August 9, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer

Uncle Dale half-muttered, half-grunted the phrase as he slipped into his chair with a big sigh. "It's the dog days of summer, kid."

Cloud sweat on my window - 2011
A cool, damp cloth hung across the back of his neck. He pulled the old blue-green box fan a little closer. The paper match exploded as he scratched it against the back of the folded matchbook, and the smell of sulfur wafted across the air. The muted crackle of tiny tobacco leaves gave way to the flames of his first draw on that old Lucky Strike, and I sat there expectantly awaiting an explanation.

It was the height of a 1960's summer heat wave, and I had never heard the weather described like that before.  Scenes of gnat-ridden, stinky dogs suffering miserably in the shade filled my six-year old mind.  Why, of course.  Summer days so hot that even the dogs get lazy.  (???)  That must be what he meant.

He probably tried to explain it to me, but the dog-in-the-shade picture just kind of stuck in my mind all these years.  It wasn't until I sat down to write this that it even occurred to me to Google the phrase and see what pops up.

"The dog days of summer" is a phrase steeped in ancient science.  Early astronomers noted that the constellation Canis Major (The Big Dog) rose with the sun and travelled across the daytime sky during the period from July 3 to August 11 each year. These renowned men concluded that the soaring heat patterns were due to the fact that Sirius (the Dog Star) -- the largest and brightest star of constellation Canis Major -- added its heat to that of the sun during the daylight hours of this timeframe."  

Hmmmm…. Never mind the whole earth tilting thing.  No concern about global warming.   Well….. there you have it… soaring temperatures and muggy misery blamed on The Dog.  It's no more accurate, and by no means as memorable as the profusely panting pooch imagery I connected to my uncle's comment. Who needs cause and effect anyway... I'll stick with my definition.


Thankfully, there are just two official days left in the "dog days of summer" cycle.  Good-bye never comes quickly enough as far as I'm concerned.  But the days somehow slip by.  Another season lies just ahead, and the excitement of change fills the air as summer gives way to fall and to the promise of reprieve from the suffocating humidity.

Every year, when the deafening buzz of the cicadae fills the air, I find myself walking through the memories of my mind, listening to my uncle spin yarns and explain the mysteries of science, history, social responsibility… and occasionally something about sweaty old dogs... and silly stuff like that.



  1. Such a nice story. I can picture your uncle there striking that match. I've often wondered what the dog days meant and have been meaning to Google the phrase. Now I don't have to. :)

    Thanks for the enjoyable read.


  2. ;) . . . and just one more day left to go for the 2011 DDOS!



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