Here we are in the dog days, which have nothing to do with thrown tennis balls or belly rubs.
There are some canine references that apply, but we’re talking about the dog days of summer, ostensibly the hottest, humid and oppressive part of summer.
Dog days of summer were recognized as a thing as early as the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were seen as both a defined meteorological period and an evil time, a time when the sea might boil, when wine sours, when dogs go mad (another canine connection) and when diseases flourish and fevers rage. Bad stuff.
The original dog association from this time of year came from celestial observations. The ancient heavens watchers linked this period of time with the phase during which the star Sirius rose in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere at and around the same time as the sunrise.
Sirius, the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere, is commonly called the Dog Star. It is part of the constellation Canis Major, meaning the big dog.
The heat of summer thing was somewhat logically connected to the duality of sunrise and Sirius rising. Because Sirius is the brightest of the stars, it was figured that its presence in the sky along with the sun would add a little extra heat beaming down.
I don’t think they could document that, but it sounded good at the time.
Early astronomers noted that the Dog Star rose and set with the sun on July 23.
The related dog days were somehow calculated to begin in connection with this event, beginning July 24 and lasting through Aug. 24.
Through the years, different cultures subsequent to the Greek and Roman times have embraced the idea of the dog days, yet they have had varying interpretations of the timing of the period. Different peoples have figured that the dog days start as early as July 3 and even as late as Aug. 15. Different takes on the period have maintained that it lasted as little as 30 days, as the Greek/Roman sky watchers figured, to as many as 61 days.
It is kind of a quasi-astronomical thing, but folklore is all over it, too. As such, modernized folklore as stated in such as The Farmer’s Almanac list the latter-day take on the dog days as occurring July 3-Aug. 11.
Any way you look at it, seemingly we’re in the thick of the dog days right now. I rather associate it with that time when summer begins to really wear out its welcome with unrelenting heart and a stickiness that won’t go away.
I had my fill of summer about 15 minutes after the first time it hit 90 degrees, but I’d also be happy if we reclassified the dog days of summer as the entire month of August.
Guaranteed, by the final day of August, I and many other people (especially those who must function outside some) will be ready for the promise of cooling autumn.
Nature adapts to the oppression of the dog days. We humans change the way we go about things in blistering heat, avoiding the most punishing conditions when and where we can.
Even so, we don’t take dog day implications nearly as seriously as people did in the thousands of years that humans were coping with them prior to the development of air conditioning.
Critters don’t have the advantage of thermostats, however. Many of them long ago developed the flexibility to grow thicker, insulating winter coats during the cold season, then shed that extra fur for the warmer months. Yet, during the hottest times of the year, the dog days particularly, animals can’t shed enough fur to avoid all the stress that swelter can bring.
Many species, of course, avoid the hottest part of the day by nocturnal lifestyles, active mostly at night and sleeping and/or loafing during most or all of the sundrenched hours. During the dog days, even creatures that are clearly diurnal, active in the daylight, tend to do more of their wild duties earlier and later in the day and avoid the hottest places in the hottest hours.
More animals stick to shaded environments, avoiding the direct sun, during blazing dog day times. Temperature differences between sun-exposed surfaces and shaded ones can be extreme.
Think of species like slithering reptiles that must move with direct contact with the ground. Sun-exposed surfaces during much of the day could be unsurvivable for any length of time when you have to belly-crawl over it.
Historically, people have complained that fish quit feeding when summer grinds into the dog days. They thought that because most fishermen couldn’t catch much of anything during the period.
We now recognize that fish feed plenty during this time but not necessarily where we want to fish for them. Fish have preferred water temperature ranges, and when the temperatures in most water bodies peak as they do during the dog days, fish seek out the coolest water available.
In most waters, the hottest temperatures are near the sun-bathed surface, while cooler water is deeper, and that is where more fish gravitate. In some waters, fish endure higher temperatures to stay where oxygen is adequate, a necessary trade-off that intensifies during the dog days.
Most people much prefer summer to winter. August dog days, however, can make summer far less appealing.
After enduring July, I’d prefer moving right on to September, then doubling up on Octobers.
Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.