We are hard into the dog days of summer here, which tends to make slowing down easier. After all, we tell ourselves – not without some justification – it’s just too hot (and humid) to weed the garden, stand over a hot stove or even think very hard or go for much of a walk.
Certainly, the characters in the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, which was based on a real-life 1972 Brooklyn bank robbery and hostage taking, would have been better served to give in to the lethargy of late August: a more ill-conceived and executed bank heist is hard to imagine.
The phrase “dog days” has a long history and many definitions; one of them “a period of stagnation or inactivity.” I’m focusing on the inactivity part of that definition; slowing down or even coming to a full stop occasionally does not have to equal stagnation.
The presence of Sirius, the Dog Star, in the early morning sky plays a big role in the tales associating this time of year with, mostly, trouble of one kind or another. This brightest of the proper stars appears above the eastern horizon just before dawn at about the same time every year. Depending on where in the world you are, dog days – the time following the appearance of Sirius — can be anywhere from early July to late September.
When the artichoke flowers
According to Greek astrology, the dog days bring with them heat, drought, dramatic thunderstorms, lethargy, fever and bad luck. Homer, in the Iliad, wrote:
“Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky/On summer nights, star of stars/Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest/Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat/And fevers to suffering humanity.”
Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, wrote that the dog days were the time to cut wood, because it would be free of worms. He also wrote of this time as:
“the season of worrisome heat, when goats are plumpest and wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest.”
Farmers are said to welcome the dry dog days of summer, believing, according to Henry Harrison Chase Dunwoody:
Succumbing to lethargy
I’ve visited friends in the Gatineau area of Quebec several times in the past few years. Whether I have come in the late spring, when thousands of lupins in many colours bloom in my friends’ yard; the summer, when the cool Gatineau River tempts even me into the water; the fall, when the trees on the endless rolling hills are breathtakingly red, orange and yellow, or the winter, when the snow is deep and white outside the window, this area has captured my heart.
My partner and I rented a small house outside Wakefield in July, and he was immediately captivated, too. We decided to return during the dog days of August, thinking that slowing down might be easier if we were removed from all the usual stimuli to be found at home.
It has been the right decision. With no TV, no temptation to make pickles or freeze corn, no one to socialize with (our friends both old and new in this area are all away right now) and no movie theatres or other such possibilities, it has been very easy to drift along.
I’ve been working, but for just a few hours a day, and without the constant meetings that my work usually involves. After that, it’s a matter of deciding which book to read or, in the evenings, which game to play.
We’ve headed out in the car to see what might be at the ends of the many small country roads around us. So far, we have found a village called Kazabazua (from the Algonquin “kachibadjiwan” meaning hidden water – the river goes underground for about 30 metres in the village), home to the longest bar in the Gatineau until it burned down in 2002; a huge field with sunflowers as far as the eye could see and a river towboat planted in the middle of a roadside garden.
We are tending to our new friends’ chickens and cats while they are off on a biking holiday, but even those responsibilities take only a few minutes each day. With produce popping out of the garden and eggs from the chickens, meals are a snap: last night, we enjoyed a cheese omelette and salad – almost every ingredient came from within a few metres of the house. The day before, I bestirred myself long enough to roast the giant pile of tomatoes my partner had harvested from the garden.
When we get home, there will be time for work, including meetings, and for making pickles and tomato sauce, freezing corn and cleaning up the garlic. But, while the dog days linger, I am making few plans. After all, there’s La Cigale ice cream to savour, more backroads to explore, and the patio at Le Hibou to enjoy, with a cold Wakefield Pucker in hand, while watching the river flow by.