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The Dog Days

In to the Wind

August 7, 2013
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

One week of hot weather does not an Iowa summer make. It is hard to believe the first time I wrote about the dog days of summer was way back in 2006. That was seven years ago, but who's counting?

The summers we enjoyed the last few were mostly awesome, but varied. The summer of 2010 only saw a couple days over 90 degrees here in the heartland. 2011 gave us very few hot days. Last summer was a scorcher, we had a lot of hot days. Not so this year.

The Iowa State Fair starts this week. The sound of tribal drums will soon waft up the valleys from Meskwaki; it is time for the 99th annual Powwow. As a matter of fact, State Fair, and Powwow both begin on Thursday Aug. 8.

Article Photos

Moon over Garwin

It's not actually the heat, or the weather, or even that it is Augtember now that is causing me to think about the Dog Days. I guess I should admit too that it's not the beer either, although I have had a couple recently. It might be my recent nighttime travels, including one full moon night, when we werewolves are prone to prowl, that I caught a spectacular view of the huge grain storage bins in Garwin.

OK, so the dog days of summer are upon us.

How do I know it's called the dog days of summer? Because that's what my mother taught me when I was a kid, and things like that are passed down in a sort of oral tradition from parent to child. I'm almost certain my mom had conversations about the dog days of summer with her mom a number of years ago.

But, have you ever wondered where the term REALLY came from? How old is it, and what do dogs have to do with it?

As near as I can determine, the usage goes way back to early Roman times -- ancient Rome.

Way back then, men of science, who knew nothing of telescopes, eye protection, or incandescent lighting, were bored. They spent way too much time outside lying on their backs gazing at the stars. It was considered "good science" back then to connect the dots (the stars) and draw images, and make up stories about the images they saw.

Many of those images they saw are now referred to as the constellations. The night sky has many constellations including Orion, (the hunter), the bears, (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor), the twins (Gemini), Taurus the bull, and here is where the "science" begins to get interesting; the dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor).

Canis Major, or the big dog, contains the brightest star in the night sky Sirius. Sirius is so bright; these "scientists" thought the earth received heat from it.

We now know the ancient Egyptians learned to make beer, and this just proves they also taught the ancient Romans. Why else would otherwise intelligent people make up stories about big dogs in the sky adding to the summer heat?

Anyway, once again I digress. They kept track of Sirius, and while readily visible during the winter months in the southern sky, noticed the progression of the star caused it to rise and set closer to the sun as summer approached.

During the summer months, Sirius does indeed rise and set with the sun. During late July, Sirius is in conjunction with the sun. A conjunction is when a celestial body appears together with another celestial body.

After all, a star which adds heat to the earth, in conjunction with the sun just has to add more heat; right? So, the 20 days before the conjunction, to 20 days after the conjunction, they called the "dog days."

Now the reason it is handed down in the oral tradition and it's up to your mom to teach you about the "dog days" is because those ancient Romans who first noticed the phenomenon went blind by trying to figure out exactly what day Sirius got lost in the sun.

Didn't your mother also tell you to NOT look at the sun? o there you have it, they went blind, so couldn't write it all down, so they just started an oral tradition concerning the "dog days of summer," replete with a warning to NOT look at the sun.

My deadline is dogging me. It is a dog day afternoon, but fortunately every dog has his day. I may be an old dog, but I'm not a stray dog. Generally I am as happy as a dog with two tails, and seldom bark like a dog. At the moment, I am dog tired and feel I need a nap. The dog days of summer tend to treat me that way-heat or no heat.

Until next time-

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the "Local Columns" button.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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