Getting Past the Dog Days

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The first day of autumn arrives on Sept. 22, just a dozen days from now. In East Texas, that doesn’t mean much, since temperatures still hover in the 90s and will continue to do so for days ahead, according to the weather app on my phone. The dog days linger, while we search for a sign – any sign – of a break in the heat. It does feel a bit cooler in the morning lately, perhaps a harbinger of autumn.

Our daughter Abbie for the second year decorated her apartment with fall-themed items in late August, in the vain hope this would spur up arrival of the actual season. It hasn’t worked yet, but there is no harm in trying.

I have dubbed this the Summer of Sweat, since I have spent far more time outside – mowing, bushhogging, box-blading, working out in the shop with its broken AC (low on the list to replace). Our move to the country was a study in perspiration. But at least I lost 5 pounds in the process.

Last weekend, beginning on Friday afternoon after leaving the library at noon, I hauled two truckloads of cedar mulch to the house, shoveled it into the tractor bucket, and spread it around the rose bushes that surround the house. The sun beat down unmercifully, and I soon was sopping wet. The next morning, I resumed the torture, followed by a few hours of bushhogging. On Sunday, I mowed with the zero-turn mower. By Sunday afternoon, I was feeling a bit light-headed after spending most of the past three days outside in the heat.

“You need to take a break,” my Beautiful Mystery Companion observed, remarking that my eyes looked a bit glazed. I took her advice, showered and spent the rest of the day inside the air-conditioning, finishing Billy Summers, the latest by Stephen King (highly recommend it) and starting Another Kind of Eden by James Lee Burke, whom I consider one of America’s finest novelists.


I used to despise and avoid summer, but that meant months inside. So now I grudgingly endure it. By early September, I’m anxiously checking the weather app, looking for a string of days when the temps barely break 80. I’m not asking for much.

We moved to East Texas from New Hampshire in the summer of 1968, arriving on the second day of summer. My grandfather was a professional Boy Scout in Longview, and immediately enrolled me in the vaunted Troop 201, led by legendary Scoutmaster V.G. Rollins. A few weeks after joining the troop, one of whose members is our current governor, the troop went on a 50-mile hike, from Longview to Uncertain, on Caddo Lake. I had never been in this type of heat. On the third day, I fell out from heatstroke. My parents had to come fetch me, which was somewhat embarrassing, though I don’t recall anyone ribbing me about it, then or later.

In years since, I have wondered what my parents were thinking, sending a Yankee kid used to six months of snow on a 50-mile hike during his first East Texas summer. Sadly, they’re no longer around to ask.


Our ranch house on South Twelfth Street, when we moved in, had window units in the living room, my parents’ bedroom and little brother Gregg’s bedroom. He had just turned 4. Brother Scott and I shared a bedroom with an outside door. With attic fan going at night, I would nearly shut the door and pull in a humid breeze that dried the sweat as I tried to sleep. Scott would wise up and open the door wider, so he got some breeze. I would get up stealthily and reposition the door. This went on for several summers. After I moved out, my parents got central air.

On late afternoons, my buddies and I would walk down the asphalt street to the Bill’s convenience store to get a candy bar or an ice cream sandwich. I would marvel as the asphalt sunk below our feet.


At this stage in life, I try not to rush the days, to spend too much time looking ahead, to enjoy every sandwich, as Warren Zevon wrote. But I really would appreciate a break from this Summer of Sweat. Even if it means gaining those 5 pounds back.

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