In the Northern Hemisphere, today is the first day of the Dog Days of Summer. Yippee! Kids are planning trips to the swimming pool or to the beach. Retailers are planning sidewalk clearance sales and the rest of us are simply bracing ourselves for heat and humidity.
When I was younger, I used to think that Dog Days were the time of the year that we were to treat dogs with extra care and attention. I thought of it as the equivalent of a holiday season for dogs. But I began to notice that dogs didn’t appear to be any happier during dog days than during the rest of the year. In fact, some of them seemed to be dog-gone miserable.One year, my science teacher explained where the term originated. He said that during the summer months particular constellations are visible to us in the Northern Hemisphere. Most famous of which are Canis Major (big dog) and Canis Minor (little dog).
The brightest visible star in the night sky is found in the Canis Major constellation, it’s Sirius. There was a folk belief during the ancient Roman Empire days that earth received heat from Sirius. Because Sirius was closer to the sun in the summer, folks figured that the heat from Sirius adding to the solar heat caused the hot, muggy conditions of Summertime. Hence, the name “Dog Days” was coined.
These days we can thank science for explaining that we feel more heat in the summer because of the orientation of our planet in relation to the sun due to the tilt of earth’s rotation on it’s axis. The name “Dog Days” was catchy and popular, so it remained in our vocabulary.
Air conditioning was much more of a luxury item when I was young. Our house had a window air conditioner in one room. If us kids wanted to cool off on a very hot day, we had to ask mom’s permission to turn on the air conditioner and stay in the dining room. That is if the A/C wasn’t already running. We were happy to assemble puzzles, draw pictures or play board games during the heat of the afternoon.
Other times, mom wanted us out of her hair, so we were allowed to walk to the swimming pool. After we were slathered with sun tan lotion, (no such thing as sunscreen in those days) we’d spend all afternoon swimming and splashing around in the pool. After arriving home, we’d be famished. Mom knew to have a snack ready for us. Later a big supper was ready for us hungry kids.
Summer nights my brother and I couldn’t drift off to sleep because our bedroom felt hot and stuffy. Many of those nights, we’d lay on our beds with our heads at the foot ends so we could stare out the window at the starry sky. If the moon was full, we’d really enjoy the view. Somehow, staring at the sky helped us to finally get some shut-eye.
Either the extended stretch of free time of the summer, or the miserable weather caused young people to get into more mischief during the Dog Days of Summer. Maybe both? I didn’t care much for the extreme heat and mugginess. This generally caused me to become quite crabby and snappy.
It was difficult to relieve boredom because the activities my friends and I enjoyed were active. We’d get overheated and sunburned quickly. So we all had to slow down and sit. We often managed to plot some sort of minor act of naughtiness. Hey, we were boys and that’s what happens when you have more than one boy together with time and heat. A perfect storm, so to speak, falls into place.
Now that I’m older, I’d rather plan a picnic with the standard fare to enhance my time with friends and family. Sometimes, during the Dog Days of Summer, I’ll include hot dogs on the menu. Make mine veggie dogs, please.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes William Carlos Williams. “In summer, the song sings itself.”