What Dog Days of summer?

waitingforharvestbybrucestambaugh
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.

summeroasisbybrucestambaugh
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.

flowergardenbybrucestambaugh
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.

dogdayssunsetbybrucestambaugh
Dog Days sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

After this June and July, do we really need August?

Ohio chaparral by Bruce Stambaugh
Parched pastures in Ohio more resembled California chaparral.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The dog days of August are upon us. The month is notorious for hot, humid and mostly dry weather. Haven’t we already experienced enough of that without adding to the enduring misery?

Once June arrived, the lovely spring weather we had enjoyed literally evaporated. The weather turned unusually warm and dry, not just in Ohio, but also across much of North America. Many record high temperatures were recorded. Geographic areas that had been moist quickly joined other regions that have had ongoing, long-term drought conditions.

Artesian well by Bruce Stambaugh
This artesian well normally runs steady year-round. It dried up by the end of July.
Water became a precious commodity. Wells were taxed. Perpetual springs slowed to a trickle. Local streams, normally gurgling with water from occasional rains, displayed more creek bed than flow.

I pitied those who had to work outside for a living. Many businesses had their employees arrive early to take advantage of the morning coolness, and then let them leave mid-afternoon at the height of the heat.

National Weather Service offices all across the country regularly posted heat advisories and excessive heat warnings. In the cities, where concrete and steel intensified the heat, people sweltered.

It was bad enough here in the country. Lawn care services, usually swamped for work or used to rushing to beat the rain to complete their jobs, simply lost business. They were used to mowing green, not brown. Indeed, there was no need to do so.

Brown lawn by Bruce Stambaugh
Lawns that were mowed short took a beating from the heat.

Farmers watched helplessly as their corn curled and parched pastures more resembled California chaparral. In America’s breadbasket, farm animals were sold off since feed and hay prices soared. By July’s end, two-thirds of the country was in some stage of drought.

Wild animals sought cooler climes, too. Groundhogs abandoned their normal burrows in hayfields and ranged outside their normal habitat for scarce food and water. A young one dug a hole under our back porch for protection from predators. It munched on our herbs and flowers, and boldly drank from our little garden pond in broad daylight.

Curled corn by Bruce Stambaugh
Field corn was so stressed from the heat and drought that it curled.

A pose of raccoons was more cautious. Being nocturnal, they regularly fished and splashed at night. The groundhog and seven of the masked bandits were captured in live traps baited with a gourmet meal of apple slices and marshmallows.

What really stood out though was how people seemed to adjust to the oppressive conditions. Sure complaints were lodged to nobody in particular. The only moisture to fall on some farmland was from farmers’ tears. Still I found people overall to be as congenial as ever. They seemed determined not to let the heat get the best of them.

One exception to that was on the highway. Drivers appeared more aggressive than usual, perhaps incited by the blazing sun and warm car interiors. In my various road trips, I noticed an unusually high number of vehicles, large and small, abandoned along highways or sitting with their hoods up. Their operators peered into the engines or talked on cell phones while waiting for help to arrive.

Brown grass by Bruce Stambaugh
Burned out lawns and parched flowerbeds like these were common all across the midwest part of the United States.

Trees and flowers, too, were stressed. Leaves turned yellow or brown. Some gave up the ghost altogether. When I walked to the mailbox to get the mail, the grass crunched beneath my feet like snow. Right now, I’d rather have the snow. Can’t we just skip the dog days of August and sashay right into a normal fall?

Given such a notion, maybe the heat has gotten to me after all.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012