Dreading those Dog Days of Summer

By Rick Houser – 

Recently I was talking with a couple of friends about how the temperature was higher and it seemed that the humidity also was higher. You know? The same old “It ain’t the heat it’s the humidity” conversation. Nevertheless it got me to thinking that there really is some reason that this time of the year feels so different. Best reason I can come up with is we are dead in the middle of “The Dog Days of Summer”.
This really is the correct name for this time of year. I looked it up and in ancient Greece and Rome the astrologers noticed that the biggest star Sirrus, the rising star, fell in line with the sun. They deduced that the heat coming off of Sirrus added to the already hot sun and created the hottest time of the year that lasted somewhere between 30 and 60 days. Sirrus is also known as the “Dog Star”. There is where they came up with dog days. Interesting that they came up with that name way back in the fifth century BC don’t you think?
Now The Dog Days get the credit for heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, mad dogs, and just bad luck. Just from my point of view it sounds like if it wasn’t connected to anything good, then it must be connected to The Dog Days.
As we would near the tobacco cutting season the days would get very hot and sweating never seemed to be much of a problem. We were working very hard anyway and add the humidity about twenty degrees more on the average and sweating was the norm. I have heard older men talking and they would swear that the number of dogs having rabies was higher this time of year. They were older and seemed to be the wisest men around so I took it for a fact. I also recall all the kids my age who liked to swim in ponds or creeks would not go near them in the Dog Days as everyone knew the water was stagnant and catching deadly diseases was almost a sure thing.
One thing I have noticed is that when the crops are or have reached their potential, for corn and soy beans the stalks have grown to their fullest and are just holding their position while the grains fill out. When tobacco was the king in the days when I farmed, we spent a lot of time watching the tobacco plants. After we would walk through a patch and snap the top out of each plant we then would sit and wait. We waited on the plant to finish its growing potential and that was by watching two things on the plant. As the plant filled out the leaves would move in a position where the leaf pointed straight out from the plant. The second and most obvious observation was the plant would turn if allowed to a deep yellow color thus giving the signal to take it to the barn to be hung up and cured.
As the tobacco was spreading, we would load up the tobacco sticks and attempt to get as many of them dropped in advance that we could. It saved time on the day we were ready to cut it as the sticks were already there and it was easier to carry an arm load of 50+ sticks on your shoulder through a patch before the leaves spread entirely out. Still when doing this job one got a good taste of The Dog Days of Summer and what was coming and it was safe to think that what was coming wasn’t a good thing.
Just as the crops were nearing their completion for the year’s growing season so were the gardens. Different fruits and vegetables had already been harvested throughout the summer but in late August and early September the final and more than likely the largest harvest was about to take place. Sugar corn and green beans, along with Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes, were dug and prepared to be stored for the winter months. The beans had to be broken and I still can see our counters lined up with freshly canned beans and Mom waiting to hear a pop that assured her that the jar was sealed. Mom also would shuck and slice the corn off the ears and prepare what looked like a mountain of bags filled with sugar corn headed to the freezer.
We also would have a bushel or so of lima beans and we would spend our evenings with a newspaper on our laps and a pan on one side and a paper bag on the other. The beans would come from the basket to the newspaper and then the bean would go into the pan and the pod went into the bag. It seemed enjoyable with all the family doing it and we got to do it in front of the television as we still didn’t want to miss “Gunsmoke” or “Red Skelton. I haven’t got to the bell peppers or the carrots and beets yet. It was safe to say that in those days the garden was just as valuable as the crops we were raising out on the farm.
The part maybe some forget is the sweat was no fun in the garden or the tobacco patch or up in the barn where things became even hotter. The closer to the roof you got the more heat and less air circulation there was. Despite these being good memories, it doesn’t mean they were as romantic as I might make them sound. The thing was we weren’t the only farmers who went through the dog days. All the farmers did, so there wasn’t going to be much sympathy for you.
By the way after I got married and we began housekeeping on the farm, we both agreed that it was time to break tradition. We went out and bought a big box fan so we might get cooled off a little. We didn’t go telling folks about it, we would just lay in front of it. I finally felt I had beaten The Dog Days but wouldn’t you know it? I ended up with a summer cold. I guess that is just one more horrible thing that comes with The Dog Days of Summer.