There’s no mistaking it. They’re here – the Dog Days of Summer that is. Me, being ever the weather nerd, noted yesterday was the 52nd day at or above 100 degrees (or 38 Celcius for any of my readers living anywhere besides the U.S.!) of the year so far at my home. More surprising, the heat’s extended to places like northern New Jersey, where Newark had five days in a row in that temperature range, and Britain where airport tarmacs began melting in the 104 degree heat recently. Britain as in, home of the pasty-skinned locals and homes with no air conditioning. That Britain.
I’ve heard the expression “Dog Days” since I was young and always assumed they just referred to any old hot spells in summer. I was surprised to find, according to the Farmer’s Almanac and Wikipedia both that this year the “dog days” end tomorrow , on August 11. They began on July 3. Who knew? Not me. Turns out they’re a specified time and it ties in to the meaning of the phrase.
I was never sure why they were “Dog Days” but I had guessed it had something to do with dog behavior in summer. It’s said only “mad dogs” (and Englishmen) go out in the mid-day sun. Your typical perky pup usually prefers long snoozes in the shade to tiring jogs on the most humid days, and the wiser people among us probably concur. There’s a reason Mexicans used to take “siestas” after lunch on a summer day. Thus, dog days were lazy days, days so hot it makes doing anything seem like it’s doing too much. Turns out I was wrong. The Dog Days are days when Sirius is prominent in the early morning sky.
Sirius, also called the “Dog Star” is in the Canis Major constellation – Big Dog – and the ancient Egyptians noticed it always was prominent in the mid-summer pre-sunrise sky. Lacking calendars with wacky Far Side cartoons to tell them what day it was, they planned some of their agriculture and festivals around the star showing up. The Canis Major days. After a month or so, the nighttime sky had shifted enough for it to not be on their dawn horizon and the period was over for another year. I think I like my explanation better.
It all got me thinking though, of the four seasons. When I first came to Texas, I was rather dumbfounded that most of the locals hate summer. As a northerner, it made no sense. After all, in Canada, we look forward to the “Dog Days” …both of them! I kid, but winter’s are long there, days short for close to half the year. So when we get to shed layers of clothing, spend evenings outside at concerts or sporting events, or just strolling around, without seeing our breath and shivering, that’s reason to celebrate! Not to mention things like summer holidays, BBQs, picnics, sleeping with the windows open, and for us guys, yes, seeing the ladies shed some layers of clothes. They have legs! Who knew? Not us in mid-winter! It’s a fun time to enjoy being outside, get together and do things. Little coincidence that most of the big festivals, fairs and picnics are held within the brief late-May to Labor Day time frame there.
Down here though, things are a bit different. While up there, people revel in the days when it hits 80, here people wait longingly for the time when the nights at least will drop below that temperature. Air conditioners run non-stop, and electric bills and tempers rise in lockstep. Fingers get burned on the steering wheel of cars when you hop in before the AC starts blasting…and one still drives, even to the neighbor’s it would seem, because who wants to be walking anywhere when it’s 111 in the shade. And shade is nowhere to be seen? Texans, it seems don’t care much for summer.
It got me thinking too, if we have summer “Dog Days” what would represent the other seasons?
Fall here comes late, but can be rather pleasing… cool, sunny days. But where I came from, although fall meant miles of glowing, beautiful fall colors mostly it meant cold, rainy, dreary dark days…until the rainy days turned to dreary snowy ones! Once Labor Day had passed I guess we had the Elephant Seal Days of Autumn. Cold, gray, wet and a bit on the mean side. Of course, many older northerners take the first few snowflakes as a message to fly south to sunnier locales for a few months. As soon as the Snow Goose Days arrive.
Winters here when we see snow long enough to take a picture, let alone for the kids to make a tiny snowman, are memorable. Up north… they’re endless. Or so it seems. Cold, best spent indoors as much as possible, snoozing or ignoring all that goes on outside one’s door. Those little furry masked bandits have it right. They don’t quite hibernate; they just stay in their homes for days on end, sleeping a lot when the winter winds howl and pop out briefly when the sun comes out….on the Raccoon Days of Winter.
Which leads us to spring. I always loved spring up north…when it finally arrived. Days were lengthening, it was getting warmer, new growth popped up everywhere, birds were plentiful and singing and summer things like baseball were beginning to slowly get back up to speed. Down here, well lo and behold, people like spring too, for many of the same reasons. It just shows up much earlier and lasts fewer days before turning to full-on summer. But it seems everywhere, people are a bit happier and more energetic when spring has sprung. They even have a “spring” in their step. During the Baby Goat Days of Spring!
One good thing about the Dog Days… they give us time to sit inside, sweat and ponder – about things like Baby Goat Days!