Dog days are upon us. From the time I was old enough to understand conversation I understood at the core of my being what the term “dog days” meant: it was those days in late summer when the temp hit 95˚ or better, the humidity went over 95% and the gnats came out in droves. The dogs would just lie under the porch in the shade and pant, not even moving their tails until long after dark.
That’s what we grew up thinking dog days were all about—hot, miserable, and everybody and everything just moved slowly. But now, thanks to Google and modern science we know that it’s really an astronomy term. It has something to do with Sirius, the Dog Star, rising with the sun at this time of year.
Well, I hate to tell you, but as a Deep South person I don’t really give a flying rat’s fanny where the stars are. I’m more concerned about the sweaty part.
And the gnats.
Life Below the Gnat Line
There’s a geological feature here in Georgia called the Fall Line. It’s about a 20 mile wide strip that runs northeast to southwest across the state, from Augusta to Columbus, and it marks the shoreline of an ancient sea.
This time of year, though, we call it the Gnat Line. That’s because when you get south of that border, the gnats get serious.
For people who haven’t experienced gnats, they’re larger than a flake of ground pepper but way smaller than a small fly. They’re ubiquitous, omnipresent, fly in swarms, and when you walk outside they fly around and around in chaotic little circles mere millimeters from your face.
They get in your eyes. Occasionally one gets in your ear. If he climbs on down, it’s really a problem. When we were in the sixth grade, Delmas Sims had a gnat go so far down his ear canal that he went into a seizure. He was holding an open pack of Tom's peanuts, and he slung those goobers all over the place during that insect-induced flailing. Must have overstimulated his hypothalamus.
They love to fly up your nose. We don’t’ know why. Maybe scientists know. We are too busy blowing them away to figure it out. Every good Southern child by the age of 5 can show you how to hold an RC Cola in one hand and a moon pie in the other, squint your eyes, contort your mouth sideways and deliver a brisk puff to blow away gnats. This particular deformation of the facial musculature is probably the cause of our distinctive drawl.
The alternative is to swallow them. And the horribly off color part about that is that the gnats also swarm around the dogs lying under the porch trying to get some shade—and they have a particular location affinity for the south end of a north-bound animal. So when one of our compatriots announces that they've swallowed a gnat, we are obliged to respond with the statement "Well you know he just came off a dog's ass." And that's proper and acceptable in most echelons of southern society, except that when you're at church you have to say "Well, you know where he just came from." He being gender neutral, like the Methodist hymn book.
And yes, in case you were wondering, the reason we put pepper in BBQ sauce here in the South is because it looks just like gnats, and we eat both outside.
100 Days of Hell? We Should Be So Lucky.
In our industry there’s a commonly used term called 100 days of Hell. It’s when the grass starts to grow like mad, weeds grow like mad, it’s hot as blazes, the gnats come out, and your work crews go like crazy, dawn to dusk. Hot weather, hot tempers, big trucks, and small hand held motor equipment. It’s chaotic.
For our northern friends it lasts 100 days. For us, it goes from April to mid-September: more like 170 days of Hell.
The other thing about the dog days here, at least this year, is that it rains practically every day. Wonderfully violent flash thunderstorms. When they are over, it’s too wet to work. By the next day, the same bahia grass you mowed yesterday has grown 10 inches and people wonder: “Did you really mow?”
People want to know why we’re crotchety down here during dog days. Well that’s why.
So that’s how it is for us during dog days.
Want to know the effect of dog days on the Southern body at work? I’ll give you a clue: friction is bad, and anything that stays continually wet is going to develop problems. Especially if it is in any place your mama told you not to display in public.
How do we deal with it? Two words: Body Glide. If the 4th Infantry Division would've had this stuff, we could have liberated France in a week. Last week we distributed $169.16 worth of the stuff to our crews. We even held a training on where and how to apply. Morale seems to be up this week.
Y'all come see us some time after Labor Day, when the temp drops and the gnat herds thin. The dogs will be out from under the porches, and we will all display a better constitution.