Dog Days

Sirius-ly?!?!?

(See what I did there?  It’s not a spelling error- it will be important later)

This is pretty much the gist of most conversations happening in the City today- and what we’ll be sounding like over the next few days:

We are Canadian after all.  We like to grouse complain talk about the weather.

A LOT.

I was party to a conversation the other day- the subject being the projected heat wave that we are now experiencing- that referenced the Dog Days of summer and the dog-like laziness that tends to accompany the high temps.  The speaker seemed to think that the ‘Dog Days’ were so named because of a connection with the inaction of domesticated doggies (and the humans who love them) when the weather is super-crazy-hot-and-steamy.

It’s a logical assumption.  Smart dogs (and the humans who love them) DO lie around doing not much of anything when the mercury gets up there.  Today it actually hurts to breathe since the air is so thick- and I’m not walking around in a fur coat and without sweat glands.  Can’t blame the puppies for lazing about.

Really though, the description of the hazy summer days of July and August (here in the Northern Hemisphere) is a reference to Sirius, the Dog Star, which is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major.  The Dog Days were those weeks in which Sirius rose just before sunrise.

Sirius is the hunting dog and companion of Orion- the gigantic hunter and hero of Greek mythology who was raised to the stars to became a constellation by no lesser god than the Big Guy himself, Zeus.  The rising of Sirius that heralded the beginning of the hot and dry summer was also seen as the cause of plants wilting, men weakening and women becoming, um, randy.

The star twinkled in its brightness, and these emanations were thought to be the source of the malignant happenings down here on Earth.    Anyone suffering from the effects of Sirius was said to be star-struck (two-for-one word origin stories today!) and people offered sacrifices to Sirius and Zeus asking for cooling breezes and the alleviation of the nasty influence of the Dog Star.

Romans also sacrificed dogs at the beginning of the Dogs Days (July 23rd or 24th to August 23rd or 24th) to appease the raging Sirius who was thought to cause the heat and dry conditions.

In Egypt, the star was called Sopdet, and during the period of the Middle Kingdom the calendar was based on the day that it became visible just before sunrise- which occurred around the time of the annual flooding of the Nile and the Summer Solstice.  The return of Sirius (after an absence of 70 days from the sky) marked the return of Isis from the Underworld- a key motif in Middle Kingdom mythology.

The perception that the Dog Days were all about icky happenings and lassitude and madness has persisted in the Western World into contemporary times.  The 1975 Oscar winning film Dog Day Afternoon tells the story of a disastrous bank robbery that happens on an August afternoon.  As one thing after another goes wrong, the ill will of the Dog Star can certainly be felt.

I just had a visit from my favourite Canis Minor (an hilarious pug named Cosmo who should sirius-ly have a constellation named after him) and we agreed that being outside during these here Dog Days that we have happening at the mo’ is something best avoided if possible.

Mythological word/phrase origins are fun.

Heatstroke/dehydration is not.

Stay cool, People.

Evade the wrath of Sirius and keep from being star-struck if at all possible.

Although I have no mythological basis upon which to make the assertion, I’m thinking that a coldcold beer is the best contemporary preventative measure to stave off malignant starshine.

Will give it a go anyway.

The Road

It seems, lately, like I’ve strayed from the originally plotted course for this forum.

I love the stories, don’t get me wrong.  They are my life, so to speak, and they can do so much to help us heal this world.  There is undeniable wisdom to be found within their characters and plots and ultimate messages and they deserve examination and re-contextualizing for our time and circumstances.

Looking at our myths with new lenses can truly aid us in moving forward.  Perhaps not repairing the injustices of history- that is beyond even the significant power of myth- but certainly helping to advise us when we are searching for the right way to proceed from here.

But something happens when the seasons turn in Toronto.  Especially after a longer than usual winter (although the meteorologists would say that this one just past was more in keeping with historical temperatures and snowfall) and a strange spring- which turned on a dime from October-like weather to that of mid-August and back again- the fact that true summer finally seems to be in the offing diverts my thoughts toward our music more than our tales.  However well-written and relevant those stories may be.

Add to that the desire to bury my head somewhat- for a time at least- and avoid the insanity that seems to be happening globally, nationally and locally at the moment, and all I really feel like doing is letting the songs take me away from the increasingly disturbing nightly news reports.

It’s the weekend- and the sunny day turned into a pleasant night.  While out for my evening walk, I could hear the sounds of NXNE concerts off in the distance, and feel that extraordinary buzz that arrives in Toronto once the patios are open for good.

The songs in my head are warring for ascendency- I hardly know what to listen to first.  Like much beloved siblings sparring for a parent’s immediate attention they have been creating something of a crazy-making cacophony.

As I rounded the corner towards home, passing the church’s marquee sign which this week is asking “What would God have you learn?”, this one won:

While I love Yusuf Islam’s recent music, and greatly admire his philanthropy and the great work he has done to educate the world about Islam since his conversion, to me he will always be Cat Stevens- and his songs remain inseparable from my vision of ‘summer.’

All of his early albums evoke campfires and s’mores, quiet companionship by a lake under a sky full of stars and- later in the summer- the aurora borealis.  Whether he knows it or not, he is truly the Bard of Ontario’s Cottage Country.

The first strummed chords of Wild World and the pain- and resignation-filled overlapping of the two voices in the last verse of Father and Son have become part of my core.  I can hardly remember a time when I couldn’t run through their lyrics (always a means of centering myself, collecting my thoughts and shutting out the crazy) and feel better about things in general.

But THAT song, the one that won the night tonight, spoke to me directly the first time I heard it.  As if we were walking that road together, Cat and I.

“I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there, many stories told me of the way to get there.”

The driving force of my life has been, since I can remember, the need to know (often to my personal detriment), coupled with the awareness that there will always be more things to learn, from all those we meet on our roads and from the “good books‘ we pick up along the way.

I love that he acknowledges the need to “kick out the devil’s sin– to disconnect from the idea of some kind of inherent evil within us- and that, ultimately, “the answer lies within.”

We do have the answers- through our collective knowledge and connections to each other and the Earth itself.  We just have to turn down the idiocy white noise mundanity stressors of daily life and pay attention to those voices that are telling us what we instinctively know.

Under the ongoing tutelage of Cat Stevens, I guess my thoughts have returned to our myths, mediated by the music, after all.

On this last spring weekend before the solstice takes us into the summer-proper I encourage you all to “listen to the robin’s song saying not to worry.”  We have each other, the innate curiosity to keep trying to explain our world and the stories and songs that draw us together to keep on walking this road to find out.  Enjoy.