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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 8-5-22 – The Dog Days of Summer

The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.” ― Natalie Babbitt

I was curious where the term dog days of summer came from and looked it up. It is actually named after star, Sirius. Sirius is known as the "Dog Star", because of its prominence in the constellation, Canis Major. The dog days of summer refer to when this constellation makes its heliacal rising. The term heliacal rising is when a star makes its first annual appearance over the eastern horizon at dawn just before sunrise. We are entering the dog days here in the Northern Hemisphere. According to this source at the longitude of Chicago, it will occur on August 12 this year.

There are web sites that can help you calculate where it occurs on other parts of the globe in other years. According to the Wikipedia link, the dog days of summer are associated with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. In Egypt, the rising of this star was associated with the annual flooding of the Nile, so it got a bad rap. Turning on the news would suggest that Sirius is late to the show this year! We have had more than our fair share of heat, fire, flooding and pestilence. I hope we move through them to more moderate times ahead.

Grateful for a friend with a pool this summer! Grateful to get my bike, camera, and binoculars out into the woods in the early morning hours to observe the bounty of nature at dawn when the temperature is more hospitable. The good thing about getting out in the early morning hours is that it is tolerable, and all the animals are out doing their thing before the heat of day sets in. There is a lot of life moving around in the early morning days of August. I saw a bobcat this time of year a few years back. I often see deer, racoons, and lots of other life. I am grateful that over the last few weeks I have had some time to slow down and observe the natural world. It has so many lessons for me.

Grateful for all those who brave the elements and keep things going in our society no matter how hot or how cold it gets. Grateful that we have a yard that can be a refuge for birds and small animals to get some water from the makeshift fountain we set up. Grateful that for the most part, the nights have been cool enough for most of the summer to deploy what I call “Pennsylvania Dutch” air conditioning. It is essentially a box fan in a third story window to push the hot air of the day out of the home and replace it with cool, low-cost air of the night hours. Grateful for window unit ACs to take the edge off in our 100+ year old abode when the nights bring no cool air using the above-described method.

Grateful that soon, as August draws to a close the great northern migration starts. Birds make their way south for the season. I am grateful that I live relatively close to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, where the longest running raptor migration count in the world takes place. It reminds me that there is this huge cycle of life happening around us. They have been doing an annual count since 1934. They start the count on August 15th every year and it runs until December 15th. If you want to meet some world class ornithologists and see what they see, go there, particularly on days with Northwest winds after a cold front and you will see the cycle of life. Even just writing about it makes me happy.

The term is also associated with a time of year when things move slow or out of sync. I know that feeling in life, and it is often associated with difficult times. I have learned that, sometimes, when things are out of sync, it can help me pay closer attention to what is happening, and to figure out how to back on track. Ignoring such things can actually make them last longer, at least that is my life lesson. Moving through dog days seems like a better plan than staying stuck in them. This may also be true in a broader sense. Centuries have seasons too. If we are in the dog days of this one it would behoove us to work together, figure out how to get back on track and mover towards that next season, to not hang in the air as time stands still on top of this wheel. Let’s not act in ways we would be sorry for later as the quote above suggests can occur in times as these. It is always true we can choose how to respond to things, even the dog days of life.

One of the recovery lessons is that in life, the dog days end. They always pass, and it often becomes clear at a later time that they needed to occur to usher in what came next. It is important to focus forward and work to get through the rough patch into something new. The bounty and burst of color of Fall draw near. September marks the start of my favorite season, so I have every reason to be grateful for the advent of August even if it is too hot for me, because I love the Fall.

What are you grateful for today?

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