Have you ever wondered what the expression, “The Dog Days of Summer” means? I have had my own interpretations, I’m certain you have had yours, but what does it really mean? Is it about dogs? Is it about a certain time of year? Is it about heat, the length of the sunlight, chasing rabbits, or something totally different? Let’s look into this interesting dog-chasing-its-tail conundrum!
As a former teacher, the dog days of summer seemed to always mean summer was drawing to a close, and the school year was drawing near. June was a nice lazy time to relax, start new projects, go play golf or tennis, and enjoy my family. July started out the same, and then gradually, as the month passed, summer seemed to gain momentum and speed toward the inevitable conclusion of this wonderful season. By August I would start, consciously and unconsciously, counting the remaining days of summer fun. Probably, like a gleefully rabbit-chasing dog, I longed to extend the summer days for as long as I possibly could. I would start planning my days more carefully; both for fun as well as for projects. I would start recounting my already spent summer times as projectfully-productive, sufficiently-entertaining, culturally-uplifting, and refreshingly-renewing. If the scale weighed heavier on the well-spent summer scale, I was happy. If the scale was found wanting, I got busy to right the wrongs of wasted time (sort of).
When I was a rancher in Texas, during this time of year, I would see the ten or so dogs on the property laying around in the shade most of the day, only to stir and forage for adventure and food in the cool of the evening. It was interesting, in Louisiana, to visit (and for one month) to actually live at what is known as a camp along the Cane River was blissfully relaxing. Outdoor living, cooking, and visiting is a wonderful tradition with plenty of iced tea and other handy beverages ready to battle the heat along the Louisiana rivers, lakes, and bayous.
So … now, I’m curious … what does this phrase really mean??? It seems as though this term originates from several places. Astronomy, weather, and time of year all figure into the history. It’s not just some catchy phrase, afterall, that some Cajun ciphered while watching his hound dogs, as he was enjoying a beverage, in his rocking chair, on the front porch of his camp, along the River Cane … (I can see that image;-)).
Originally, the phrase had nothing to do with dogs, or even with the lazy days of summer. Instead, the dog days refer to Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which means “big dog” in Latin and is said to represent one of Orion’s hunting dogs. To the Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” occurred around the time Sirius appeared to rise alongside the sun, in late July in the Northern Hemisphere. They believed the heat from the two stars combined is what made these days the hottest of the year, a period that could bring fever or even catastrophe. In 2021, the dog days span from July 3 to August 11.
This is often the hottest time of year in much of the Northern Hemisphere. It seems to be true in Louisiana. The Greeks and Romans gave this explanation for the heat of summer, but it isn’t true for other parts of the world. The meaning of the phrase has changed over the last 500 years when the Latin was translated into English and more common meanings of the expression appeared.
Whatever way you want to look at it, I think now I will just choose to consider my summer glass still half-full. It seems Louisiana likes to look at life that way. Here’s hoping all your dogs get plenty of rest during this hot spell of the year, and that you find joy and meaning in the rest of your summer.