August 2009
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

In case you are not from the South, I need to warn you that even though it’s been as hot as a coal furnace here in South Alabama, Dog Days are here. When I used to live in Baldwin County, we had to watch out for our Northern brothers and sisters because, although they can and will walk around in December in short pants and t-shirts when they first move down here and retire, they have no concept of Dog Days and how durn hot it can get. They walk around in the winter and make fun of us Southerners about our fear of the cold and we just tell them Dog Days are coming and to check with us then. I’d like to see the statistics on Northern transplants to the South who die of heat-related stress in August in our fair state.

We’ve tried to tell them not to mow the grass in the afternoon during Dog Days. We’ve tried to tell them that between diseases and bugs, a late-summer garden doesn’t have much of a chance. We’ve tried to tell them fleas, mosquitoes and biting files are going to be worse during Dog Days.

Just to set the record straight, officially, many almanacs say Dog Days run from July 3rd to August 11th and they coincide with the star named Sirius as its doing something "astronomical" I don’t quite understand. And I found out that in the Southern hemisphere they don’t have an official Dog Days (I’d like to talk to someone from upper South America in say January, summertime down there, and see what they have to say about it).

My dad made it clear to us as children that during Dog Days a sore wouldn’t heal unless a dog licked it. We knew snakes were blind in Dog Days and would strike anything that came near. We knew to be nice to our pet dogs and not to antagonize other folks’ dogs because during Dog Days you never knew when they might "turn."

I have been doing some research on Dog Days and to me it looks like our Northern brothers and sisters think Dog Days are a fun time. I have seen websites for all sorts of festivals, picnics and activities they have up north. For us down here in the South, we know folks can die in this heat.

One summer, my dad made us paint the trim on our house during Dog Days. Living on the Bon Secour River, we had a healthy population of deer flies. For those who don’t know of these, picture a yellow fly, a little bigger than a house fly, that bites like a horse fly. As we were standing on dad’s questionable scaffolding, these flies must have thought we were manna from heaven. I’m not sure if they drink blood or what, but they bite so hard it must be tough making a living drinking blood for one of them. I must assume they get most of their food from critters that cannot reach them to swat at them. I say "swat at them" because I have swung at zillions of them but actually killed only a few. Anyway, as we were painting, they descended on us like a plague from Egypt. They were so bad we were looking for someone, like Pharaoh, to set us free so they would leave us alone. The drill went something like this: you are standing there painting and one lands on your leg/arm/shoulder/head and you set down your paintbrush and slap at him/her and he/she flies away unharmed. After a while, you just start slapping at them with the paintbrush. When it was all over, the majority of the paint was on us, the bushes and the brick, and very little on the trim. We had welts on our skin the size of quarters that would itch until we had scratched them hard enough to draw blood, at which time the gnats arrived. Dad never seemed to realize why we were covered with paint when he got home each day but the house was unpainted.

Dog Days always make me think of that summer and I dread its arrival.

When you grew up south of Interstate 10, Dog Days are a constant reminder of the most active period of hurricane season and that really makes you dread the month of August.

I would love to write more, but it’s just too durn hot.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.