Welcome to the dog days of summer

An evening thunderstorm over a neighboring county.

In case you haven’t noticed, we have entered those dreaded dog days of summer. It’s hot, humid, and dry almost everywhere across the country.

The Shenandoah Valley hasn’t been excluded from the stifling temperatures and muggy air. Rains have been sporadic, all or nothing events.

The look says it all.
The few times it has rained at our place near Harrisonburg, I could have walked through the widely dispersed drops and not gotten wet. Our backyard is so brown that it resembles a beach more than it does a lawn. Only, the grass crunches rather than squishes beneath your feet.

I understood the meaning of dog days even as a child but also wondered where that term originated. I knew that when adults talked about the dog days, it meant sunny, hot, humid, and dry times.

The Amish still don’t have air conditioning.
Those were days when the neighborhood kids would head for the woods or the creek down over the hill from our little red brick house. Mom wanted us outside playing, and with no air conditioning then, we were glad to oblige her.

But I sensed dog days meant something more profound than being so dastardly hot that the dogs wouldn’t whimper. Naturally, I Googled to find out the source of the saying. As simple as the phrase may sound, its origin is a bit complex.

It turns out that the phrase had little to do with dogs panting or even the lazy, hazy days of summer. There was a muddled mix of astronomy and fantasy involved in bringing in the dog days, not necessarily a heatwave.

A blazing dog day sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

Dog days first referred to Sirius, the dog star. The appearance of Sirius in the early morning sky just before sunrise ushered in the dog days for the ancient Greeks and Romans. In their time, that occurred in late July.

Back then, sailors, travelers, and stargazers didn’t have to deal with light pollution. They worshiped the heavens, establishing names and stories for stars and constellations.

In Homer’s “The Iliad,” Sirius is referred to as Orion’s dog star. Then, the dog star brought wars and disasters of all sorts. I guess they had to blame something. It might as well be an imaginary culprit.

Still, I can just imagine families gathered around a fire long ago, staring skyward, as an elder told the story of the dog star. Today, of course, most of us couldn’t find Sirius even if we could see the stars.

Whatever tradition you acknowledge and expound, the dog days of summer are here. They have gotten off to a roaring start in more ways than the hot weather.

The comet Neowise has been thrilling people for a couple of weeks now. It should be at its brightest. If you haven’t taken time to check it out, all you need are some binoculars, some keen eyes, and be willing to enjoy the cooler evening air with a good view of the western horizon. You won’t be disappointed.

Summer’s dog days are also hosting the debut of the delayed Major League Baseball season. Even with a 60-game schedule, I’m not holding out much hope for my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians.

Authorities thought that the warmer months would slow the spread of the cursed Covid-19 virus. Instead, the number of U.S. cases and, unfortunately, coronavirus-caused deaths are both increasing as the summer steams along.

I hope the dog days don’t bark too loud or long this summer. Given the state of world events, that would be some welcome news indeed, as soothing as a drenching rain.

Our brown backyard.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

What Dog Days of summer?

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Waiting for harvest. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The summer of 2014 was so cool and quiet that the Dog Days hardly even growled, until recently. Even then, it wasn’t much more than a whimper.

Of course, there are scientific theorems and meteorological terms that offer up logical reasons for the unseasonably cool summertime weather we have experienced here in northeast Ohio. I won’t pretend to describe or pronounce them. To do that, I’d actually have to understand them first.

I did hear a meteorologist say that the weather system in place over us was akin to the polar vortex that vexed us all winter and spring. With these late summer steamy days, I think I finally thawed out from that inhospitable experience.

I never imagined that that strong system would continue to influence our weather well into the summer. But it did, and I’m glad. Hot, humid weather and I aren’t best buddies.

After all you could always put more clothes on if you’re too cold. But you can only take so much off when summer throws a temperature tantrum.

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This has been a recurring scene in Holmes County, Ohio this summer, with saturated lowlands, and verdant hillsides. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

After the long, cold, snowy winter followed by the extended, chilly, wet spring, I feared a mostly hot, dry summer. That happened at too many other places around the country and the globe, but not here. The greater Holmes County area has been transfixed in its own little verdant oasis.

Despite the last minute warm up, this summer may turn out to be one of the coolest and wettest on record. If it is, I won’t complain. Then, again, my basement didn’t flood either.

Anecdotal evidence supports my assertions. Even horse drawn reapers couldn’t get through their hayfields to make the first cutting. The extra tall and thick legumes they attempted to mow bound up the machines.

The number of days the high temperature hit 90 could be counted on one hand. No 100 days were recorded. I was awakened at night more by cool breeze blowing through the screens than the air conditioner winding up beneath our bedroom windows.

I packed clothes for all four seasons for our weeklong family vacation on Lake Erie’s southern shore. My layered attire proved most practical.

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Flower garden. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My wife’s flower gardens were gorgeous, the blossoms bright, big and beautiful. Our heirloom tomatoes seem to love this weather as well. They are the largest and most plentiful we have ever grown. The load of manure our Amish neighbor delivered probably helped, too.

Lawn care professionals, excavators, painters and construction workers struggled to keep up with their promised jobs. The grass grew so fast even the earthworms had to get out of the way.

It was so cool driving along the interstate in New York, I was certain snow was drifting on Lake Erie’s ice pack. My passengers assured me the drifts were huge whitecaps breaking. Nevertheless, I still wore my hoodie when we stopped for a much needed break.

I realize that summer isn’t officially over yet, and additional heat and humidity is still possible. But with both the bird migration and the new school year in full swing, the time has long passed for summer’s warmest days.

Besides, if you’re sharp, you’ll notice that the leaves on some luscious deciduous trees have already begun to blush their warm fall colors. Minute by minute, sunrise is later each day, and sunset sooner.

With that in mind, the Dog Days of summer, as tardy as they were, should stop barking any day now. For me, it can’t be too soon.

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Dog Days sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014