I’m grumpy. It’s hot. It hit 106 this weekend. I know, I know… it’s San Antonio in the summer, so of course it’s hot. I was born and raised down here, without air conditioning I might add, so I should know about hot as well as anyone, but still… It is dreadfully, awfully, terribly, unbearably hot. And I am well aware that this part of the country is not the only place that’s suffering. Even my friend in the Pacific Northwest can make that claim.
It’s not only hot here, though, it’s ugly because we have a drought. The grass is dead, the flowers have faded, the trees look limp, and the vegetables, including the jalapeños, have all shriveled and died. When it’s too hot for peppers, you know the situation is dire! The swimming pool is steadily evaporating and what water remains registers a “cool” 91 degrees. No matter; it’s too hot to swim anyway, and the pool is too far to reach. You open the door from our den to the outside and the bomb of white-hot heat that that goes off in your lungs is enough to make you keel over before you can make it across the patio.
We are surely, certainly, absolutely, thoroughly in the Dog Days of summer. Everyone is unmotivated, uncomfortable, and generally unconcerned about anyone or anything else except making it to fall. Even our usually energetic Swiss Mountain Dog, Mac, always the first one to bolt out the door for a walk or a ride or a meet-and-greet, has taken to lying on the couch (where he isn’t supposed to be) under the big overhead fan for hours at a time. Apparently, the Dog Days of summer are even too much for a dog!
Many people think that the expression Dog Days comes from exactly that: the image of an exhausted, over-heated canine with his tongue hanging out, panting and plopping down onto the pavement. Actually, though, the descriptive expression dates from ancient Egypt and has its origins in astronomy. So-called Dog Days refer to the period around the summer solstice when the star Sirius rises at roughly the same time as the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, this period ranges from early July to mid-August or so. For the Egyptians, this was the new year, the time when the inundation of the Nile began and the land got replenished. Interestingly, the hieroglyph for Sirius was a dog.
The ancient Greeks identified Sirius as the “the dog star” at the tip of the nose of a dog constellation, Canis Major, but they hardly saw the season of Sirius rising as welcoming. Rather, they and Romans developed superstitions about Dog Days, claiming that they brought not only heat and drought and storms, but bad luck, fever, and madness of all kinds, including mad dogs. Some of those beliefs endure to this day, reinforced by modern horror stories of deaths due to closed cars, heat prostration in homes without air circulation, and heat stroke at marathons and football practice. Sadly, eleven children died of heat suffocation in closed cars in this country just this last month in July.
For most of us, thankfully, the effects of Dog Days aren’t quite so dire, though the lethargy and moodiness created by unrelenting heat is a real phenomenon which has been studied and documented by researchers. As reported in a recent column by Dr. Oz, extreme heat makes people tired and less willing to help others. “Heat triggers an inflammatory response that boosts stress hormones, aggravates residual pains or aliments, and amps up mood-altering hormones.” (San Antonio Express-News, 7/31/2017) In other words, people tend to get “hot under the collar” in hot weather. They are not nice, even here in the friendly “Hi y’all” state. This is not encouraging news in America, where aggression and aggravation are already at a fevered pitch everywhere, regardless of the temperatures.
Meanwhile, I’ll confess: I don’t feel friendly either, nor do I feel especially well physically. I am listless and uncomfortable and I just don’t want to be bothered. I don’t like to shop in the heat, finding the stores too hot and the getting in and out of cars , with those bombs of white-hot heat hitting me, too debilitating; I don’t like to cook in the heat, finding the prep too much trouble and the heat from the oven or the fire from the outdoor grill just too much to endure; and I certainly don’t like to walk, or garden, or do any outside activities, finding them all too sweaty and more arduous than I can endure. As the Victorians so properly put it, the Dog Days are just “… the hottest, most unwholesome time of year.”
So, I remain unapologetically grumpy, and tired and listless and uncomfortable. I have historic precedence and modern research as my rationale to do so. In The Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe put her underwear in the fridge to soothe the New York summer heat. As for me, I’m going go to lie down with Mac on the couch under the fan. It may not be the 1950s, but Mac is a pretty “cool cat.”