The high humidity that summer in New York brings has consequences for our bodies that seem entirely unrelated to barometric pressure. I notice one of them throughout the summer as my ear canals swell just enough to make the wearing of my hearing aids uncomfortable. Clearly we are talking about a tiny amount of space, but I can assure you that the agony of a slightly smaller ear canal is very real. For some, it is the feet and legs that swell, also an uncomfortable by-product of high pressure systems.

High humidity causes problems for wood as well. Cut timber, no matter how well dried, never stops absorbing moisture. This tends not to be a major problem if humidity is controlled, but if there are radical extremes of moisture, there will be swelling and shrinking, a problem that can be deleterious to all furniture, not just antiques. The average apartment in New York City will range from 3% humidity in the heating season to 80% in the summer.

Museums such as the Metropolitan Museum have atmospheric controls to keep humidity, year round, at around 55%. Indeed, if you don’t have climate control, the MMA is a great place to visit in mid-winter to make your entire body feel less tight, because, just as humidity swells the body, high heat shrinks the body causing tightness or stiffness of the joints and muscles. Couple that with the cold, and winter earns its place as being more miserable than humidity in summers.

Clearly, too much of one thing is never particularly good. Extremes of heat or cold are bad, but when we become extreme in our behavior, it can be quite dangerous. Militant extremists have no qualms about their lack of balance and always see war as justified. Indeed, balance, as the Chinese recognized long ago and which they appear to have turned their back on, is in understanding countervailing realities and working within the context of that dichotomy.  It seems a hard thing to do these days.


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