Nancy Townsley

Bedsheet Windows and Socks on My Dog: Surviving Oregon’s Worst-Ever Heatwave

(Bedsheets in the Windows; photo by Nancy Townsley)

Recently, the Pacific Northwest had a record-breaking heatwave that lasted for days. Residents suffered as they dealt with the heat; Nancy Townsley shares her experience.


“Even the blueberries were baking.”

That’s what one of my friends wrote on social media during the heatapalooza that fried the metro area in 110-plus-degree temperatures for three straight days in late June, an extreme weather event for which we were woefully underprepared. Oh sure, some of us flipped on the central air for the first time ever—The Oregonian reported it was 1965 the last time the mercury hit 107 here—but many, many more of us, sans A/C, were forced to MacGyver pseudo-solutions to the unprecedented scorching heat.

I mean, the Pacific Northwest just doesn’t get that hot, right? Wrong.

For us, the adaptations meant queen-size bedsheets covering the large, east-facing kitchen window of our floating home—into which the morning sun unrelentingly beats—and wrestling cotton socks onto my 75-pound golden retriever’s paws for walks on the blazing-hot docks up to the dike road where marina dogs take their potty breaks. Bernie, chastened and obviously humiliated, hasn’t stopped giving me side-eye since.

We live in a metal-clad, two-story house on a marina 30 miles west of Portland. “Just jump in the river! That’ll cool you off!” a land-dwelling pal suggested when the heat-tsunami rose. But over the five years we’ve been here I’ve seen enough sewer-line breaks and random large-scale debris (think Douglas fir tree-size lumber) riding the surface of the Multnomah Channel to think twice about flinging my baking-from-the-inside-out body into the water.

Besides, the inferno wouldn’t last that long, would it? Um, yes it would, and yes it did.

Those three interminable days—when we chugged ice water and took twice-daily cool showers and hunkered in a darkened lower-level cave, fans trained on our torsos to ward off the worst—seemed like a week. We literally lost track of time, and likely lost weight as well, thanks to our new salads-only diet, no warm food allowed.


Those three interminable days—when we chugged ice water and took twice-daily cool showers and hunkered in a darkened lower-level cave, fans trained on our torsos to ward off the worst—seemed like a week.


Yet, existing in a literal hot box, while not ideal, brought out our best, most determined creative instincts. Besides the sheets in our upstairs window, we found that plastic tarps and pillows squeezed against glass-clad areas downstairs kept the temperature in our temporary living space in the barely-tolerable mid-80s, much of the time, anyway. We sat on separate couches in various stages of undress, binge-watching Netflix and only venturing upstairs to fetch cold beverages from the fridge. At first, we took bets on when the heat would abate, but as the third hellish day dawned, we agreed to stop looking at the thermometer altogether.

We chastised ourselves for deciding not to buy a whole-house fan the last time the house hit 85 inside, a memory that made us titter, given we were now existing in one with an indoor temp of 104.

There’d be no need, we said then. We can gut out a few hours of discomfort, we agreed at the time. But on Monday, June 28, when it got to 116, the parched lips on our melting faces probably mouthed a few choice swear words.

We paid dearly for our miscalculation. Wednesday’s marine layer, with temperatures in the 70s, brought such sweet relief I almost cried.

Now, we’re left to wonder what the Farmer’s Almanac will say about the rest of 2021 and beyond—whether Sauvie Island’s raspberry crop will cook on the vine, whether our dog should start rocking a selection of fashionable socks, whether we need to dig deep and finally invest in a legit A/C unit.

Blip or no blip, we know Earth is warming, and we have been warned.


The marina where Nancy lives in more temperate weather, with a bonus rainbow, besides. Photo by Lynn Smith-Erdlen.


Nancy Townsley

Nancy Townsley is a longtime community newspaper journalist living in a floating home on the Multnomah Channel near Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, NAILED Magazine, The Riveter Magazine, Elephant Journal, The Manifest-Station, and Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life (2012, Forest Avenue Press). She is working on a novel about a journalist-turned-activist in a time of devalued news.

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