Well it’s that time of year again, the hottest of the hot. After the boys of summer have gone-(throwback thanks to Don Henley for that great song!)- we are left with the Dog Days of summer. Sultry temps and hot tempers; a time not fit for man nor beast. (As for me, I am decidedly in the beast category by this time of year.) So what exactly constitutes a dog day? Anciently, the Romans and Greeks vary the actual dates a bit, but the common thread is that toasty-hot July and August comprise the “dog days.” Of scriptural significance-(think Noah/Ark)-they span 40 days, and Europeans still refer to these dates as the Time of The Dog. So how did they come up with such a colorful name for this smokin’ hot time of year? Well actually, the origins are celestial in nature. In late summer, Sirius, AKA the “Dog Star” which just happens to sit behind the sun…rises prior to, or seemingly at the same time as the blazing sun, thus the ancient stargazers coined the title, “Dog Days.”
Rising Dog Star + Rising Sun=Dog Days
Those stargazers are a clever lot! Priests were the calendar keepers and watched from atop the temple for things to get “Sirius.” The rising “Dog” star just happened to correlate with the suns hottest scorch..which is why “dog days’ get a bad rap. It’s all just coincidence-the hottest, brightest sun in combo with the brightest star in the night sky!
Egyptians had their own little nickname, calling it the “Nile Star,” because it posed a warning that the annual flooding of the Nile was eminent. Thus they knew to beat it to the canals and start irrigating the fields-knowing that the drenching would cleanse the land and generate fertility. (Fertility for the fields- not the folks, wink!)
Fast forward…For us, dog days are the last hurrah. Summer vacation is winding down, school is looming large, (with all the preparation that entails, blech), and the time clock is ticking for the summer pools and late nights. It’s a time we feel our most lackadaisical, yet feel an urgency to squeeze every last drop out of that lemon for our summer lemonade. Oh, what do we do in the summertime? Dog days bring trips to the library for that great summer read, grilling up hotdogs, toasting marshmallows and slammin’ together s’mores. It means making it to the only drive-in theater at least one time this summer. It means putt-putt, popsicles, and the zoo. Road trips and reunions. Kool-Aid, sprinklers and sunburn. Flip flops, bug spray, and lounge chairs. Summer is a time of family-fun celebration.
The Egyptians were celebrating too, as the floods receded and plant sproutings dotted the earth. (I like to think they partied by “walking like Egyptians”— groan!)
We all know how destructive flooding can be, but out of destruction comes rebirth. So it is with summer’s end. It is a magical time of year, both the end and cusp of a season and chapter in our lives. As summer exits, we are one year older in the school of life. We can’t go back to where we were before, and it will be a whole year till the dog days are back. It’s a transitional, somewhat melancholy time.
So this year when it really heats up, the AC is on the blink, the kids are screaming and you’re on your last nerve- don’t wish it all away for back-to-school, fall weather, and routine. Press the pause button. Redirect your gaze heavenward, and seek out the brightest star in the sky. Sirius. The star of happy summer memories and blessed dog days.
Men should take their knowledge from the sun, the moon, and the stars…
~Ralph Waldo Emerson