Gail Hamilton

Dog-days

Doubtless they have their uses, but they are not agreeable. That must be conceded. There is no out-doors. You wake in the morning with a mild sense of strangulation, though all your windows are open at top and bottom. You thrust your head out into the morning air, but there isn’t any. It has all run to fog. Fog lies heavy and gray on the grass. Trees and hills and fences are smothered in fog. It creeps into your house, tarnishes all your gilt, swells your drawers and doors so that you can’t open them, and when you have opened them you can’t shut them. It breathes upon your muslin curtains, and they turn into limpsy strings. It steals into your closet, and little blue specks and white feathery spots appear on your pies. A pungent taste develops itself in your pound-cake. The stray cup-custard niched from the general larder for private circulation is a keen and acid disappointment. Milk refuses to curdle into cheese, and cream will tumble about in your churn for hours, and come out mitigated buttermilk at last.

Flies are rampant. If the cover is left off the sugar-bowl, a colony of flies take immediate possession. If your bare arm happens to be carrying a vase of flowers with special care, a fly lights on your elbow, and proceeds by short and easy stages (to him) to your wrist. If you are writing, a horde of flies institute an investigation of your head and hands, with a special commission for your nose. You brush them off, and they only rub their fore legs together, bob their heads, brush down their wings, and go at it again. Your kitchen ceiling looks like huckleberries and milk. All the while it is very warm, but not so warm as it is sticky, only the stickiness is all on the out side. Within, you feel a constant tendency to fall to pieces, because there isn’t brace enough in the air to hold you together. If we were English, we should say it was nasty weather. Being Americans, we only sigh, “Dog-days!”

But they must have their uses. Everything is good for something. Let us see. First, they are excellent for the complexion,—a matter in which, whatever we say, we are all more or less interested. Bile-y, jaundice-y, sallow faces clear up into healthy tints. Freckles “try out.” Pale cheeks tone up into delicate rose, and dry, parched, burning flushes tone down into a cool liquescence. All the pores are opened, and the whole system languishes in a pleasant helplessness, pleasant, if one has been so industrious all the year, that he can afford to be idle during the dog-days.

Dog-days are good as tests. Their effect on curl-paper curls is melancholy, but natural curls laugh them to scorn, and riot in twistings. Just so the temper. Placidity at Christmas often dissolves in an August fog. What you thought was amiability, may have been only oxygen. If you wish to see whether your temper can really bear the strains of wind and weather, just remember how you went to the middle drawer in your bureau for gloves, fearing you should be too late for the cars,—how the drawer would only come out by hitches, first one side, then the other, and then not at all,—how you thrust in your hand up to the wrist, and could just not reach the gloves with the end of your longest finger, while your wrist was tortured by the sharp edge of the drawer on one side, and the sharp edge of the bureau on the other. Did you possess your soul in patience? When a shower came suddenly pelting down through the fog, and you tried to close the window, and got yourself wet through for your pains, and couldn’t move it an inch for all your shaking and pounding, when you put your cake into the oven to “scald,” and forgot it, ’till a sense of something burning travelled up-stairs to stir your passivity, and you rushed down to snatch too late a burnt and blackened loaf, did you remember the first three words of Psalm xxxvii. 1?*

*Quotidiana note: Psalms 37:1 reads, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.”

In the calm complacency of a balmy spring morning, we look down with a serene smile on the follies of the world. We assume a calm and quiet superiority, give it a pat on the shoulder, and say, condescendingly: “Yes, you will do very well; a little rickety in the joints; a slight softening of the brain; but very passable for your age.” Nothing can exceed our amiability when we are pleased and comfortable; but, floundering up to the neck in July, keeping the breath of life in us only by becoming amphibious and web-footed, bound to the earth by no stronger tie than ice-cream and sherbet, wooing to our side every passing breeze, as if it were the king s daughter, then, a beflowered, bespangled, bedizened abomination, coming betwixt the wind and our nobility, is the spear of Ithuriel to our smiling good-nature, and we feel disposed to pluck its eyes out with a demoniac delight.

Dog-days can teach us trust. You have heard of the woman who, when her horse ran away, trusted to Providence till the breeching broke. A good deal of our trust is like this. We call it Providence, but it is really breeching. Not that breeching is not a very good thing to trust to as far as it goes,—only it is not Providence. So, when our doors can be bolted and locked, we lie down in peace and sleep; but when they won’t go to, and we have to make a precarious arrangement of sticks and strings, we feel more keenly that we awake because the Lord sustained us.

Dog-days are friendly to greenness. Our lawns smile with velvet verdure. The fog goes into the soil and wraps it around the tender strawberry- vines that we have just transplanted, and in soft swaddling-clothes the young fruit will slumber till next summer’s sun shall bid it leap to luxuriant life, and a creamy and glorious death. Down into the heart of the sweet-pea, deep into the cup of the morning-glory, steals the kindly mist, and a pink and purple splendor crowns the rising day. The cucumber swells its prickly sides and snuffs the coming vinegar. The squash-vine creeps along the ground, sorrowing that it has all turned to pumpkin, but catching from the moist air a deeper shade for the generous gold of its blossom. Ah! in the laboratories of nature the fog has a great work to do.

But the best of dog-days is their departing. Grateful for the returning sun, and the sweet west wind, we see a deeper blue in the sky, and a denser green in the fields. The tall corn waves with statelier grace. The trees are fretted with fresh-springing life. The earth is a billowy and dimpled emerald, tender and smiling; but the sky the ever-shifting sky is an absorbing and perpetual joy. Sometimes its sweep of stainless blue is glorious afar. Then the dying sun leaves its legacy in the west, of saffron, and amber, and pale green. Now the clouds sail out white and warm into the central blue, or rush exultant, whirling up masses of lavender rimmed with gold, or shoot from the glowing west spires of rosy pink, or mount to the zenith in delicate shells of pearl, or lie above the horizon, passionate, breath less, and ruddy, floating in seas of fire. Anon they group themselves in all fantastic shapes. A turreted castle sends down shafts of light from its pearly gates. The mailed warrior places his lance in rest, and a couchant lion

Scatters across the sunset air
The golden radiance of his hair.

“Cloud-land! Gorgeous land!” All grace of outline, all wealth of color, are gathered there. Tropical splendor and heavenly purity kiss each other, and the angels of God can almost be seen ascending and descending.

So gazing with thankful and reverent hearts, we remember that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, whose light is like unto a stone most precious, for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

So, when the west winds come laden with fragrance from the prairies, and the cold winds blow down from the north, bearing us healing and strength, we will gird up our loins anew to the work of the Lord of light, contented to rest and stand in our lot at the end of the days.

(1863)

MLA Citation

Hamilton, Gail. “Dog-days.” 1863. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 11 Apr 2007. 25 Mar 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/hamilton/dogdays/>.

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