Webster's dictionary defines "Dog Days" as
1 : the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere
2 : a period of stagnation or inactivity
But where does the term come from? Why do we call the hot, sultry days of summer “dog days?”
In ancient times, when the night sky was unobscured by artificial lights and smog, different groups of peoples in different parts of the world drew images in the sky by “connecting the dots” of stars. The images drawn were dependent upon the culture: The Chinese saw different images than the Native Americans, who saw different pictures than the Europeans. These star pictures are now called constellations, and the constellations that are now mapped out in the sky come from our European ancestors.
They saw images of bears, (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor), twins, (Gemini), a bull, (Taurus), and others, including dogs, (Canis Major and Canis Minor).
The brightest of the stars in Canis Major (the big dog) is Sirius, which also happens to be the brightest star in the night sky. In fact, it is so bright that the ancient Romans thought that the earth received heat from it. Look for it in the southern sky (viewed from northern latitudes) during January.
In the summer, however, Sirius, the “dog star,” rises and sets with the sun. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun, and the ancients believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and sultry weather. They named this period of time, from 20 days before the conjunction to 20 days after, “dog days” after the dog star.
The conjunction of Sirius with the sun varies somewhat with latitude. And the “precession of the equinoxes” (a gradual drifting of the constellations over time) means that the constellations today are not in exactly the same place in the sky as they were in ancient Rome. Today, dog days occur during the period between July 3 and August 11. Although it is certainly the warmest period of the summer, the heat is not due to the added radiation from a far-away star, regardless of its brightness. No, the heat of summer is a direct result of the earth's tilt.
When we were kids we spent our lazy summer days chasing junebugs, picking weeds, and playing in the cornfield. Most days we would end up at the creek for a dip in the nice cool water. Even just wading in it seemed to cool you off a bit. If we managed to scrape up a nickel or a dime we would walk a mile and half to the store for a cold bottle of pop or maybe an ice cream bar. Sometimes we would go for a trek through the woods and sit underneath a laurel bush on the cool pine needles. After the sun had set and the evening had cooled some we would catch lightning bugs in a jar.....
Sitting here in this air conditioned room with access to the whole wide world makes me long for a day of simple old fashioned summer fun.
That's it for today.