The Dog Season

Sep 3, 2013

Labor Day has come and gone, but the summer heat is still with us. And that has community commentator Tim Bass saying hot diggity dog.

When he isn't roaming around in the mean summer heat, Tim Bass teaches creative writing at UNC Wilmington.

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The Dog Season

   The dog days have arrived—the hottest part of the hot season, when outside feels like a running oven and inside feels like the electricity company making a fortune. Temperatures start near 80 at breakfast and climb all day, from uncomfortable to miserable to let’s-just-have-a-Popsicle-and-wait-for-October.

   I love it.              

   Summer is my favorite time of year, the dog days the best part. I mow the lawn at midday, and I like to ride my bicycle when the sun reaches its highest and least forgiving mark. My neighbors see me plodding through my yard at the peak of the heat, pushing a mower or carrying a leaf blower, no shirt, sweat streaming—not a pretty site, I admit—yet I’m completely at ease, happy as the mercury flirts with triple digits.

I wonder if they think I’m crazy. Am I the only person around who enjoys the dog days? Does anyone else leave an over-air-conditioned building in August and drive home with the windows up and no A/C?

In winter, I read the newspaper listings of high temperatures and fantasize about moving to the warmest places. If Chihuahua, Mexico, hits 90 degrees in February, I think about how nice life might be there. Is that just me?

Possibly. Most folks have a bone with the dog days, and they growl about it all the time. “You can fry an egg on the sidewalk,” someone mutters. Somebody else sniffs, “If you stand out in that sun too long, you’re liable to stew.” Summer, it seems, is all about eggs and stew.

And Hades. The only times you hear any howling about Hades are during church and the dog days of summer.

   But you have to look in the other direction for the origin of the term “dog days.” It comes from the constellation Canis Major, meaning Large Dog, and one bright star in particular, Sirius. Ancient civilizations knew that puppy as the Dog Star, and they noticed that the hottest weather coincided with the daytime rise of Sirius. So, Dog Star, dog days.

   A modern interpretation says the heat and humidity make dogs too lazy to get off the porch (though plenty of dogs are almost catatonic in any temperature).

   The dog days signify the heart of summer—a mean streak nature unleashes in July to hound us, without pause, until after Labor Day. People lope around in a dog daze, looking as pooped as a blue tick after hiking a leg of mountain trail. They just want to flee the heat.

Not me. This time of year draws something out of me—OK, sweat, for one thing, but also an abiding desire to get outdoors and enjoy the direct alignment of sun and Earth.

We’re scratching through the last days of August now, and soon my fervid yard work and bicycle riding will tail off until next year. Then I’ll curl up in the Barcalounger for my winter pet project: dreaming about this fetching, doggone glorious summer heat.