By Jim McGuire
Can you believe it’s already August? I can’t … but that’s probably because I thought those weeks of cool, wet weather during June and early-July looked and felt like less summer than what I’ve come to expect from the season hereabouts.
Nevertheless, here we are, heading down August’s dusty road, on the second day of the eighth and final full month of summer — smack in the middle of the dreaded Dog Days.
The old Romans gave the period it’s infamous name, based on the fact summer’s latter weeks annually proved to be such direful times. Ponds stagnated. Snakes went blind. Cur dogs ran mad in the streets. While disease and sickness seemed to multiply.
Yet contrary to what is generally assumed, the “Dog Days” weren’t named for those poor mad dogs, but the seasonal alignment of a star. Looking to affix blame, someone apparently noted how all the ominous events seemed to occur during the time when Canicula, the Dog Star, was in conjunction with the sun.
Of course any imagined correlation between those unpleasant events and the Dog Star’s heavenly positioning was imaginary nonsense, lacking any connection whatsoever to rampant illness, bad water, temperamental snakes, and crazy dogs. Pollution and bacterial levels in ponds probably hit a peak during August. Mosquito populations also reached their summer height. Rabies and distemper are the logical culprits when it comes to those mad dogs. And many snake shed their skins during August, rendering them temporarily blind and decidedly crankier.
Frankly, most years, I’m typically a bit cranky myself by the time August rolls around. Being boreal natured, I thoroughly loathe hot weather. I’ll take freezing and frostbite over sunburn and heatstroke every time. Normally, when we get to August, I’ve already had more than my fill of sweating, sweltering, and stewing in my own juices.
Yet this year…well, I’m genuinely glad. A statement — being both philosophically blasphemous and situationally true—that even I admit must qualify as some sub-category of personal oxymoron.
But I keep remembering what a friend once noted. “August,” she said, “always brings those delightfully lazy days of deliciously sweet lethargy.”
And so it has — at least I found the past week, with its sun and heat, to be unexpectedly enjoyable. And I’ve said so to folks who know me. A confession which has so disconcerted my wife that she keeps asking what’s wrong and why I’m not complaining about being miserable.
Yet thanks to chronic insomnia, I’ve been starting my days early, well before the sun comes up. In time to take my first cup of coffee outside, onto the deck, where I sprawl in a comfortable rocker and watch dawn find it way onto the river.
These late-summer mornings — hushed, tranquil — come wrapped in a layer of gauzy dampness. Emerging light, soft, filmy, suffused with shades of of transparent pink and pale magenta, delicate yellow, attenuated gold. Light filled with an etherial glow that increases as it extends into the dim and purple shadows. Exquisite light as delicate and rich as a lover’s kiss.
The woods on the island across from the cottage are cast with a sheen of pale silver. Spiderwebs are strung like displays of the most delicate Irish lace. Leaves, dense and green, shimmer, limp in the placid air.
Lately, I’ve been busy working on several remodeling projects around the house. However, most days my labors are limited to the morning’s cooler hours. In keeping with my friend’s “sweet lethargy” view, I’ve discovered those torrid hours after noon are best spent lazing in the shade. A midday post-lunch snooze in the backyard hammock I’ve strung between two big sycamores is practically mandatory — an urge I believe would be irresponsible of me to resist.
August has become that seasonal destination of quite and generous peace—the fulfillment of a journey initiated amid spring’s energetic clamor.
Wild blackberries are even now beginning to turn purple-black under the baking sun. Those old-timey early apples are ripening. Soon, sweet corn, melons, new potatoes, and the first of the tomatoes, peppers, and beans will start gracing our tables.
All manner of tasty delights which provide a bounty indescribably delicious after too many bland months of supermarket fare.
Then there’s the fishing.
During daylight hours, I wade my beloved small streams for feisty smallmouth bass. The creeks and brooks I favor are typically shady and cool, the perfect place to immerse yourself when temperatures hover around the ninety-degree mark.
At night it’s time to head for a pool on the river. August nights are made for regularly spending a few hours between dusk and midnight tightlining for channels or flatheads. Not only do you beat the heat and creel a few future meals—but there’s always that exciting possibility for real adventure, since a catfisherman never knows when something piscatorially brutish might swim close amid the darkness and take the bait.
Yup, more than anything, August is sultry summer personified — hot, indolent, ripe with the fullness of the season, and rich with possibilities.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]