I always wondered where the term ‘Dog Days of August’ came from. When I was a child I liked to say it because it has ‘dog’ in the title. My mom said it was the hot, humid part of summer which confused me since no dog I knew liked that kind of weather. Now, a ‘three dog night’ well, that made sense. On a very cold winter night, if one wanted to stay warm in the woods, one required three dogs to keep warm, as opposed to two or one I guess. That’s what my dad told me and it made sense. But dog days of summer was a contradiction in terms as far as I could see, being that I was ten.
Of course it doesn’t have much to do with dogs, which was terribly disappointing to my young self and had more to do with the summer sky and Sirius, the dog star in the constellation Canis Major. During this season Sirius rises and sets with the sun and summer heat is at it’s peak, bringing with it all the ‘bad tidings’ as Homer describes in the Iliad.
‘Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.’
Homer was a happy guy, wasn’t he?
But, thankfully there is an American proverb to offset Homer a bit.
Dog days, bright and clear.
Indicate a happy year.
But when accompanied by rain,
For better times our hopes are vain.
At least there is a smattering of hope there.
In Northern parts, it is considered summer proper. Heat is not one of my favorite things and fall is my favorite time of year, but I still like the name. Dog days of summer. Who doesn’t like summer and one of our favorite animal friends? Bare feet and lazy days in the shade, the dogs and I eating ice cream by the blowup pool…not too much ‘suffering of humanity’ at my house. None of that ‘evil portent’ crap either.
I also liked the term ‘straw dog’ for a while in childhood for the same reason I liked ‘dog days of summer’. At least until my mom caught me making one with grass one summer. She asked what I was going with the sack and so I told her and she explained that ‘straw dog’ meant it was something people used to get people to pick something else. It wasn’t the thing they really wanted. I didn’t really understand it but it didn’t sound good for dogs.
“Why don’t they want the dog?” I asked as I paused in the building of said ‘straw dog’ by stuffing of grass into a potato sack, unwilling to believe that someone wouldn’t want a dog, straw or otherwise. My looked at my bag of grass and in my nine year old mind’s eye it was really starting to look ‘doggish’. I smiled up at her, “Dogs are nice.”
Mom sighed. “Yes…Well… dogs are nice…” Exasperated by my latest antics she shook her head and went back to the cabin to continue the endless chores that come with eight children. I’m sure I had previously exhausted her when I spent nearly the entire summer dragging around a stump on the end of a rope, pretending I was a cowboy and the stump was my calf that needed copious amounts of attention. I’m sure by now my readers have guessed why I dragged that stump-calf around…
That’s right. An orphaned calf is known in cowboy circles as a ‘doggie’.