To be honest, I wouldn't recognize Sirius if it bit me—or, more likely, it being the Dog Star and all, if it smeared a happy, slobbery greeting all over my face.* As more observant people have noted, however, Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky; its name derives from an Ancient Greek word meaning "glowing" or "scorcher." But as the earth and stars move in their elaborate dance, toward the end of July in most northern latitudes, Sirius edges out of nighttime and turns into a day star. It begins to rise and set with the sun, its brilliant glow dissolved into our own star's light, its scorching heat joined (in ancient thought) to the sun's heat.
The weeks on either side of that conjunction are known as the dog days of summer, lasting "officially" from July 3 to August 11. (I used to think the dog days were when dogs decided that lying on a porch, panting, was even more fun than going for a w-a-l-k, but it turns out that's just a coincidence.) These days are hot, uncomfortable, and unpleasant.
And they are my very favorite days of summer.
|Western sandcherries, July|
Why, I don't know. Maybe it's because, despite the heat, they're feasts for the senses, when cicadas drone from every tree and crickets serenade you to sleep, when lemony pilafs and icy mint teas offer refreshment, when the slightest touch of a breeze makes you sigh with pleasure. Maybe it's because they're slow, sleepy days (I have never been a speedy person, and I love it when the world slows down to my pace). Maybe it's because the heat finally sinks so deeply into your bones that the last chilly fingers of winter are forced to let go of you for good (or until December, whichever comes first).
But I think it's really because these are the days of fruition. The enthusiastic flush of late-spring flowers may be over, the summer-bloomers looking tired and drab, the leaves of all kinds burned brown around the edges and bug-eaten, but the sand cherries are ripening, the daisies setting seed, the goldfinches feeding as families and not just in pairs. This is when the point of all those frothy, lovely spring flowers becomes clear.
|Western sandcherries, March|
Every afternoon this week, I've gone out to the garden to pick a bowlful of cherries from the sandcherry bushes. My books all say that the fruit of the native Western sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) is tart, but I suspect the writers didn't wait for harvest until the fruit was ripe. Unripe, it is admittedly pretty pucker-making, but ripe, it's...well, bland and almost flavorless (but not tart!). These are definitely "wild" rather than "cultivated" cherries.
But when you wait until the sun has just passed over into afternoon shadow to pick them still warm from the branch, when the brick path comes close (but not too close) to burning the soles of your bare feet, when two feet away bees are wading happily through clouds of oregano blossom, when the wasps are playing the washtub bass in the jug (or possibly jazz ) band of summer (heavy on buzz, light on tone), when all those things line up—
|Western sandcherries, lunch|
Boy, do those cherries taste good.
* Note: I don't actually think that either one is likely to happen.