Dog Days and Folklore Follies

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Today, most Americans are getting ready to celebrate the 241st anniversary of our nation’s independence. (I read somewhere that it is the 242nd anniversary. So don’t trust my math.) Tomorrow, there will probably be more hot dogs grilled than on any other day in this country (just guessing). And don’t forget ice cream sales. Nationwide, fireworks will adorn the night sky.

Today, however, marks the anniversary of another annual, though less celebrated, event known as the Dog Days of Summer. But what exactly are the Dog Days of Summer? Growing up, folklore in my neck of the woods speculates that the heat makes dogs lethargic and want to sleep all day. Another theory (pay attention—this is important!) speculates that snakes bite more dogs during this period than at other times of the year. The reason being, according to legend, is that snakes are shedding their skins and are blind. Therefore, they strike at everything that comes near. Since I hate all snakes and am not the “science type,” I don’t care to research snake skin-shedding details. But, we’ll come back to this.

Folklore Debunked

According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the term refers to the period of time when the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, also known as the Dog Star. This occurs in the Northern Hemisphere each summer from July 3 to August 11.

Folklore Follies

Now, back to the snakes. Things you hear as a child, especially scary things, can sometimes never be forgotten. Such was the case with me on one summer day a few years ago. I’ve shared this little essay before. Since a number of people were getting kicks out of retelling my episode, I decided to own it and share it myself. My apologies to those who may have read it, but it warrants a revisit as we enter the Dog Days of Summer.


By Sheila Welborn

We’ve all seen them. Sometimes they walk upright on two legs and pretend to be our friends to our face. But they’re really just lying in wait ready to strike when we least expect it. That’s another story. This one is about the real slithery kind.

It was a sunny August afternoon, and my yard boy, John D. Eere, and I were mowing the grass. We round the house and get closer to the deck than we should when we spot it…lying on top of the pine needles under a bush. A snakeskin! The bright sunlight gave it an eerie shimmer. John and I decided then and there that the yard work was complete. After some discussion, John and I decided to call my husband who was working out of town. I told him what I had found. He assured me he would check it out when he returned home that evening. “Are you crazy!” I exclaimed. “By the size of the skin, this is not a snake to go looking for in the dark! You’ll get bitten.”

After a lot of pacing and handwringing, I decided to call critter control. Like it was my lucky day, a Herpetologist (or Snakeologist to some of us) answered my call. More accurately, he was a professor of Herpetology. He tried to calm my anxiety by saying there is no need to be afraid of a “little ol’ snake.” Well, obviously, he does not know me! He informed me that finding a snakeskin did not mean the snake is still there. I told him it also does not mean the snake is not there. He promised to come to my house in about an hour to check it out.

Keeping to high ground (my front porch) I patiently waited in the porch swing for his arrival. Two hour later, he arrived. I directed him around back to where the skin was waiting. I tiptoed behind at a distance not stepping off the landscape stones.

I pointed to the skin and he reached down to pick it up. He said, “Are you talking about this piece of camouflage tape?”

I suddenly wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole! Who knew there was such a thing as camouflage tape! Without a doubt, I was the subject of a good laugh around the critter fountain the next morning!

Do you have an interesting Dog Days of Summer story? Please share!

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