It was a cool and misty June morning. The wind was brisk, and I put a sweater on Maisie, our Chihuahua mix, before we set out on our walk. Toby, our Great Pyrenees, who loves cold weather, was anxious to get going. The air outside was fresh and cool ...
And then I woke up. Arrugh! A cruel dream!
I was hot, sweaty and already grumpy. The house we built in the early ’90s and has no air conditioning or swamp cooler. My wife, Laurie, and I looked at each other at the time and thought, “Who needs air conditioning in Santa Fe? Two hot days in July, and the nights are always cool. The monsoons come and everything turns green. We wear sweaters in August in the mornings because it’s cold after the night’s thunderstorms. That’s the way it was.”
But today, it’s 8 in the morning, the sun is blazing, it’s been like this for days, and it is early June. (I won’t mention the fires still burning because seriously, we are in the fifth ring of hell: tormented souls fighting and howling.)
Our dogs are not happy. We walk as early as possible, but you can feel the heat building. They are sulky as we walk. People walking by, who usually would get an excited and a little over the top greeting, barely get a “How do you do?” A coyote in the distance, instead of a cacophony of howling, gets not even a look up from the dogs. When we get home, they both gulp down lots of water. Then they retire to the western wall of the house, the cool shady part in the mornings, and drop into a deep sleep. We won’t see them up again until early nightfall. More on the brilliance of this strategy in a second.
First, a little foray into what the ancients thought about hot summers: They thought summer heat was all about Sirius, the Dog Star. Ancient Greeks noted the hottest time of the year coincided with the rising of this brightest star (and thus thought of as the hottest) right before sunrise. The combined heat of the star (Sirius means scorcher in Greek) and the sun caused the heat of July and August. This period we now call the Dog Days of Summer. The Farmer’s Almanac states in 2022, the Dog Days begin July 3 and run 40 days until Aug. 11.
Maybe, I thought, there was a calendar mixup. So I went out this morning, June 13, and watched the sunrise: No Dog Star.
What the hell! Then why is it so hot in June?
I love those Greeks. I love their speculating. I have a Greek chorus permanently residing in my brain, but we all know now the culprits are our lovely drought and climate change.
But the Dog Star story is a lot more colorful.
Whether it’s Sirius or drought, there is not much we can do, yet there is a lot we need to do for our dogs. That the sultry days are named after them is not their fault. Some tips:
1. Make sure they have lots of water. You don’t need to put ice cubes and lemon in the water but it is a nice gesture.
2. Bring them in when it is hot when you can’t be outdoors. Fans are great. When they are outside, assure that they have shade.
3. Walk them early in the morning or later in the evening when it is markedly cooler in Santa Fe. Test the temperature of asphalt. If it’s hot to the touch, it will hurt them.
4. I won’t even mention having dogs in hot cars. Verboten! Leave them at home.
5. Let ‘em rest. The whole point of the dog days is dogs are going to sleep. It is enervating to be hot. This is not a time to play fetch.
Here is the brilliant part: All of the above apply to us. Drink water, stay in the shade, avoid noonday walks, avoid hot cars and realize that heat can drain you. Get the important stuff done early in the morning or in the cool of the evening, unless you have air conditioning, in which case I’m just jealous.
Finally, pray, sacrifice chickens or do your favorite rain dance, hoping the monsoon rains will come soon. Then we will all put on those wide-brimmed hats and splash around in puddles. Until then, wrap a wet bandana around your neck and stay cool.