The dog days of summer are upon us here in Appalachia and the heat is absolutely…well…miserable. Days are spent indoors and it’s only reasonable to venture outdoors about 2 hours after sunset. Legs stick to lawn chairs, fish don’t bite, bugs are incessant, the lake is packed, and the air is heavy with humidity. As a child, these days didn’t seem quite so bad, but it seems as though every year the dog days grow longer and hotter and our hearts become despondent that autumn will ever arrive.
As a kid, I normally spent most of July and August outside chasing fairies and swimming in our duck pond and I only came inside for 2 reasons: 1) Dora the Explorer was on the telly, or 2) dinner was ready. After dinner was when we would go on our adventures. Some of my favorite memories are on summer evenings when Dad and I would jump on the big green four wheeler and take off for the family orchard. Still to this day, it’s the best place to watch sunset or to watch a storm roll over Frog Mountain in the distance, and the fireflies put on a show there that is truly breathtaking.
I’m going to tell you a story, and I want you to zone in on this writing for a second to where you can almost feel the hot summer breeze graze your cheek, and hear the sounds of the cicadas and the peepers (that sound that frogs make in the summer when they’re mating).
It was probably the summer of ’09 or ’10, and the mountains hadn’t seen a drop of rain in quite some time. The only moisture present was that of which hung depressingly in the summer air. I had spent the day outside climbing the big hemlock tree in our front yard that I lovingly named Tinkerbell. Mom made dinner and called for me to come inside, and as I ran inside, blonde curls bouncing with me, the long awaited smell of petrichor was creeping into the air.
I can’t recall what we ate that night, but I remember standing on my tippy toes putting my plate in the sink, and running to my room to put on my flip flops…it was time for mine and Dad’s evening ride.
As Dad pulled the starter string for the four wheeler, the smell of gasoline would waft into the air. The four wheeler was old, so sometimes startup took a little while, but it always started on way or another. I sat in front of Dad because I’ve always been a reasonably small person and also because sometimes I got to drive, and as we would ride, I’d stick my feet straight out under the steering wheel, because my legs didn’t reach the foot rests, so I’d end up burning myself on the engine if I didn’t.
As we rode through the orchard rows, the hot air hit our faces, along with the occasional firefly, the cicadas and peepers were loud enough to be heard over the roar of the four wheeler. The air smelled faintly of apple spray and dirt, and the clouds were building in the distance. As we crested the hill at the top of the orchard, just beside the little church on the hill, and into the meadow, I remember looking up to this one little puffy cloud right over head as it flashed bright with pink lightning. No thunder rolled quite yet. I looked back at Dad with a big toothy grin and pointed to the clouds, and a smile crept across his face. Rain was coming. Now still to this day, I’m not sure if it was just perfect timing, or Dad had something up his sleeve, but moments after I pointed to the skies, the sprinklers in the orchard came on. Now I know that Mr. Joe knows better than to turn on sprinklers right before rain…but I’m not going to question my favorite memory. So the sprinklers turned on and as we drove through the water, my pink cherry silky pajama pants began to stick to my legs, and my curls stuck against my pale skin. I can still hear mine and Dad’s laughter as we drove through the mixture of sprinklers and the rain. That was the first rain, and it brought a reprieve to the dog days.
So, yes, the dog days may be the most dreadful and miserable time of the year, but if you make the most of it, the memories are irreplaceable.