• Jill

The "Dog Days" of Summer



We are heading into the “dog days of summer,” as my father used to call them, and I have a few thoughts about that as I gaze at my garden out of my kitchen window. It’s simply too hot outside to do any gardening, so I’m inside in the cool, waiting until the evening when I can get my hands into the soil.

The “dog days of summer” remind me of popsicles, and public pools, A & W Root Beer, and trips to the Laurel Plaza mall in North Hollywood, where my dad would take me to “ride the escalators” in May Company because it was just too darn hot to do anything else. But today I started to think, what exactly ARE the dog days of summer, and where in the world did that phrase come from. You’ll be surprised!

The Old Farmers’ Almanac lists the dog days of summer as starting on July 3rd through August 11th. I don't know about that. The whole of August is always a scorcher here in Southern California.

The phrase actually comes from the Ancient Greeks who would have experienced the dog days from about July 24th to August 24th, which seems more true for the temps here in Southern California. But the Greeks didn’t call them dog days because of lazy dogs overheating in hot temperatures. It actually had to do with the night sky!

The hottest days of the year corresponded to the Dog Star, Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the sky. When it was most prominent, and lowest in the summer sky, the Ancient Greeks believed that Sirius added to the Sun’s heat to make the weather exceptionally hot during this time. But the astronomical meaning has been lost over the years – and we now think only of our favorite canine panting under the lawn chair, unable to summon the energy to fetch.

But the most amazing thing is, because of the way that the earth wobbles on its axis, the "dog days" will not always be the hottest days of the year. In fact, about every 50 years the sky shifts about one degree. While that may not seem like a lot, in astronomical terms, it’s enormous. Trust me, I know about these things vicariously. My husband is an amateur astronomer, and when the telescope is just a millimeter off from where the star or planet should be, it’s a frustrating and very unsatisfactory experience. (No comment on the astronomer’s mood at these times!) So, very small increments are very significant in astronomy. And thus, a very small increment over multiples of 50 years, can mean a significant change for our planet temperatures. In 13,000 years from now, Sirius will no longer be associated with hot weather, because the “dog days” will fall in mid- winter!

In any case, for this year in my little garden, I’m going to try to have a good attitude about the dog days to come. To appreciate the warmth, take advantage of the delightful balmy evenings, try to keep everything alive and -- look forward to fall when I can plant bulbs, and dream of my spring garden!




Resource consulted: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/07/150710-dog-days-summer-sirius-star-astronomy-weather-language/#close

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