Down on the Farm: Dog days
These are the dog days of summer.
The term "dog days" dates from ancient times and has to do with the stellar constellations which are prominent in the night sky during July and August.
In ancient times, the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, also known from ages past as the "Dog Star," rose close to the sun in August.
Things have changed in the night sky over the past thousand years. Sirius no longer rises close to the sun in the late summer. But Sirius rose with the sun long enough to give rise to a phrase which has survived to the present.
It was thought in the old times that when Sirius combined its bright rays with those of the sun, it created hot, sultry conditions on earth.
Hot, sultry conditions, before air conditioning, were no laughing matter. Disease thrived. Food rotted. Garbage smelled. People and animals perished.
Now we have air conditioning. The stakes are substantially lower.
Whenever I hear the term "dog days," I think of a Basset hound drooped over the edge of a southern porch, tongue hanging out, eyes half shut. I think of crickets chirping, cicadas buzzing, and other lazy noises of late summer.
In baseball, the dog days are when starting pitchers wear out in the heat. For losing teams, it seems like the season will never end. All a die-hard fan can do in the dog days is hope for an occasional homer.
At the sweltering ballpark, the only way to placate fans is to keep the cold beer coming. Cold beer is to the dog days what cider is to Christmas.
The dog days of summer are best spent in the country where breezes blow freely and trees cast generous pools of shade.
The dog days are when you get reacquainted with the friend who owns a place at the lake. On the water, the air cools sooner than out at the farm. At the lake, the water creates an hour of bliss as the sun sets. It ends when the mosquitoes come out at ten o'clock.
But for millions, that single hour of bliss is worth an extra mortgage. Bless those willing to share that hour with their more fiscally austere friends!
It is during the dog days that the southern European tradition of closing stores mid-afternoon and opening them again at six seems to make good sense.
Why fight the heat? Why not start supper at 10 p.m. as they do in Spain?
In a normal year in the Upper Midwest, most dog days would bring on a noisy but refreshing night of thunder, wind and rain.
Almost nightly, thunderstorm and tornado warnings march across the bottom of the local TV station's screen.
This year, we have drought. The dog days end with eerily silent nights. It isn't good, and it doesn't feel right.
The only thing to march across the bottom of the screen is news that the Twins lost to the Royals. Again.
I have a bird's eye view of my swamp, which is drying up to nothing.
The swan pair, which in a good year raises five cygnets to maturity, started this season with three and is down to one.
Perhaps the raccoon family is to blame. They thrive on the tender meat of juvenile waterfowl.
One baby raccoon scratches on my living room window almost nightly. It seems like he wants to come inside for the air conditioning.
When he scratched the glass the other night long after dark, I opened the window a crack. Instead of fleeing, baby raccoon stuck his nose through the opening and tried to get in.
I was charmed enough to let him crawl in for the fun of it, but in the three seconds I had the window open, 1,657 insects buzzed through the crack in a race to reach the light in the kitchen.
I shut the window so fast it nearly caught baby raccoon's nose.
It took two days for the last of the marauding insect party to perish on the bathroom counter after burning up on the vanity light.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher. All is vanity.
Fight your way through life, grasp for the glorious kitchen light, and what happens?
You end up dead on the vanity.
These are the dusty dog days of summer, when critters crawl and sweat runs rivers down one's back.