), and you will actually hear it sizzle.

This doesn’t often happen in Maine. I left a bottle of water in my car one day, and it froze, as did my container of foaming, waterless hand soap.

The South also has plenty of water that is in its regular, not-frozen form. Flowing water is everywhere: the beaches, the lakes, a pool in every family’s backyard, the neighbor’s concrete statue of a naked baby pouring water from a bucket, drainage ditches, the 2-foot crater in the side yard that never empties and by the end of summer is a pool of hot, steaming mud. Still, replacing those 2.4 liters of water in your body each day is quite a challenge when you live in the South because you are always sweating it back out. This is why the stereotype of Southerners is to have a large glass of iced tea, condensation streaming down the sides, in their hand. I miss iced tea. It’s hard to come by up here. No one in their right mind wants more ice when they live this far north. But Southerners can’t get enough ice in their drinks. My mom, a true Southerner, always orders her Diet Cokes the same way: with a lot (and I mean a lot) of ice.

After a decade in the South, I developed a habit of drinking a cold Diet Dr Pepper every morning. I knew the day would be hot, so I didn’t want hot coffee to start it off. I also grew quite fond of ice-cold beer. Here in the North, I am clinging to these favorites for as long as I can. My new friends have an ongoing bet about how long it will be until I switch to hot coffee. They might soon win. It’s true that holding a cold can of diet soda while walking the kids to school on a frosty 28-degree morning isn’t ideal, so I am considering coffee, or hot chocolate, at least. As for the other vice, my brother, Will, who lives and drinks cold beer in Holmes Beach, Fla., told me this: “You’d better switch to something that warms your belly – like Scotch.”

Some things, however, don’t change, no matter where you live. Just the other day, one of our neighbors brought home a freshly hunted deer. “He just strung that thing up by its feet,” my son said flatly to my back as I washed dishes. He had seen plenty of hunters in Florida. Then my son said, “He left the deer hanging from a tree in his backyard,” and I turned around, soap dripping from my hands. Oh, the stink that thing will cause, I thought. There will be flies everywhere! But the next day, on our walk to school, there wasn’t even the slightest whiff of dead animal. There were no flies. And that’s when it hit me. It’s cold enough here in Maine to hang meat and keep it fresh. Until it freezes.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Sarah Smiley’s new book “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. Contact Smiley at

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