"Dog Days of Summer" seems quaint, doesn't it, here in this August of the twenty-first century?
As a farm child the 'dog days' meant the particular time of summer in August that initiated harvest of the grains in the part of the world where I grew up. The second haying was in progress. In the garden strawberries, raspberries, rubarb, string beans and peas were long over. The first tiny 'new' potatoes could be dug, the first cantalopes and watermelons were ripe. We gorged on fresh corn and froze gallons of it by the pint and quart. Tomatoes were on the table at every meal and lunch / snack except breakfast. As were cucumbers with dill (our own dill, from the garden, carefully deadheaded and trimmed to keep tender and aromatic enough for our own dill pickles), cream and vinegar. Pickling time was also upon us. We were freezing peaches and canning pears (cherries had been accomplished back in June with the strawberries, raspberries and blueberries). Second butchering and freezing of the chickens was in progress. The kitchen was always hot even though we utilized the attached car garage and the basement for the hot water tubs in which we scalded the chickens for plucking the feathers, and for blow torches with which we singed the pinfeathers. (Actually that was my mom and sometimes grandmothers who did that -- I didn't have to do that, at least!) I was part of the continuous mowing chores of the colossal pieces of ground that were our lawn and the yard. Flower beds had to be weeded and watered, as was the garden, not to mention the picking. Cattle, pigs and chickens had to be watered and fed.
Hard, constant work all day, everyday, until long after dark, often even Sundays because harvest and hay don't wait even for God, so no Sunday School after church, or catechism instruction during the week. Hard, constant play too, for the kids (mothers taking turns to drive the kids to the lake, swimming lessons, 4-H and church activities), and at night for us adolescents, and for the adults too, on Friday and Saturday nights -- if the flax, wheat and hay allowed. And hot. At least in the summers when things went right, and the rain had come earlier when it should and stopped for harvest. Dances on the weekend were hot, sticky, wet affairs -- I am speaking of the temperature and humidity in the vast spaces the dances took place -- no a/c, no fans even, except in the more expensive spots that our parents and their friends went, not us! Church was hot at 8 AM service, with all the windows open to the smells of the flowers planted below, where we went every Sunday morning, no matter how late we adolescents and our parents went to bed the night before, no matter how hung over our parents might be.* The weeks and churchless Sundays spent at the lake cabin in the slower days of July were already long behind us, as were my dad's fun as the local crop spray plane pilot.
As an undergraduate I assumed the Dog Days had been invented by newspapers and magazines -- another way of saying the silly season, because presumably, with D.C. shut down for summer break there wasn't anything worth covering in the news. Thus the silly. As well as harvest season, so everyone was focused on that, and nobody was bothering with either newspapers or, later, television. When I was still home in my high school years, the only time the television was turned on during this period was after dinner was cleared away (meaning what non-farmers were calling 'lunch'), dishes done and I returned to the week's ironing, which took my Monday and Tuesday and some Wednesday early afternoon hours. This is how I first heard the names of Ibsen, Maeterlinck, Chekhov, Strindberg, Pirandello -- the educational programs ran during that time segment. It wasn't until the spring of my sophomore year that we got both the ABC network and a public television station out there in Small Family Farmlandia. Until then it was NBC and CBS only. That's how far out of the mainstream of the rest of the country our location still was, even then, leaning toward the end of the twentieth century.
Now? It seems Dog Days because I'm so busy I can't think much -- just like August back when I was growing up. But so different -- I'm not ironing or freezing or canning, for one thing.
Most of all it seems the Dog Days because it is a month of natural catastrophe all over the world. Extreme weather and weather disasters, signature of global climate change and the global warming that is, among other factors, including deforestation, causing it. The pariah dog, slinking starved, sunken-ribbed through debris and rubble of disasters and war detritus. A third of Pakistan is under water. Ames, Iowa has no drinking water. The Gulf of Mexico is horribly poisoned. China is flooded and broken by earthquake. Russia wheat is burning in fires caused by prolonged firey temperatures and drought, same as my part of the world, sans the wildfires, for which I'm supremely grateful.
However, I lnow that neither the newspapers nor the twentieth invented 'Dog Days.' You can find the origin here, which I didn't discover until a class in English literature of the 16th and 17th centuries.
How are you doing in this year's Days of the Dog?
* Parents hung over, yes, but not us, at least not us Good Girls, of which I was smart enough to be one of, because my eye was firmly fixed on getting the hell outta this Dodge, the moment I graduated from high school, and as ignorant as I was I had no idea how not to get pregnant, and also I didn't want the boys to Talk About Me. I broke rules all the time of my community and family, but I was very careful as to which rules were broken -- such as 'forgetting' it was Monday morning -- clothes washing day -- and taking off on my bicycle with a friend and riding all over the township -- o was Mom furious that I was nowhere to be found. The joys of wine, beer and other such things were still far in my future.