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“Dog Days of Summer”

August 1, 2005

Have you ever wondered why this time of the year is referred to as Dog Days?  When the night sky is un-obscured by artificial lights and pollution, the stars are more clearly visible.  People of ancient cultures would gaze into the heavens and see figures of animals depicted in the stars.  It was an ancient version of connect the dots.  The images that they saw we now call constellations.  Amazingly, native Americans, the ancient Chinese, and the people of Greece and Rome saw in the stars similar images.  In these diverse cultures, separated by oceans, stargazers saw similar images.  Big and little bear to Native Americans were Ursa Major and Ursa Minor to Europeans.  Ursa means bear.  We know these constellations best as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper.  Divergent cultures saw in the constellation Taurus, the image of a bull, though to Native Americans the bull was a bison.  Canis Major and Canis Minor were big dog and little dog.

The brightest star in Canis Major is Sirius, which is the brightest star in the night sky, so brilliant the Romans thought of it as a secondary sun, providing heat to the earth.  In late summer, the dog star rises and sets with the sun.  Ancient people believed that the conjunction of the sun and the dog star was the cause of an extended period of hot muggy weather; hence the name Dog Days. 

We are in the Dog Days of summer.  In our part of the world, Dog Days arrive when the hot muggy weather of summer sets in.  In the old days it was a period of less activity, a time when families would go to the mountains.  Even people from the low country came to Spartanburg County to the resort at Glenn Springs to escape not only the sultry days of summer but also the malaria that was so prevalent below the fall line.

Now Dog Days are anything but a period of inactivity.  Commercially, we have added a tax-free weekend, which has become the second busiest time for retail shopping, following only the day after Thanksgiving.  Schools now begin their fall term in the Dog Days of summer.  At a time when it is almost too hot to go fishing, we have sent our children back to school.  August is a time when the garden becomes straggly with overgrown plants, flowers gone to seed, and a weed invasion.  But there is one garden site that reminds us that even in hot, sultry weather there can be a flurry of activity.  That site is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeder.

At the Hummingbird feeders in our yard, these tiny birds display a most aggressive disposition as they compete for food.  Like feisty siblings quarreling over dessert, the petite birds quarrel with each other over which one will have the next turn at their sugarwater treat.  Hovering and darting, their tiny wings a blur, these muggy days are the most active time for Hummingbirds, as they prepare for their long migration to Central and South America.  Sitting on the inside looking out, the Ruby-throated Hummers put on quite a show.

The truth is that every season of the year is a time for wonder.  God has placed us in a beautiful world.   All around us there are things to astound and amaze us if we will but take the time to stop and pay attention. 

I have known Rudy Mancke since we were boys.  One of the things that we have had in common throughout our lives is a sense of wonder about nature.  You’ve heard the story about our staying out all night to catch fish and instead catching 38 snakes.  We both majored in Biology in college.  I went to seminary.  Rudy pursued a career as a naturalist.  Now, on the front end of our seventh decade, we continue to share a sense of wonder.  On Sunday morning, my friend, Rudy, will be with us at both services of worship.  He will share and I will share.  This will be a departure from our usual sermon structure.  Neither of us knows exactly how it will turn out.  We can only wonder.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, September 2007

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