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Descending into Summer’s Dog Days Should Lead Us to Better Care for the Earth


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Descending into Summer’s Dog Days Should Lead Us to Better Care for the Earth

Commentary by Walter Hesford | FāVS News

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Henry David Thoreau was an arch transcendentalist, ever ready to find inspiration from the natural world, which he closely observed and in whose joys he participated. I read his journals every morning for uplifting observations on natural phenomena throughout the cycle of the year.

Yet the Dog Days of July and August got him down.

Consider this July 22, 1853, journal entry: “The hottest night,– the last. It was almost impossible to pursue any work out-of-doors yesterday. There were but few men to be seen out. You were prompted often, if working in the sun, to step inside the shade to avoid a sunstroke… . The domestic animals suffer much. Saw a dog which had crawled into a corner and was apparently dying of heat.”

No transcendence here. Just sympathy for those who had to endure the heat, including domestic animals. That dying dog is a graphic illustration of Dog Days, though, since Greco-Roman days, the term has referred to the scorching time of year when Serius, the Dog Star, reigns in the sky along with the sun.

Thoreau’s physical solution for relief during Dog Days was to descend into the muddy bottom of the Concord River, a bottom thick with fresh-water clams with which he played footsies.

Physically and emotionally, he could identify with those who yearned for shade since he often surveyed fields and woodlots.

I can’t claim any physical connection to the farmers, migrant workers, construction workers and others who often toil in the sun without the option of shade. I can only express gratitude for their work, and feel some guilt as I enjoy the fruits of their suffering.

I tend to descend into myself during Dog Days. I sit in our shady backyard drinking gallons of ice coffee and nodding over mysteries.

I cancelled the summer sessions of an interfaith discussion group I host. As proof that I was too zonked by the heat to host a discussion, I offered this: during the first hot Saturday evening in July, I watched “Beach Blanket Bingo” on Spokane’s Channel 7 until the air outside cooled down enough for us to start drawing it in through a fan.

Some might claim that in the Inland Northwest the nights are not hot enough and the air is not humid enough to create that real wrap-around Dog Day experience from which night and shade offer little respite.

Still, I don’t have to remind Inland Northwest readers how sustained the heat can be here, and how intense and oppressive it can be, especially if one of those bubbles occurs, and especially when wild fires add smoke to the atmosphere.

I’m sure more of us will have to get air conditioners. I heard someone on NPR who warned of warmer days and years to come note that air conditioners were not good long-term fixes since they didn’t really cool the air but just redistributed it, sending hot air out the window. No wonder cities with all their air conditioners are hotter. No wonder those living in poorer areas surrounded by city streets suffer the most.

And no wonder that poorer countries bearing the brunt of climate change and with it terrible and terribly long Dog Days suffer even more. What can one do but have compassion, try to reduce our carbon footprint by consuming less, call for reparations from heavily polluting countries such as the U.S. and advocate for the end of the use of fossil fuels world-wide?

I doubt that there is a specific Dog Day theology or designated Dog Day spiritual practices. If there were, they would surely not involve trying to transcend the concerns of this Earth. Rather, this theology and these practices would encourage us to care for the warming earth and all its creatures.

Walter Hesford
Walter Hesford
Walter Hesford, born and educated in New England, gradually made his way West. For many years he was a professor of English at the University of Idaho, save for stints teaching in China and France. At Idaho, he taught American Literature, World Literature and the Bible as Literature. He currently coordinates an interfaith discussion group and is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow. He and his wife Elinor enjoy visiting with family and friends and hunting for wild flowers.


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