By Bob Huber
Now in these dog days of summer, folks are looking in a mirror to decide if they ever want to go swimming again in public. Which brings up the subject of dog days, and why we even pay attention to them.
Dog days occur from about July 3 to Aug. 11, and were named by ancient guys in peaked hats who thought midsummer heat was caused when the sun came up each day accompanied by a couple of dog stars — Sirius, the Greater Dog Star, and Procyon, the Lesser Dog Star.
Those old-time science guys didn’t realize that hot summer days are generated in Texas. Everyone in New Mexico knows that.
You see, Sirius is 8.8 light years away, and Procyon is out there even further, so neither star has much to do with rising temperatures. Obviously those ancient science guys never spent a July afternoon in Lubbock, or they would have known what heat was all about.
But during dog days, Mother Nature has the time of her life no matter where you live. Elderberries ripen, garden snakes emerge from their eggs, and ragweed is in bumper mode. Nights are filled with the songs of billions of insects, most of which bite, while crickets and water bugs move into your house.
Speaking of ragweed, I’ll bet you didn’t know its real name is Ambrosia artemisiaefolio.
Some folks, depending on credentials, call it wild tansy, hogweed, bitterweed, hayweed, or stammerwort. There’s just no holding some folks back.
Ragweed is responsible for a lot of hay fever, which is why it isn’t cherished for its beauty. One summer I thought to help hay fever sufferers by destroying ragweed whenever it crossed my path, but I found out that the woman who told me it was ragweed was mistaken.
I’ll never know for sure what I destroyed hither and yon. It might have been some distant cousin of an endangered minnow. Anyway I stopped fussing about ragweed.
Goldenrod is another weed blamed for hay fever, but that’s not true. Doctors say goldenrod is innocent, because it doesn’t spread its pollen in the air. I’ve always admired the beauty of goldenrod, but there are a few cats I’d like to get even with.
Dog days, meanwhile, contain the astrological sign of Leo the Lion. Leos are nice persons as a rule, but there are some nasty ones too. They also worry when they’re broke, feel better when they have money, and their children refuse to eat okra and beets.
Some Leos you might recognize were George Bernard Shaw, Henry Ford, Benito Mussolini, Herbert Hoover, Ethel Barrymore, Sir Walter Scott, and Napoleon Bonaparte. They’re all dead now, which is a peculiarity associated with Leos.
Those little brown birds you see on your patio during dog days are common house sparrows, which were brought to this country from Czechoslovakia, even though they aren’t really sparrows. They’re finches.
It would have been better if we had named them “Czech Finches,” or even “Little Slovakian Brown Birds.” I don’t know why we call them “house sparrows.” Maybe it’s because they hang around houses all day and mess on patios.
A favorite treat during dog days is strawberry shortcake. That’s probably because strawberries are in short supply in midsummer, or maybe it’s because the time has come when the human race has evolved to its zenith.
Whatever, you can enhance strawberry shortcake with a pint of ice cream, though certain persons I know prefer animal crackers. I think they enjoy biting the heads off lions.
Of course, other persons will tell you the top of the delight list during dog days are fried bananas, sprinkled with lemon juice. You could also put charcoal lighter fluid on them, but frankly I’ve always believed a nation that fries bananas cannot long endure.
Anyway, lots of tragedies are blamed on dog days, none of which amounts to much considering the problems Alfred, Lord Tennyson, had with the paparazzi. He used to hide behind a high fence that surrounded his house on the Isle of Wight in order to write stuff like “Idylls of the King.” Folks just wouldn’t leave him alone.
Incidentally, Alfred was born during dog days in l809, a sign if I ever saw one.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist.