Dog days came into our hills hot and dry, with searing heat and crops begging for rain. It is a 40-day period which runs from the third of July until the 11th of August, with the hottest temperatures of the year. According to folk lore, if dog days sets in hot and dry, it will mostly be that way the whole 40 days.
On the other hand, if it sets in wet and rainy, you can expect the same type of weather the entire time. So far, we have had blistering hot weather and dry conditions. The creek has almost dried completely up, and even Elk River is low. A thunderstorm would be mighty welcome.
Dog days have a long history. It is called that because the Dog Star Sirius from the constellation Canis Major, rules the sky during that time. One of Orion’s hunting dogs; it is the largest star in the sky other than the sun. Early Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of Dog Days to appease the wrath of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather. (Why a BROWN dog?)
They also believed that these days were an evil time, when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs went mad, and all creatures became languid. It caused man burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies (early spelling of frenzies.) These were the days of the year when rainfall was at its lowest ebb, and coincided with hot days that were plagued with disease and discomfort.
Mom dreaded those days because mildew and mold grew on everything, damp, wet laundry would sour overnight, and water grew stagnant in creeks and puddles. We kids dreaded it because we were sure that dogs went mad, or rabid, and we were deathly afraid of “mad dogs.” Another of our fears was meeting up with a resident who had escaped from a mental hospital.
One of my aunts was so obsessed with someone escaping from a mental institution that she would go in the house and lock all her doors if she heard of someone escaping three states away. This fear must have rubbed off on us youngsters, and it was during my late teens that I learned these people were to be pitied—not feared.
We grew up with lots of mountain superstitions and family fables, and possibly some of them linger in our minds yet. I still hesitate to walk under a ladder, not because I’m afraid of bad luck, but I am fearful I might knock it down on me. I have a penchant for accidents.
Granddaughter Molly was helping me clean the cellar this week, and my old walker was hanging on a nail. Somehow I dislodged it, and it fell down on my head and shoulder. I told Molly that would make a great story—“Grandmother Disabled by Her Falling Walker.” She loved it.
Speaking of signs, I had a letter from Louise Cobb of Charleston, asking when the signs were right for cleaning windows. I’ve never heard of such a sign. I guess that is why I don’t clean windows!-much, anyway!
We had an inquiry from Shirley King some time back, asking about the Bible verse that is supposed to stop blood. I’ve misplaced a letter that someone wrote me, but I got an email from Jodie Wriston of Elkview who testified that her mother could stop the flow of blood with a Bible verse.
She writes, “My second daughter was a bleeder; her nose would bleed in her sleep at times. She fell one time and hit her nose on a cement step and broke the cartilage in it. Mom lived 20 miles from me so I called her on the phone and asked her to stop Terrie’s nose bleed.
“When I hung up the phone and went back to Terrie, her nose had stopped bleeding. I asked Mom to tell me how to do it, and she said she couldn’t. She said a man had to tell a woman, or a woman tell a man.”
Blackberries are beginning to ripen in the hills now, hanging black and glossy on their vines. When I was a youngster, picking the first ones of the season was exciting. We would get up early in the morning while the dew was heavy and cool, and trudge off to the berry field before the sun was hot.
In the beginning, we ate as many as we picked, then the sun got hotter and the real drudgery began. By the time we got our bucket full, we were tired, hot, and brier scratched. The sweat bees would begin stinging, and if you killed one it seemed to attract a multitude. Ronnie nearly always spilled his berries, and would try to pick them up, covered with leaves and dirt. Poor Mom!
Grandpa O’Dell was the berry picker. He would strap a couple of zinc water buckets on his belt and go up on the backside of Pilot Knob and spend the day.
He would return late in the evening with both buckets filed to the brim, and his face purpled with the heat. Mom canned gallons of berries, made jams and jellies and baked blackberry cobblers from the fresh fruit.
Summer is a delightful season, even when it’s hot.
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven without repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.
Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.
The dusky attic, spider-clad
He through the keyhole maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hayloft smiles.
Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look,
Among the ivy’s inmost nook.
Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The garden of the World, he goes.
And so summer simmers along, while we gather the maturing garden crops and preserve them for winter. Cold weather seems a long way off just now, but soon the summer will be ended—and the harvest will be o’er. Time slips along faster and faster, and we need to prepare for the Great Harvest, which is yet to come.