The Sirius Season

If you needed a poster child for the dog days of summer, Jake would do just fine. Jake lives on a boat tied up to a dock that I frequent, and it’s clear that he hates July.  He doesn’t like the heat, he doesn’t like the humidity, and he especially doesn’t like the fact that he’s not allowed to spend his entire day inside the boat.

I know what he’s thinking. With access to air conditioning, he could take over the settee in the main salon, chew on his bone and nap away the afternoon in cool comfort. Instead, he’s forced to spend part of his day lying in the cockpit, on top of the cabin or on the dock, where he quietly sulks. He has a sunshade, water, and occasional breezes wafting about, but still – he isn’t happy.

He wasn’t particularly happy in June, either, and probably won’t cheer up in August or even September. He’s been through this before and knows he’s condemned to endure dog days and dog nights until October, when summer on the Gulf Coast of Texas will have run its course.

I enjoy the dog days of summer about as much as Jake.  A varnisher’s office is the great outdoors, after all, and I spend my own share of hours there.  In mid-June, I start thinking about retirement and I don’t stop thinking about it until cold fronts begin moving south with enough strength to drop the temperature and humidity.

I’m not the only one. By the end of August, a lot of workers “retire” from the docks in late morning and don’t reappear until evening.  We get sluggish. We’re grumpy and we whimper just a bit to each other. In short, we resemble Jake and all of his slightly pathetic, passive, summer-weary friends.

During the dog days of summer, even boat owners stop coming down to the bay, choosing instead to fly away to the mountains. Kids stop skateboarding and head into the malls. Plants droop. Birds disappear. Only the cicadas seem active and vocal while the whole world hesitates, slows, and begins to trudge a little in the heat.

For years, I assumed summer’s “dog days” were named for the tendency of dogs like Jake to lay around moping and whining in the heat. The truth is quite different and more interesting, and it lies in the realm of astronomy.

In northern latitudes, we commonly think of Sirius as a winter star. It joins the red giant Betelgeuse and Procyon in Canis Minor to form a popular asterism known as the Winter Triangle.  Clearer and more brilliant than a planet, Sirius dominates the sky near the constellation Orion.  With a visual magnitude of -1.44, it is twice as bright as any other star in our sky.  

As the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Big Dog), it makes sense that Sirius would come to be called the dog star. But more than its location contributed to its name. 

Ancient Egyptians called Sirius the dog star because of its association with their god Osirus, whose head resembled that of a dog in pictograms. The word “Sirius” itself comes from the Greek seirius, which translates “searing” or “scorching”.  Because Sirius moves in conjuction with the sun, disappearing from the sky during summer nights and traversing the sky by day, ancient Egyptians and Romans argued that the combined heat from the two heavenly bodies was responsible for the oppressive heat of summer.

Since the conjunction of the sun and the dog star was presumed to be responsible for summer’s heat, the period of time lying between twenty days before conjunction to twenty days after became known as the “dog days of summer”.

Traditionally, the dog days lasted from July 3 to August 11. It was then that the Romans saw Sirius disappear from the night sky as it joined the sun in the first flush of dawn. Today, the actual dates for the dog days have changed.  Because the Earth slowly wobbles on its axis in a movement called precession, Sirius no longer begins rising with the sun on July 3. Instead, the conjunction begins more than a month later, on August 4, with the forty days from August 4 to September 12 the “new” dog days of Summer.

Just as an aside, it’s worth noting that the Earth isn’t the only “wobbly” body in the universe.  In 1844, the German astronomer Friedrich Bessel observed Sirius itself wobbling along as if being tugged by a companion.  Only eighteen years later, while testing a new telescope with an 18.5-inch lens (the largest refracting telescope in the world at the time), Alvan Clark solved the mystery by discovering that Sirius was not one star but two. The first compact stellar remnant had been discovered, a precursor to what later would be referred to as a whole class of white dwarf stars.

The companion, dubbed Sirius B, has the mass of the Sun in a package as small as the Earth, having collapsed after depleting its hydrogen. A single cubic inch of matter from this companion star would weigh 2.25 tons on Earth. At magnitude 8.5, it is 1/400thas luminous as the Sun. The brighter and larger companion has been designated Sirius A.

Learning about Sirius A and B, the dog star and its “pup”, can be wonderful fun.  It’s good to know about the Winter Triangle, Egyptian myth and the precession of heavenly bodies. Unfotunately, none of that knowledge changes the fact that it’s still late July. The heat and humidity continue, and just like Jake we’re still forced to suffer through these doggoned summer days.

Watching Jake mope and sigh and roll his eyes, it’s impossible not to smile. He does take his summer distress seriously. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the same star which gave us the dog days of summer also has given Jake his attitude about the season. Serious Sirius.

It’s a passing thought that refreshes my imagination. What if late summer heat weren’t associated solely with the dog star, Sirius?  What if the star traveling in conjunction with Sirius A wasn’t known as Sirius B, but as Humoris?  What if the Egyptians or Romans had known about Humoris, or mistakenly linked it with one of the three cat family constellations – Leo,Leo Minor and Lynx. Would we now have the cat days of summer to enjoy?

With Humoris, the Cat Star, overseeing summer, things might develop a bit differently.  Instead of moping about on the dock, we could have a nice swim.  Instead of assuming identical and utterly predictable days, we could look around for some surprises. Rather than lying about, passive and inert, waiting for the unpleasantness to end, we could become more actively involved in creating a bit of pleasure for ourselves.

Of course this is pure silliness, nothing more than a bit of heat-induced word play. On the other hand, it’s good to remind ourselves that play is acceptable, even for adults. The same human imagination which named the constellations and imbued the stars with personalities certainly can re-imagine the world in new and life-giving ways.

Clearly there are people as willing as Jake to whimper and moan over the circumstances besetting them. On the other hand, some people dare to take the plunge into a more refreshing way of life.  Sirius or Humoris? More often than we sometimes believe, we have the possibility of choice.

Whether we’re dealing with the heat of summer or the heaviness of our lives, the truth is we’re not obligated to lie around and mope, grumpy and whimpering like helpless victims of circumstance.  There’s a time in life to be serious about its realities, but there’s also a time for lightness, humor and play to balance out its burdens.  If we choose to be guided by a different star, so be it. 

As for summer? I rather enjoy the thought that Humoris, the Cat Star, might be holding sway over this uncomfortable season – even if I had to invent her myself!

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  1. I love Humoris. And I had no idea that dog days were all about the stars. Best you work Under the dock for a wee while. I think it might get hotter, or should I say doggier. Love the cat in the water, such a shocked look in his face! c

    • cecilia,

      It’s not been so very long since I learned about the role of the stars in determining the dog days myself. The usual explanation made so much sense I just never thought about it.

      It may get hotter, but I hope not by much. We’ve been getting right up there, brushing the upper 90s and 100s more frequently than I like. But, it is summer. The trick is to go out early and stay late, with a nice break in mid-afternoon.

      Isn’t that a funny photo of the swimming kitty? I had a bit of a hard time choosing a photo – there are a lot of swimming cats out there!

      Linda

  2. I like to think of myself like the cat, although cats swimming is a totally foreign concept to me. And the cat above is looking a little wild eyed. (grin) Back before retirement when I was in charge of a voluntary health agency, I developed 100 mile backpack treks as fundraisers. Before long I was running the program across the US. I managed to turn the event into an excuse to disappear into the mountains during the dog days and get paid for it. :) –Curt

    • Curt,

      I never thought cats liked water until I got mine. She’s quite fond of it. And the first time I saw tigers at the Houston zoo, they were swimming in a lovely, natural pool. Here’s a nice clip of a tiger enjoying the water. It appears that the water may be a little too shallow for swimming laps, but there’s no question he’s having a fine time.

      Clever of you to turn a love of the outdoors into a worthy excuse for escape especially during the dog days. No one with any sense is escaping to the Texas coast just now – even the fishing guides are grumping a little, and they’re pretty tough. Better you should be in Alaska, going after halibut.

      Linda

  3. I like your cat-days of summer. Sounds like fun.

    • CheyAnne,

      The way I figure it, we can’t change the weather, so we might as well try for an attitude adjustment. I see Taos is at 75 degrees right now – enjoy every minute of it!

      Linda

      • It’s raining and raining some more and we are loving every minute of it. Thanks, Linda

  4. Hi Linda:

    For us Summer or “Verano” as we call it in Spanish extends from the middle of December to the middle of April when Nature behaves. Weather is not very rational as you probably know.

    Summer is the “Golden Days” for most local and foreigners alike. The winter birds come in flocks to Panama looking for white-sand beaches, warm weather, hurricane-free days, lots of booze, discotheques, surfing, dancing, and just about anything you can think of. If you’re young and full of life (which is highly probable), “Verano” in Panama is hard to beat. Hot and sweltering days mean nothing to a day at the beach during the day and the evenings in a sophisticated restaurant or a wild discotheque. Yep, for us in this side of the world “Veranos” is just what the doctor ordered. At my age, I prefer the quiet days of “Invierno” or “Wet Season” which are full of ash-cloud, cool weather, and slow hours which are perfect for meditation.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      We call our winter visitors from the northern states “snow birds”. They come in flocks also, just like yours. Our winters aren’t so pleasant as I think yours must be, but they’re worlds better than feet of snow and ice-covered roads. As for the discos, surfing, booze and such – that tends to be for the younger ones. We call it “Spring Break”.

      As miserable as these days can be, there are times when the evenings are lovely, especially away from the cities. Concrete holds a lot of heat, as you know, but in Galveston, or along the bay, it can be pleasant once the sun goes down. Not so good for working, though – I can’t see what I’m doing after dark!

      The best months are the transitional ones – October and November, April and May – and they certainly are my favorites. All we have to do is get there.

      Linda

  5. I’d heard of the connection between the dog days of summer and the stars, but you’ve explained it simply and interestingly. Poor Jake. Even though it’s been a fairly decent summer here, I do know what you mean about the heat and humidity in Texas dragging on and on!

    Humoris, huh? Perhaps that’s another reason folks have a propensity to vacation during the summer months? Perhaps we all need a break now and then. I know I could use one, ha!

    Sorry, but that poor Tabby does NOT look happy being in the water! I had no idea cats could swim — I’d always heard they hate being wet. Maybe if they’re taught from kitten-hood, they learn to accept it?!

    • Debbie,

      Like you, I’d always believed that cats hated water. Not my Dixie Rose. When she was about two, she developed a fascination with the stuff. Although she wasn’t interested in the shower, every time someone decided it was time to fill up the bathtub, there she was.

      She’d jump right in while it was filling, splashing around and biting at the water coming out of the faucet. I usually tried to get her out before it got much deeper than her legs – just to keep the house dry, if nothing else. But she really preferred to stay in, and didn’t show any fear of it at all. I thought she was just weird, but when I asked her vet, he said no, there were plenty of cats who enjoy water, and they’re quite capable of swimming. So there you are. Do an image search for “swimming cats” and you’ll be amazed.

      That’s a great connection you’ve made with vacations. I suppose the urge to play during the summer is grounded in things like school schedules and weather, but it’s a strong urge. On the other hand, I’m keeping a list of all the things I want to do once the weather cools off. Since I work outdoors, my idea of a good time doesn’t involve heading off on the weekend to play in the same kind of heat. Offer me air conditioning and iced tea, and I’m there!

      Linda

  6. Can’t we start a campaign for Humoris? T-shirts, at least? Vote for Humoris. I could start the campaign at Java Cat!

    Jake is a Labrador. I say he is grumpy because he can’t play in the water and he can’t romp over the hills.

    • Martha,

      First we’re going to have to decide if it’s “Humoris” or “Humouris”. I really think the British spelling is better, and if it had occurred to me I would have spelled it that way in the post. But Java Cat would be a good starting point, for sure.

      Actually, Jake does get to play in water from time to time – just not in the marina. Most dog owners I know take their pooches to other places to swim. Let’s just say the marina water isn’t lovely, clear and refreshing – and the last thing anyone would want is for their dog to get cut up with barnacles and so on. The one exception I know of is a Portuguese water dog. Try as they might, his owners can no more keep him out of the lake than I can keep Dixie out of the bathtub.

      Romping’s a different matter. The dogs around here do get plenty of walking and romping, early mornings and evenings. But there’s no romping in the hills, I’m afraid. We’re a little short on hills around here.

      Linda

      • Oh yeah. You are right about no hills! It was just a classic pastoral image I had…

        And I remember now that marina waters usually are not the most pleasant! I think your diagnosis of Jake is correct!

  7. I love learning through your posts, Linda! You have a delightful way of connecting all the dots. Though we don’t have near the humidity that you do, those dog days make me glad that my day-to-day office is indoors.

    The cats begged to go outside today. So while I weeded, watered, and tidied up the front yard, three of them were lazing in the backyard. By 3:30, however, they were all quite happy to come inside. Two of my cats (Em and Sam) have some Turkish Van in them, a breed that’s supposed to like water. I can’t convince them of their heritage, however.

    Anyway, hope you (and Jake) survive yet another Sirius summer.

    • nikkipolani,

      You may not have our humidity, but you have the opposite problem – that low humidity that’s so dangerous in fire season, and the Santa Ana winds. I think I’ll stick with heat and humidity if it’s a forced choice.

      I’ve not heard of the Turkish Van. Of course, I tend to work on the level of “cat” or “not-cat”. I know the difference between a true Calico and a Tortie, and I can usually pick out a Siamese or Russian Blue, but that’s about it.

      However, when I went over to do an image search, I recognized your kitties immediately. What a beautiful breed! And the kittens are just adorable. Not only that, I happened to find a photo of one doing exactly what my Dixie likes to do – in the bathtub!

      Linda

      • REALLY? Your Dixie actually enjoys the bathtub? Maybe she’s got some Turkish Van in her!

  8. I also thought dog days had to do with our canine companions.

    I have to admit that I never could get too excited about the constellations and their names because I simply could not see the shapes in the skies that our ancients did. And now, with so much light pollution, our night skies are less fearsomely awesome. I rarely go out at night to gaze at the stars, even though it sounds so appealing to me.

    Thanks for another great post, and most especially for that swimming cat!

    • Rosemary,

      I was lucky to grow up away from a big city and with a dad who took me out to look at the stars. I don’t know my constellations very well, but I know a few and have quite a bit of affection for some, especially Orion. It stays fairly low to the horizon here, but it’s still “the” winter constellation for me.

      I’ve spent more time looking at comets, planetary conjunctions and such the past few years – partly because they’re what I can see without getting in the car and driving fifty miles to get away from the light pollution. There’s a comet coming later this year called Ison . If it really lives up to it’s pre-appearance publicity, you’ll be able to see it. And you’ll know it’s coming.

      Glad you liked the kitty! I was entranced by the photos I found online – do look at the one I linked just above, in my response to nikkipolani. It looks so much like my Dixie in the bathtub.

      Linda

  9. Just read your comment about the comet Ison. Sweet. Where we live here in Eastern Iowa, there is still some light pollution, but not a lot. I’ll have to keep my eyes (and ears) open and see if I can see it. Last month I saw the space station pass over head while I was standing on the deck after things settled down here.

    • DM,

      If it lives up to expectations, there won’t be any question you can see it. I was able to see Luling in my parking lot with binoculars, and it was much, much fainter than Ison is supposed to be. Of course, anything can happen. It can break up and not put on any sort of show at all. But it will be interesting to follow it as it approaches and see what happens.

      Love that you saw the ISS. I’ve seen it a few times, though it’s hard here in Houston. It’s easiest to see things in the winter, when the humidity really drops and the north winds blow out the haze.

      Linda

  10. Fortunately, being “semi-retired” and having a part time job with no fixed schedule, I can sleep in the afternoon with the ceiling fan on and be active during the night (I just have to remember not to vacuum my office at night, as it shares a wall with the bedroom of the next door neighbor’s kids!). I always wait until late at night to do things like baking or cooking that requires an actual stove (versus microwave) I like the flexibility.

    As for cats that swim, number the Jaguar and the tiger among them. The jaguar regularly takes to the water to hunt tapir and fish, and the tiger not only cools off by jumping into water, but actually hunts prey by chasing them into the water. Since I never use my bathtub (preferring the shower), I don’t know if any of my lot would willingly get into the water. But they did get a new pet fountain today to replace their old grungy plastic one.

    • WOL,

      I like the flexibility I have, too, although this time of year gets pretty crazy. Starting early’s a great idea, but often things are so wet with dew it’s not possible. Honestly, if I have to choose between summer and winter, I’ll take winter every time. You’re smart to put off the baking, cooking and so on. I do the same thing, as well as running the dishwasher and such either at night or early in the morning. It does help a bit with electricity bills, too – as you know.

      I might as well confess it right here. I prefer a shower myself, but once Dixie got a taste of playing in the tub – well, sometimes she just made clear that she was ready for playtime. The first time my mother witnessed the ritual, she nearly died of laughter. “Why’s that cat howling?” she said as I got up to head for the bathroom. “She wants me to fill the tub for her,” I said. You know how it is – dogs/owners, cats/staff.

      We can add bobcats to the list of cats that will swim. They don’t like it, but they can, and sometimes will take to the water after prey, like the tiger you mentioned.

      Maybe you should do for your kitties what we used to do as kids – haul out the galvanized washtub and put some water in that. Who knows what would happen?

      Linda

  11. Great lesson within a good story teller’s humor … I didn’t know either. No matter what — it is HOT HOT HOT!!! :D

    • becca,

      The good news is that if Dorian regenerates, high pressure ought to keep him off our doorstep. The bad news is that we’re looking at a week of high pressure – more hot and dry!

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Linda

  12. Dearest Linda:

    You will not be surprised when I vote for Humoris, even though I’m afraid as a fellow Texan that we are not out of the doghouse yet. The air is like soup out there; I do not care for soup in July. However, I also believe that any day above ground is a good one, panting dogs, swimming cats or what have you. I’ll take ‘em!

    Very nice post about the heavens, and what magnificent heavens they are. I really enjoyed my astronomy class in University and ever since, have had a strong urge to visit the McDonald Observatory in the Ft. Davis mountains of West Texas; also a swing through Marfa a must-see side trip. Some day, perhaps…..

    My yellow lab Chaya looks a lot like Jake, and equally as hot right now and pouty, even in the a/c. Spoiled! Good Sunday evening to you.

    • Office Diva,

      Clearly, we have a good bit of summer ahead of us. Hence, the need for some adjustments. If we can’t go all Jimmy Buffett and change our latitude, at least we can change our attitude. And I’m with you – far better to be composing blog posts than decomposing.

      I’ve not been to McDonald, but it’s on the list, along with Alpine and Marfa. I confess I’ve been as intrigued by the Marfa lights as with the observatory, but when they put up the historical plaque and a big blue and white highway sign that says “Viewing Area” and points to a parking lot – well, it got a whole lot less interesting. I’ll stick with my Brazoria County ghost.

      Tell Chaya there’s good news – we’re almost to August, and then it’s September. Even in September heat, there are occasional periods of relief. In the meantime – pout away!

      Linda

  13. Thanks for this, and the reminder about the story called the sky. It never ceases to amaze me how modern folk by and large are blind to the sky while our ancestors lived and loved and played by them. It was interesting, a few years back, to look up while visiting in Australia and see an altogether new starry host.

    Alas for those of us who live in cities, where residual light makes night dull. I love the opportunity to look up in the night when camping etc. As for winter over summer, if I lived in Texas I know I would be in your camp!

    • Allen,

      Our lack of attention to the skies is just one more example of our general disconnection from the natural world. Need food? Go to a grocery store. Want a weather forecast? Check the tv or the smart phone. And so on…

      It’s amazing to suddenly experience a new sky, isn’t it? I still remember how enthralled I was the first time I saw the Southern Cross. It was disorienting, too. We get accustomed to the sky’s appearance. When it changes, it’s like trying to find our way through a strange house in the dark.

      Of all the cherished memories I have of my childhood in cold-and-snowy country, the starlight is near the top of the list. I know that many people in the north tire of winter just as we do of summer – quite rightly! But there’s nothing like deep snow cover, a dark night and those gorgeous stars.

      Linda

  14. Thanks for the lesson. I didn’t know the origin of the phrase. I shall tell Molly: she will be relieved.

    I can imagine the amount of work it took for you to make this post and I appreciate every bit of it! Thank you!

    • montucky,

      That’s right. Molly’s off the hook. No one can blame her for any of this!

      Thanks for noting the amount of research this one took. I don’t know as I’d call it work – I enjoyed it too much, and learned a good bit in the process. Still, it pleases me that you appreciated the post. My pleasure!

      Linda

  15. Those photos are too funny! Thanks for an end-of-day read, complete with chuckles at the end!

    • Lisa,

      Now that you have the flora and fauna down so well, and have a flying carpet for travel, maybe you should think about some starscapes! The owl and the pussycat put to sea – maybe your town’s kitties and dogs could go for a magic carpet ride!

      Linda

      • that would be fun!!! i wish i were there at your ‘office’ so we could brainstorm together!! z

  16. How about making the best use of those dog days to design a cooling collar just for Jake… you know, something like what we human have. ;) As for me, I’ve seen a couple of yellow leaves already. And today while driving, I needed to turn on a bit of heat. i can sense the fall air creeping in already. Too soon,

    • Arti,

      What a good idea, especially since I’m in a position to do a little experimenting. People often talk about things “going to the dogs” – this could be a wonderful example.

      > Update: I’d never seen such a thing, but that’s because I don’t pay attention. Look at this etsy page. My goodness – every shape and size! I’m afraid Jake doesn’t get mine, but I’m going to tell his owner about them! Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

      I can’t believe it’s so cool there, already. On the other hand, a blogger I know in Yellow Knife was saying a week or so ago that they have six weeks of summer left – that would be about a September 1 date for the season change. And we still have the heart of hurricane season to get through! What a difference a couple of thousand miles makes.

      With luck, you’ll have a cool snap and then summer will come back for a time. You’re right – it’s just too soon for you to be contemplating autumn already!

      Linda

  17. We are deep into the dog days here, too. My dogs lie around on the cool floor, looking a bit forlorn. Still, my Stella forgets how hot it is outside and wants to go for walkies. So, I take her across the street into the cool wet grass where she rolls around and slithers on her belly. Sometimes she’ll chase after a ball. But she always ends her walk with a dip in my sister’s small water pond on her patio. I adore that. She sinks up to her head, lapping the water and then comes out, cooled off. It’s a great summer memory.

    • SDS,

      Not only is it a great summer memory, it’s a wonderful reminder of how little it takes to make our pets truly happy. When you get right down to it, time and attention are the keys. A little time in the grass, a chance to take a dip in the pool – and then a good shake, just because.

      The best part is that, having seen your dogs, I can envision the whole thing. Sharing those times with them takes us out of ourselves for a while, too.

      Happy Dog Days!

      Linda

  18. At 16 T-Bob is not as limber as he used to be. He used to jump up to the kitchen sink, lean into the faucet lever and turn on the water. We learned to put the biggest pot I could find over it to avoid finding the water turned on in a trickle or full blast when we returned from an overnight trip! My mother couldn’t believe it when she first saw him do it.

    In my “retirement” I took pity on him and lifted him to the sink. Wrong! Now I get no rest…MEoW, mEOW, MEOw…he calls for us to lift him now. The other day, there he was drinking his fresh water and I knew I hadn’t lifted him. Grandson volunteered “I lifted him up there so he could get a drink.” Kinda nice to have someone around to help with the constant call. Sheesh!

    • Georgette,

      T-Bob? He would have made a great pet for T-Model Ford!

      They do train us, don’t they? It’s wonderful that your grandson’s decided he’s willing to get in on the fun. And after all – when we’re old and stiff and can’t quite belly up to the bar like we used to, we’ll be glad for an assist, ourselves. I get those meows when Dixie wants to be brushed, which is about twice an hour, 24/7. I know how to break her of the habit, but it’s quite a contest between the two of us. Generally, I’m the one who gives in.

      On the other hand, she’s never been a faucet turner, like your T-Bob. Clearly, that would call for some extraordinary measures. You could have a real mess if he wasn’t kept from the faucet. On the other hand, they truly can be better than television. They have their own quirks and preferences, just like we do. It’s wonderful to watch.

      Linda

  19. Great weaver of truth, fact, and fantasy! I bow to thee!!!!

    • BW,

      You are so funny! If you’d stop bowing and c’mon over here and set a spell, I’ll get us a couple more Abitas. We can listen to the owls and tell swamp tales. ;)

      Linda

  20. Very well researched, written and interesting astronomy lesson! I also loved the tale of the dog and Humoris has given me a smile and lesson to see me through the Dog Days.

    • LowerCal,

      I made a run at this post some time ago, but I’m a better writer now and a lot more informed about all things astronomical, thanks to you! I’m glad you liked the post – thanks for the kind words.

      Have you heard of this Virtual Telescope Project?. I came across it while looking for information about asteroid 2003 DZ15. It looks like it might be useful and fun, but I want to know more about it before I download anything.

      Linda

  21. Really? There is a cat star named Humoris? I can’t believe it! Yes, I like that idea, too — although this week I could take a little more Sirius. Wish there was an active star named Betweenus. Seems like we’ve been hot HOT or cool COLD — no inbetweenus to save our souls!

    As always, I love this post and as always I learn something new. Like you, I thought the dog days of summer were named for the dogs — like my childhood collie, always a slow guy in the summer! Ah, well. It’s never right, is it? Too hot or too cold. I think we have the Goldilocks syndrome — we want it just right!

    • Jeanie,

      Oh, I fear there’s no Humoris. See this, tucked in up there in the post? “What if the star traveling in conjunction with Sirius A wasn’t known as Sirius B, but as Humoris…” That old “what if” will get you every time! It’s just me, engaging in a little word play – and engaging my imagination a bit.

      I love Betweenus! I just saw a tweet from a fellow in Virginia who says it’s sixty degrees there right now. Oh, how I would love that. You’re right – we’re great complainers, and greatly desire perfection.

      I’d add that Mark Twain said, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it”, except he didn’t say that. What he did say is this:

      ” “I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather. I don’t know who makes that, but I think it must be raw apprentices in the weather-clerk’s factory who experiment and learn how, in New England, for board and clothes, and then are promoted to make weather for countries that require a good article, and will take their custom elsewhere if they don’t get it.”

      That’s even better. I’ll bet Mark Twain would like Humoris, too.

      Linda

  22. I knew why the dog days of summer were called so but it was nice to get a refresher course.

    If we had the cat days of summer, I wonder how we could tell? Other than the heat, of course. Cats spend so much of their time lounging and sleeping, anyway.

    Humoris? That might lead to the Days of Humours, which sounds a bit appropos to the summer heat. The humours were a medieval theory about the determining your state of health–including your state of mind or your character. All three depended upon a balance among the four elemental fluids: blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. These were closely allied with the four elements (air, fire, water, and earth).

    If those elemental fluids were out of balance, well, all kinds of horrible things could happen.

    Hmmmm….. I think the heat is getting to me.

    • Gué,

      How to tell if we were in the cat days? Maybe the clouds would yowl to the sky: “Let me in!” “Let me out!” Simon’s Cat could be our weather forecaster – that would be fun. (Have you seen the new one called Fun in the Garden?

      Ah, there you go – humours. I’d forgotten about those. They have to have been the source for sayings like, “You certainly seem to be in a bad humour today!” Today, I hear phrases like “good natured”, but I can remember “good humoured” being much more common when I was young. And there were those times when someone felt “bilious”, or acted so nastily that others would say things like, “His bile must be rising”. Those days seem so long ago they might as well have been in the middle ages.

      Well, we’ll just hope for things to settle into a nice balance for a while. I think we all could use it. ;-)

      Linda

      • Oh, thank you for that link to the new Simon’s Cat. I needed a good laugh.

  23. “He’s been through this before and knows he’s condemned to endure dog days and dog nights until October….” That raises the question of whether a dog (or other animal) does have a sense of the future and can extrapolate ahead from past experiences. There’s Pavlovian habituation, of course, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as truly imagining a future.

    • Steve,

      When it comes to Jake and his ability to imagine the future – who knows? For good or for ill, I’m comfortable anthromoporphizing everything in sight, so I’m equally happy to imagine what’s going on in that doggie head.

      Of course I realize he’s not ticking off days on a mental calendar. Still, the ability of animals to plot and plan over time can’t be denied. Eager for his own fresh water, my squirrel once made himself a water fountain. First he chewed off the plastic fitting where the icemaker’s water supply went into the freezer, then he pulled out a bit of tubing and canted it toward the wall so he could reach it conveniently. Every time the ice maker clicked on, the water spewed and my darling could get a drink.

      It took nearly a week of puddles on the kitchen floor, combined with the squirrel’s flying leaps to the top of the fridge, for his stupid humans to figure out what happened. We certainly never imagined we had a squirrel capable of reverse engineering!

      Speaking of the future does touch on a pair of interesting words. “Futurum” is the source of our word future, of course, and it implies the kind of extrapolation you mention. But some (especially theologians like Jürgen Moltmann) have taken “adventus” to designate a different kind of future – one that “arrives” without our planning, totally unexpected and not capable of being predicted. Jake may not be able to extrapolate from the present to predict his future, but there are times when a wholly new future has arrived unannounced on my doorstep. In that sense, at least, Jake and I are alike – there are times when neither one of us truly imagines our future!

      Linda

  24. Interesting read. I didn’t know the real reason for “dog days” terminology. I absolutely love the cat pic! Brady, our Irish Setter is very disappointed in these hot, humid days. He cannot tolerate the heat and misses going outside. Our german shepherds could tolerate the heat better than he does.

    • sherri,

      I was so surprised when I learned that the expression “dog days” had more behind it than splayed-out hounds under the porch. It’s been fun to learn about it.

      Doesn’t that cat have a look in its eye? Every time I see the photo, I laugh. I assume it’s in a swimming pool, just from the color and clarity of the water. It looks pretty refreshing.

      I know so little about dogs – I was curious about which breeds do tolerate heat better, and found that German Shepherds were recommended. There were some interesting articles about them being used as working dogs in Iraq because they can cope with the heat.

      Linda

  25. Linda,
    I used to think these hot and humid days were named for listless doggies lying in slender slices of shade, too. We were talking about it last night while sitting on the deck. We had coffee out there this morning. The humidity abated and we even had a slight breeze – unheard of this time of year. We took advantage because we know it will not last.

    I don’t know how you do your job this time of year. You are one tough gal. My hat is off to you. Even the dog knows better than to be out there. You find some shade. You hear?

    • Bella Rum,

      I’d heard that there were some places around you hitting the 60s, and indeed there are. I’d be out on that deck, too. I just hope you don’t end up with one of those late summer/early fall seasons that requires a wardrobe that copes well with wild temperature swings. Your packing could get complicated.

      Truth to tell, I worry more about you making that run up and down the road with finicky air conditioning than I worry about myself. I used to have a car that did that, and it was no fun. Around here, summertime freeway accidents are the worst. There always are a few cars that overheat – they give up the ghost right there on the road, and things just keep getting worse.

      I gave up being stupid about heat a long time ago. I’ll gripe, just like everyone, but I know when it’s time for a break, and I’m never out in the heat of the afternoon unless it’s cloudy or I can work in the shade. By mid-September it gets much better, even if it’s hot. The sun angle’s different, and it’s not so oppressive. Until then – we cope!

      Linda

  26. There was a (domestic) cat constellation, but it didn’t last:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felis_%28constellation%29

    • What a treat! I don’t know how I missed Felis, but I did. I found another entry with a few more links and this neat passage:

      ” In his book ‘Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning’, the American historian R. H. Allen quotes Lalande as saying: ‘I am very fond of cats. I will let this figure scratch on the chart. The starry sky has worried me quite enough in my life, so that now I can have my joke with it’…

      A more accurate translation of the German might be: ‘I love cats very much. I will have this picture engraved on the star map. The starry sky has tired me enough in my life that I can probably be allowed a little fun now.'”

      Apparently Lalande was inspired by this poem written by Claude-Antoine Guyot-Desherbiers.

  27. Loved this story Linda. Jake looks so unhappy, and I can identify with him. Everyone should be allowed to sit inside on the furniture and sip a cold something-or-other on a hot day! During our dog days here, Charlie plops himself down on the hot brick patio, then after 5 or so, he’s back stretched out on the cool tile floor. I can almost hear the sigh of contentment.

    Orion is my favorite. It is the middle name of a great-granddaughter whose father is a wildlife biologist and hunter. Sirius was the name of an early tech company here in Silicon Valley which my son-in-law helped start about 31-32 years ago. I once painted a young grandson’s bedroom ceiling with clouds and constellations which glowed in the dark. When his mother discovered that he was bringing his little girlfriend up to “see the stars” at night, the evening visits stopped.

    • kayti,

      It’s interesting that so many tech companies turn to the stars for their names, even in subtle ways, like OnStar. Boating-related companies often do the same. Just in this area we have companies using “true north”, “lodestar’, “constellation”, “Vega” and “sunrise”. Is today’s Sirius Satellite related to your son-in-law’s company? Or did they simply pick up the name?

      I love ceiling stars – especially when they glow in the dark, like yours did.There’s a little country church in central Texas that has stars painted all across a blue ceiling. It’s lovely, too – but the stars don’t glow. Your grandson gets points for creativity – his invitation was a nice variation on “wouldn’t you like to come up and see my etchings?”

      Thanks to the Hubble telescope, we can marvel at the Orion nebula as well as the constellation. This Hubbell video shows Sirius passing by, and then takes us into the very heart of the nebula in order to record the “star nursery”. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of such marvelous sights.

      Linda

  28. Somehow, I deleted the email notice of this post so I am late commenting.As usual I come away with new knowldge after reading your fine writing that really provides some wonderful education. I’ve never been much into astronomy but I like reading about the names.

    Indeed the dog days of summer are upon us and some days are just too much. I can readily see the dejection in the eyes of Jake. And that is a really good dog portrait Linda. Really good photography. And I hope you are taking proper care of yourself if you are working out in all the heat.

    • Yvonne,

      You ought to know there’s never any “late” around here. My goodness – if we got demerits for late commenting, I’d be in big trouble!

      One of the things I haven’t done is go to a “star party” out at Brazos Bend State Park. There’s plenty of fishing and alligator-watching there, but often they set up telescopes for people to use (with guidance, of course). There might be something similar in your area. And this site is just filled with interesting links to follow – in your spare time, of course. ;)

      It was hot here today – the highest I saw was 103 with a heat index of 123. No one was moving much this afternoon – dogs, cats, birds, people. Even the fish sink a little deeper on days like this, looking for cool water. The temperatures actually looked worse up your way, although your humidity wasn’t quite as bad. Well, it’s summertime. I do wish we could get some rain, though.

      Linda

      • Thanks for the link , Linda. Yes it was extremely hot. Had to water outdoor potted plants am and then again at 4p. Truly bad. My dogs did not want to be outdoors very long at all.

        I have a small AC in my two cat runs. It’s too hot for them otherwise.

        You be careful, please ma’am out in the heat.

        • I have a feeling your cat runs have turned into cat lounges – cats don’t like the heat any more than Jake. We have a few feral cats around here, and I’m noticing bowls of water being left for them. They do have plenty of shade, and with automatic watering still being allowed, there’s cooler dirt to lay in – at least until late afternoon.

          I’m careful in the heat, and stop without apology when it gets too hot for me. i have noticed that even some of the roofing and lawn crews around here have been taking looooong afternoon breaks. It’s the only smart thing to do.

  29. I love astronomy, partly for the endless puzzles, and partly for the mystery of how people long ago solved some of those puzzles without benefit of sophisticated telescopes and computer models. How did Bessel, working in the mid-1800s, notice a slight wobble in a star? How was Kepler able to formulate his laws of planetary motion in the early 1600s? How did the Egyptians and Romans know that Sirius was still there in the summer sky when they couldn’t see it? I’m humbled by those people for their ability to pay attention and deduce big ideas from scant evidence.

    Wonderful post, Linda. I was going to say that I hope things cool off soon, but those dog days are just arriving, aren’t they?

    • Charles,

      The way your mind works, I’m not surprised you love astronomy, with its mysteries and big concepts. Beyond that, much of the effectiveness of your “word-play” blog posts comes from your ability to notice the actual words we use, playing the literal meanings against all those metaphorical references that build up over time.

      But there again, it’s the noticing that counts, the paying attention. Another good example is weather. When I began varnishing, more than 20 years ago, I haunted the weather channel and such, trying to figure out what the weather was going to do. Now? No need. I can read the winds and skys, and often outforecast the forecasters. Not always, of course – I can be very surprised! But there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

      And yes, we’re just getting into the heat and the heart of hurricane season. The great irony is that many people are hoping for a nice, wet tropical storm to break our drought. But it’s quiet as can be – so quiet you can hear the dogs panting.

      Linda

  30. What a wonderfully clever post! I had absolutely no idea that the term “dog days of summer” originated in the stars. I love it!

    I empathize with you, though — we’re suffering here as well. And for some strange reason, I find myself driving even further south this weekend… Is that possible? :)

    • FeyGirl,

      You’ve taught me so much about the birds and their habitat – happy to add to your store of knowledge.

      Even though the NHS claims Dorian may be regenerating, it looks like you’ll have a fine weekend – apart from the heat and humidity, of course. I have visions of you heading down to the Keys – but whatever you’re up to, I hope it’s pure fun!

      Linda

  31. Leaving it til the eve of the dog days to comment! No suffocating problems here though – back to wind and rain. A very fascinating story, I had no idea. The Dogstar is the name for a couple of pubs and clubs in London…endless summer?

    Of course we’re no strangers to complaining about the weather whatever it is! And Brits are not renowned for their go getting tendencies, just, according to the Aussies, sitting around whingeing! But we do know how to have a laugh, which helps. :)

    My cat had a fascination with water too and used to sit in the bath playing with it as it came out of the tap. Though got rather alarmed when it got him wet.

    Heat is fine as long as you don’t have to do much in it. Your job, like mine, can bring on serious bouts of resistance. I understand.

    • thinkingcowgirl,

      Nice that the wind and rain held off until haying was finished – at least, I hope it did. I’ve noticed sailors often refer to Sirius as the dogstar – that may help to explain the genesis of the pub names.

      Weather’s a primary source of conversation in some communities – farming, sailing, construction and so on. When I lived in rural Texas, it went like this: “Hot enough for you?” “Think it’s gonna rain?” “Sure is nice today.” “That wind could blow you to the coast.” The usual places for such conversations were gas stations, cafes, post offices, fencelines – in short, any place there were two people and just a little time. I’m a great fan of weather conversation myself. As you note, far better to be talking about it than working in it, at least at times.

      I thought of you this morning when an acquaintance posted this pic of the roof of a restaurant in Wisconsin. Any plans to graze your roof?

      Linda

      • hehehe :) Goats are extremely cute. I’ve been wondering about getting a couple of pygmy ones – slightly more manageable than normal ones!

  32. I’m catching up on reading after a week of playing. As I write this it is August 3, the official eve of the new dog days. I hope you and Jake (an excellent name for a dog) fare well.

    Apparently my brain is still in the music clouds. I thought you might enjoy this: Good Hat, Good Dog, Good Boat

    • Hippie Cahier,

      I enjoyed it immensely! Not only that, it reminded me again how much geography is destiny, even when it comes to music. The Eastport Oyster Boys? I’ve never heard of them – but there they are, out there on the Chesapeake, doing their thing. I even found a video of them playing at the Annapolis Oyster Roast and Sock Burning… What???

      Apparently there is life beyond the beltway over there – and thank goodness for that!

      Linda

  33. I really enjoyed this post. It seems to me that your essays belong in magazines. Someone should be paying you to write things like this!

    The long hot dog days can be draining here on the farm as well. There is much merit, I think, in taking siestas this time of year.

    Yesterday I ran across something on another blog that I can’t resist sharing here (because of the photo of the cat swimming). Hope you enjoy it. :)

    • Bill,

      Good point about siestas. I rarely nap in the afternoon, but you can bet that in the heat of the day I’m doing thing like grocery shopping or housecleaning. (Well, ok – or spending time on the computer.) Even the roofers and framing crews are getting some breaks – you can hear the sound of hammers by 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning, and they go until dark – with a sudden silence mid-afternoon. It doesn’t do anyone any good to kill their crew.

      That video is a hoot! It’s so good I’ve already shared it twice more, and probably will send it around even more. I suggested to Dixie Rose that she come over and look at it, but she just rolled her eyes and went back to sleep.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve had a few pieces published in magazines, but for now I really prefer the blog format. I suspect if you gave it a minute’s thought, you could figure out why. ;)

      Linda

  34. Thoroughly entertaining and informative. Another wonderful piece of writing. Thank you.

    • WildBill,

      I suspect you’re another of the lucky ones who actually can see the stars. Give them a wave for me – heat, humidity, haze and light pollution are going to be in my way for a while.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s always a pleasure to have you stop by.

      Linda

  35. Hi Linda, What a wonderful read. Like others, I knew the origin of the phrase, but a refresher is always good.

    Funnily enough, after dropping M at the Vets this morning, we went for a coffee in The Bull Hotel. Next door is another hostelry named The Cock Hotel. These two “watering holes” on the old London road coined the phrase “a cock and bull” story. Whilst enjoying the coffee I read a plaque on the wall that explained how travellers on the coaches that stopped for refreshment at the inns were a great source of current news from the more remote parts of the country in the late 18th century. The two establishments rapidly developed a rivalry as to which could furnish the most outlandish and scurrilous travellers’ tales.

    I once owned a red point Persian cat who loved water. I often thought the colour had been bred into him using a Turkish Van.

    • Sandi,

      What a delightful tidbit! My father was a great one for talking about “cock and bull stories”. As I recall, he usually used the phrase when talking about some of his co-workers. Well, and people like plumbing contractors who’d say they would be there on Wednesday, didn’t show and then had some “cock and bull” story about why not.

      So – your tradition gave my dad one of his favored phrases!

      I’ve never known much about cats. It wasn’t until I got Dixie that I learned about the difference between calicos and torties. The Vans are beautiful cats – and fun that they’re predisposed to like water. I did see your photo of Blue’s ears and Max’s ears – so interesting, the differences between them.

      We’re into serious dog day territory now – or should I say sirius? Heat warnings everywhere, and yet friends “up north” in places like Michigan are begging for warmth. Ah, well. There’s so little perfection in our world!

      Linda

  36. Poor Jake! It’s going to be a dreadfully hot week – at least there’s a bit of a breeze tonight. A couple of days, Molly has just refused to walk very far…but she’s bored inside the house….like me. The next few weeks is just survival mode
    RC just naps and naps. While she’s not a swimmer, We had a cat that sat everyday on the tub’s ledge between the clear shower curtain and the cloth one and patted the shower drops as they ran down. That one never complained much when bathed.
    Meteor showers! Night stars and their stories are cooling…even if Jake doesn’t think so.

    • phil,

      I’d complete forgotten about the meteor showers until you mentioned them. No skyviewing tonight, that’s for sure. This haze isn’t just thick, it’s nasty. More reason to stay indoors.

      I was talking to a dog owner at Blackburn today who said her guys almost are to the point of refusing to go out, let alone walk. I change the water in the birds’ bowls about three times a day, now. One of my favorite pigeons comes in the late afternoon and just stands in the water. I’m sure it feels good.

      Patting shower drops – simple pleasures for everyone! Maybe we’ll get some drops to play with this weekend!

      Linda

  37. I love this starry, summery post! I am surely a cat person, but here I must relate to poor Jake. I HATE summer, and these thick, airless days make me weep with dismay (even though the mornings and evenings have been relatively cool).

    Yet, to think of the maps of stars hanging over us seems like such a comfort; all of that glitter and beauty defining the year…it makes each season seem quite beautiful. Even cruel, sluggish summer!

    • aubrey,

      Of course you’d like this one! It’s hard to think of the stars, the sky and all the glittering baubles of the heavens without thinking of your writing. You’re luckier than we are, of course – at least I imagine you have less summer haze to obscure your view, even taking the marine layer into account.

      Alas, poor Jake. I think he mopes on behalf of us all. But it’s August, which means September is coming, which means October is just around the calendar-corner. October is what many of us think of as heaven!

      Linda

  38. Last evening’s NetFlick:
    Featuring one special “Dog Day”.

    • Ken,

      Well – I’ve not heard of that one! But I certainly can imagine the possibilities inherent in a “surreal period comedic tale of canine reincarnation exploring the relationships between father and son and master and dog”.

      I wonder if anyone’s made a film exploring the surreal comedic possibilities of feline incarnation?

      Linda

  39. […] recent post on The Task at Hand entitled “The Sirius Season” made me think of the uncommon word canicular, which exists in Spanish and English, and which […]

  40. Good Morning. Your blog is very attractive. This post caught my eye upon a brief scan of posts. I’m an astronomy fan.

    While visiting Steve Schwartzman’s Portraits of Wildflowers, I saw your comment about being from Newton. Steve sort of introduced us. Anyway, I found your blog. Greetings to you. Keep up the good work.

    Jim in Iowa City/Coralville

    • Jim,

      I have such fond memories of your part of the world. I attended a couple of summer sessions in Iowa City, for one thing, and whenever we’d head over to the Quad Cities to visit relatives we’d eat in Amana. I never thought I’d miss Iowa, but increasingly, I do. If only there weren’t those winters…

      I did see you comments at Steve’s about the overwhelming growth and so on. As one of our prairie enthusiasts here in Houston says, we need less hand-wringing and more effective work. Figuring out how to get that done’s the key.

      I’ve subscribed for both your blogs, as well as Melanie’s. Steve’s sort of gotten me over my fear of math, so maybe I’m ready to take on science. ;)

      Thanks for stopping by. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

      • Iowa is not our original home state. We are west-central IL. We moved here in 92 figuring to leave after Melanie completed her degree. Well, like many others, we liked it so much we stayed and adopted the state.

        Melanie was pleased to see another follower. So am I. I will do my best to make science a pleasant experience for you. :-)

  41. And here I thought you were talking about radio :-P

    • Howdy, Glass Half Full Gal!

      Nice to see you! I’ve been waiting for you – I knew someone had to finally show up with a play on the name of the radio – what? Channel? Service? Station? There have been a few searches that showed up in my stats, but I think the searchers realized their mistake and went away.

      I hope you’ve had a good summer. I suspect your kids will be in school this week if they haven’t already started. I can’t keep up with the various districts and how they do things.

      It’s that time of year here by Galveston Bay – wait for cold fronts and hope for rain. Oh, and cross our fingers that the hurricanes stay away for another month!

      Thanks for stopping by and giving me a grin!

      Linda


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