“Ah…the Dog Days of Summer”
Sitting outside in the early afternoon this brutally hot and humid Saturday in the heartland, you suddenly realize that something is amiss. Then it dawns on you that the noise that usually attends the weekend chores of homeowners and the sounds of summer that identify the slow, pleasant rhythm of life in the Midwest are missing. There are no lawn mowers mowing, weed whackers whacking, power edgers edging, blowers blowing, or chain saws sawing. And despite the presence of a dozen children within earshot, there are no joyous cries and squeals that would help you recall your own youth when a summer Saturday occasioned gleeful games of Hide-and-Seek, 3 man baseball (the player at bat got to choose what field they would hit the ball), and the general roughhousing that accompanied a childhood with no cares and the loving surety of parents and family.
Not this Saturday. The thermometer is touching 90 degrees with humidity that gives you the impression that in order to breathe the air, you must first slice it into edible parts. You didn’t so much inhale as you gulped the oppressively hot and heavy air which contributed to the very natural and common sense conclusion that only idiots would dare venture outside in such conditions.
But then you recall that there are those whose job requires them to pay no mind to the life-endangering weather and till the fields so that we don’t have to. There are no lazy summer weekends for farmers or farm workers. This is the miracle season when seeds planted in the spring are reaching a crucial stage of growth and must be tended with the skill and yes, love that will spell the difference between profit and loss on the farm. It is the time when the crop’s yield per acre is determined, and a sharp eye must be trained on the Lord’s bounty to make sure that insects, rusts, and other blights don’t get out of control and cut into the razor thin profits that most farmers can look forward to.
God bless them. As I sit on our recently completed home made patio, there is no breeze to disturb the branches of the Poplar tree. Sue had the idea that the kitties might like a short frolic outdoors and beckoned to my old man Aramas to come exploring. The wise old Tom took one sniff at the door, looked up at her with a haughty stare as if to say, “Do I look like an idiot?” and marched back to his pillow, 5 feet from the AC vent.
Similarly, our beautiful white female Snowball refused the invitation, although being a much younger feline, looked somewhat regretful as she backed away from the entrance to Hades.
But the baby Lucky (pictured above) had no such qualms. He happily and boldly walked outside, wending his way in a figure 8 between my legs as his his wont. I have never had a cat so fascinated with human feet. He takes it as a challenge to scoot between your legs as you walk around the house - sort of like a moving obstacle course for cats. Of course, sometimes he mistimes his dash and you nearly fall and break your neck when cat, feet, and shoe get all tangled up in one another. You’d think the boy would learn his lesson, but 30 seconds later he’s back at it. It is lovable, maddening, and just adds to the mystery of the relationship between humans and felines.
Tiring of chasing his tail between my legs, Lucky wanders off the patio to sniff his domain. Suddenly, an impossibly fat Robin alights about 20 feet away and starts pecking at the ground looking for worms that have been forced to the surface as a result of the rain this morning. The bird has obviously gorged himself already and is probably looking for desert. What he wasn’t looking for was a deadly enemy standing 20 feet away with murder on his mind.
Lucky caught scent of the Robin before seeing him. When he did, it’s as if he had looked upon Medusa’s head and turned to stone. One paw was slightly off the ground, frozen in time while the only thing moving on his entire body was his nose. Slowly, the young hunter made himself as small as possible, inching his way down until his belly was flat, his haunches raised in anticipation of springing forward, his ears twitching now, relying on his other senses to tell him where his prey, now frozen itself, was located.
The Robin knew very well that Lucky was there. The bird sensed danger but wanted to make sure where it was coming from before fleeing. In truth, for all his instinctive behavior, Lucky really wasn’t much of a hunter. When the inexperienced youngster raised his head to draw a bead on his prey, the Robin took off for friendlier climes.
Our boy looked back at us - we were laughing hysterically - and with a swish of his tail, went off exploring the rest of his territory, ignoring our mirth at his ineptness and lovable failure. He was soon engaged in a fascinating duel with a grasshopper. Sue and I both hoped that the bunnies who lived under the woodpile near the back of the fence would act sensibly and stay out of the heat - and away from danger - while Lucky was a’prowling.
These are the dog days of summer, the period 20 days before and 20 days after the dog star Sirius and the sun are in conjunction, according to the ancients. That may be. But here in the Midwest, we’ve always seen the dog days as a time that only a dog could love. Life draining, oppressive heat, sauna-like humidity and the phenomena of the late afternoon thunderstorm that appears regularly, coming out of nowhere and disappearing almost as quickly, leaving behind those jaw dropping, horizon to horizon rainbows that appear so close at times that you can almost hear the laughing Leprechaun guarding his pot of gold.
And along about February, when everyone is heartily sick of the cold, the snow, and the biting wind, many of us will fondly recall the dog days of summer, wishing for a small taste of the misery we’re all complaining about today.