Dog Days

What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance. ~Jane Austen

Note: I wrote this piece two summers ago, and while circumstances don’t find me quite as artistically drained as I was then, it’s still a good word to myself in a historically thirsty time of year. This August was plenished  in an unprecedented way by the creative immersion of Hutchmoot, the first-ever in-the-flesh Rabbit Room assemblage, and the wells are brimming with inspiration. But today I am just right heartily tired…

It happens every summer. Just about the time my squash plants begin to wither up and die, succumbing at last to the insidious squash vine borers that I’ve been fighting since early June, something begins to wither inside of me. I pull out my little sleeveless smocked-yoke dress which is the coolest thing I own, I crank the air conditioning down to an unlawful 74, and, thumbing my nose at the mosquitoes outside, I officially enter survival mode. And there I remain, digging in my heels as it were, until that magical day when I turn the calendar page to September and everything begins to freshen up inside of me again. (Don’t ask me why this is; September in Georgia can be hotter than August. But September is always the beginning of everything, you know, even things that go along the same way, day in and day out…)

Thus ends my yearly love affair with summer. In May I am up to my ears in roses and in June I am giddy over the long hours of daylight and the fireflies and all the pretty clothes the season affords, but by this time in the year I am done. My forays into the garden are furtive, covert affairs, wherein I delight in outwitting the bugs that are laying in wait for me. And my poor garden itself, alas! is under a dictum of ‘survival of the fittest’ which means, quite plainly, ‘those that don’t require water will survive’, a condition which will remain in effect until Labor Day when all those bedraggled things will get pulled up and replaced with cool season crops. Ah, the very thought is like a tonic!

All of the ‘barn babies’ seem to be of the same frame of mind. The goats and the sheep venture into the pasture in the early morning and the early evening, and much of the rest of the time, if you chanced to stop by, you’d likely find them hanging out with the dogs and the cats and the chickens in the cool shelter of the barn. (I wish you could have seen the gay procession out to pasture this morning: Puck and Pansy leading the way with long Nubian ears flying as they pranced, fleecy white lambs ambling daintily along the track they’ve already worn on their perfect little black hooves, the two Pyrs, Juno and Diana watchful on either side and black kittens scampering behind. I think if I’d let the chickens out of their run they’d have fallen in line, as well!)

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. -- Russel Baker

Caspian thinks that Dog Days mean that spoiled little indoor doggies get to just flop around on the cool wooden floors all day and have occasional ice cream treats (any of you dog lovers heard of Frosty Paws?) and popsicles (don’t tell him they are only ice cubes) and that a day’s work can be summed up in giving the mad rooster a quick run for his money around the yard. Yes, even daily walks have fallen by the wayside, and won’t be resumed till…you guessed it: September.

But as much as I anticipate this yearly doldrums—as much as I even look forward to it in a way as a fallow pause between the bright industry of the spring and the jam-packed poignancy of the autumn—I am always surprised by one aspect of it. I make such high writing goals for these languid months, calculating on the long, quiet afternoons and self-imposed borders within which words will spring up like obedient little flowers in a well-watered garden. The trouble is, and I’ve seen it perhaps more this year than others, the garden isn’t well-watered at all. In fact, it’s quite miserably parched. It makes my vegetable plot outside look like a verdant pleasure ground. The wells of creativity that I’ve been counting on are dry from little rain and choked with the debris of rushing about and hurry and frantic ‘doing’. For, much as we would all like to convince ourselves otherwise, inspiration is not an effortless flash that seizes us in a frenzy of output: words or music upon paper, brush and oil upon canvas, a delicate arrangement of hues in a garden. It is the result of quiet commitment to a passion that life would be colorless without, a daily and disciplined reckoning with what is important to us and what God has put within us.

I stand corrected before Him this summer as I’ve sat hour after hour before a blank computer screen. Replenishing is a slow and often painful process and it absolutely cannot be forced, a concept so utterly foreign in this ‘hurry up and do it yesterday’ culture of ours. We don’t like to have to wait for anything, whether it’s a meal or a line in the grocery store or a word beneath our itching fingers, poised on a breath above a keyboard. But the fact of the matter is that writing, as any other creative expression, is a process that requires nurturing outside of that time seated at our desks. There is a gentle reproof for artists in the words: Neglect not the gift that is in thee…

And we are all artists, of course. Every single one of us has our unique abilities and our unique way of looking at life, which are gifts of the Almighty and not to be disdained. This life is where we see God, and we see Him in two ways: In the merciful and mighty acts of His own creation, whether it be a violet and crimson sunset or a bird’s wing painted to perfection or the tender miracle of incarnate Love which He pours into our hearts and upon our circumstances. And we see Him revealed in the creative acts of His people. We all have to give an account of what we do with our talents. Or if talent sounds too pretentious, our affinities, which are really just divine endowments often muffled under a blanket of reticence or timidity or fear of making a fool of ourselves. I don’t call myself a writer because I think I am a good writer but because I absolutely must write. Because the created longs to lift a tribute to the Creator.

But when you’re walking through the mud and mire of writer’s block—or any other artistic mire—it never hurts to know that there are others out there that have experienced the same thing and that it’s a normal part of the creative journey we’re all on. And if it helps anyone else to hear of some of the means I’ve discovered of coping and hopefully growing through these arid seasons, then I’d be only too happy to share them in a later post.

But for now I have a frittata to put in the oven—you see, I did dash out and gather some vegetables and herbs from the garden, and the hens provided the rest—and then it’s down to the barn to tuck the animals all into their stalls for the night. It’s my favorite time of the day, the sun going down at last in a softened haze of pale gold and the breath of relief in the (somewhat) cooling air a promise of the regeneration to come.

For it will always come. We have our Father’s word on it:

I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs…      ~Isaiah 41:18

originally published on YLCF

5 Responses to “Dog Days”

  1. Lisa says:

    I can relate! It is my habit to fall into idleness when the temperature rises above 90 degrees, not to mention 103!

  2. By August I am longing for cool weather just as snow in early spring is not welcome. I think there is an inner clock to those of us who live in four seasons.

    It can be 90 degrees on September 1st and I’m still pulling out my autumn plates and changing the summer red-white-blues on the porch to all things pumpkin. Then again, come the day after Thanksgiving, the Christmas boxes will all come out.

    I tend to be less creative in hot weather, that is my pondering season. :)

  3. Martina says:

    What a blessing for all of us that you feel you “must” write! Thank you for this beautiful piece.
    I was also planning to write as much as I want and can in those leisurely August days and keep up with the list of ideas for articles I made over the last weeks. But – as I write mainly about piano playing and teaching, I understand how much I need the inspiration of meeting my students daily and seeing the world through their eyes. It seems not to be enough to think of the subjects we talked about – I need the “real life”. So I will indulge in long reading hours on the porch, sipping iced coffee and being grateful that the temperatures here are lovely again!

  4. Jenny says:

    Things are undoubtedly a bit more pleasant here out West, but being a southerner by birth I know how downright unpleasant August can be. I am only in my early thirties, but I grew up without air conditioning and remember well those hot humid days and nights.

    A couple of weeks ago, I entered my own form of hibernation, much like your own. I was just “done” with summer! I’ve enjoyed keeping the shades down, lighting candles, and reorganizing/decluttering. Now that the mornings are cooler again, I can feel fall creeping in. The days will still be warm in September, but the nights and mornings will be so crisp, and best of all, we’re starting the school year off completely in order!

  5. Heather says:

    I find myself more than ready for fall by the time August arrives. The heat is simply exhausting, and seems to tax all energy right out of me! Perhaps I’ll be able to bide my time at the lake soon to ward off this heat!

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