Tag Archive | Washington

… the Dog Days of Summer

Dog Days and Cat Nights

August 14, 2018

beagle with fanWhen the heat arrives in July and August each year inevitably someone comments that it is the “Dog Days” of summer. What, exactly, are Dog Days?

It’s actually in reference to the star Sirius which, ancients believed, contributed to the excessive heat beginning in mid-July. Although you can see Sirius – it is the star which is nearest to our solar system – throughout the year, it is in summer when it rises in conjunction with the sun each morning. It is this phenomenon which prompted the term Dog Days. There is some debate as to when Dog Days occur and it depends on who you ask.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Various computations of the dog days have placed their start anywhere from 3 July to 15 August and lasting for anywhere from 30 to 61 days. They may begin or end with the cosmical or heliacal rising of either Sirius in Canis Majoror Procyon (the “Little Dog Star”) in Canis Minor and vary by latitude, not even being visible throughout much of the Southern Hemisphere. Sirius observes a period of almost exactly 365¼ days between risings, keeping it largely consistent with the Julian but not the Gregorian calendar; nonetheless, its dates occur somewhat later in the year over a span of millennia.

In antiquity, the dog days were usually reckoned from the appearance of Siriusaround 19 July (Julian) to relieving rains and cool winds, although Hesiod seems to have counted the worst of summer as the days leading up to Sirius’s reappearance.

In Anglo-Saxon England, the dog days ran from various dates in mid-July to early or mid-September. Canonical “dog daies” were observed from July 7 to September 5 in the 16th-century English liturgies. They were removed from the prayer books at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and their term shortened to the time between July 19 and August 20. During the British adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, they were shifted to July 30 to September 7.

Many modern sources in the English-speaking world move this still earlier, from July 3 to August 11, ending rather than beginning with or centering on the reappearance of Sirius to the night sky.”

The star Sirius is the brightest star in our skies as it is a mere 8.7 light years from Earth. It is best observed in the winter as it is seen quite near the very recognizable constellation Orion. Orion dominates the night sky, appearing on the southern horizon. Sirius can be seen just below and to the left of Orion’s ‘belt’.f0895f14aed5a68fee572ee10326772f--orions-belt-sirius

Dog Days are not exclusive to the American experience, however, and on August 16th each year, it is celebrated as follows:

“It is possible that the Roch, the legendary medieval patron saint of dogs celebrated by the Catholic Church on 16 August, owes some of his legacy to the dog days. From the period of his self-proclaimed protectorate over the island, the Danish adventurer Jørgen Jürgensen is remembered in Iceland as Jorgen the Dog-Day King (Icelandic: Jörundur hundadagakonungur).”

I would be remiss if I didn’t also share the legend of Cat Nights. I had never heard of such a celebration until researching for this post. But according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, they are described thusly:

The term ‘Cat Nights’ harks back to a rather obscure old Irish legend concerning witches and the belief that a witch could turn herself into a cat eight times, but on the ninth time (August 17), she couldn’t regain her human form. This bit of folklore also gives us the saying, ‘A cat has nine lives.’ Because August is a yowly time for cats, this may have prompted the speculation about witches on the prowl in the first place.”kliban cats walking dogs

But back to Dog Days. One of my earliest memories is of the very first summer after my family moved to Yakima… must have been late July or August 1962. My mother was insistent that we ‘younger’ children (I turned 5 in 1962) go to bed at 8 p.m. It did not matter that it was still light outside. We went to bed regardless. In the northern hemisphere the sun does not set until well after 9 p.m. that time of year and in Yakima it was closer to 10. We went to bed regardless. And it did not matter that it was uncomfortably hot. We went to bed regardless. It was a few years later when we got air conditioning which finally made the hottest of days bearable.

I vividly recall lying in my bed – which was under a window – and watching the lightweight cotton curtains billowing in the hot wind. Just outside my window I can hear children laughing and playing outside.  I thought it was terribly unfair that I had to be in bed, unable to sleep, while the rest of the neighborhood was having fun in our backyard.

I moved away from Yakima in great part to avoid the excessive heat which arrived in mid-July each year and often remained until late August or early September.

Ironically, these past nine years I have found myself back in my hometown to help with my dad (who is now 95).

20180810_082117This year and last – as his body fat has diminished – he has a much more difficult time managing his internal temp. He’s frequently cold, even on the very hottest of summer days, and a battle rages over whether the thermostat is set to cooling or heating! Frequently the furnace is running and the indoor temperature is close to 80 degrees. Either my brother (who lives with my dad) or I will switch it to AC only to have dad turn on the furnace. He does this even if the outdoor temp is over 100 degrees. The picture to the left is one I took a few days ago in Yakima, right after switching the thermostat back to cool.

On a recent trip I was lying in bed, trying to go to sleep, and harkened back to 1962… and just like then it was hot and difficult to get comfortable. Of course the reason was because my dad had turned the furnace on!

A couple of links about Dog Days and Cat Nights:



Glacier Peak, Washington

June 12, 2018

The Volcano That Get’s No Respect

One night – a month ago in early May – the news that Kilauea volcano in Hawaii had erupted dominated the news. Reports on the lava flows and subsequent explosive discharges provided our TV stations in Western Washington an opportunity to remind all of us that there are five active volcanoes in the state.seattle with glacier peak

“Five?” I exclaimed to my hubby as we sat in the living room of our new Mount Vernon, Washington, condo. “I dispute that there are five ACTIVE volcanoes here!”

Of course such a claim sent me straight to the internet.

I knew of the two obvious active ones: Mt. St. Helen’s and Mt. Baker as both had activity in the past 40 years. And you can hardly read anything about Mt. Rainier without being reminded that although it is dormant it’s not dead and ‘could’ erupt this week or not for a thousand years.

Which left ‘two’ unaccounted for volcanos. The first one was easy: Mt. Adams. I grew up seeing Mt. Adams on most days from Yakima. But it has always been my understanding that it is not in any danger of eruption as it truly is a long dormant mountain.

So what was the last volcano? In addition to Washington’s four mountains, there were Mt. Hood in Oregon as well as the Three Sisters and then two in California, Shasta and Lassen Peak.

I was, frankly, a veritable volcano snob, having not only lived through the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s but also growing up with the volcanic mountains so much a part of the experience. I know my mountains! But the gauntlet had been thrown down and I set out to disprove the report. There was not, I was certain, a ‘fifth’ Washington state volcano.

Imagine my dismay when, according to the infallible Wikipedia (as well as the US Geologic Survey), the benign sounding Glacier Peak turned out to be the missing volcano.

Glacier Peak!? I’d heard of it but the name alone reinforces visions of cold and ice. A volcano? It’s a volcano?

dakobedIndeed it is. At 10,541 feet it is the fourth tallest peak in the state and is located a scant 50 miles southeast from where I now live and only 70 miles northeast of Seattle.

And, like Volcan de Fuego in Guatamala and our other four peaks, it is a stratovolcano, the kind of volcano which can erupt violently.

From the infallible Wikipedia:

“Of the five major volcanoes in Washington, only Glacier Peak and Mount St. Helens have had large eruptions in the past 15,000 years. Since both volcanoes generate magma of dacitic origin, the viscous magma builds up since it cannot flow through the eruptive vent. Gradually, the pressure grows, culminating in an explosion that ejects materials such as tephra, which in its simplest form, is ash.

Tephrochronology and radiocarbon dating indicate that Glacier Peak eruptions occurred in 1700 AD ± 100 years, 1300 AD ± 300 years, 900 AD ± 50 years, 200 AD ± 50 years, 850 BC, 3150 BC, and in 3550 BC. The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) for three of these was 2 to 4, small compared to the 5 of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. They were characterized mainly by a central vent eruption, followed by an explosive eruption. These eruptions varied in outcome; some produced lahars, some pyroclastic flows, and others lava domes.

A little more than 13,000 years ago, a sequence of nine tephra eruptions occurred within a period of less than a few hundred years. Associated with these eruptions were pyroclastic flows. Mixed with snow, ice and water, these formed lahars that raced into three nearby rivers, filling their valleys with deep deposits. Subsequently the mudflows drained into both the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River (at that time an outlet of the Sauk River) and Skagit Rivers. In Arlington, 60 miles downstream, lahars deposited seven feet of sediment. Subsequent erosion of lahar deposits near Darrington led to the current river system with the Stillaguamish River separated from the Sauk/Skagit Rivers. Lahar debris was deposited along both the Skagit and Stillaguamish Rivers all the way to Puget Sound. A small portion of the erupted tephra was deposited locally. However, most of the tephra reached higher levels of the atmosphere, and was transported by the wind hundreds of miles. Deposits from this congregation were as thick as 1 foot near Chelan and 0.3 inches near Missoula, Montana.

Since these events, Glacier Peak has produced several lahars. The largest events were 5,900 and 1,800 years ago and were associated with dome-building eruptions. In both cases, the lahars traveled down the Skagit River to Puget Sound.”

It was actually this last sentence which most caught my attention… I repeat:

In both cases, the lahars traveled down the Skagit River to Puget Sound.

Let’s see… where does the Skagit River flow before arriving at Puget Sound? Oh yes, I know, Mount Vernon.

lahar flows glacier peakArmed with this revelation about Washington’s mostly unknown volcano, my hubby will attest to the fact that I’ve become obsessed. In my weekly or more drives up and down Interstate 5 I have found myself, on clear days, scanning the mountains to the east. Which one is Glacier Peak? And, more importantly, how is it I never knew which one it was and that it’s a volcano?

I’ve come to believe that Glacier Peak is like the Rodney Dangerfield of volcanoes. It just doesn’t get any respect. There are no roads which will take you to its base. There’s no park, no visitor centers, no campgrounds. And every single day hundreds of thousands of people drive within less than a hundred miles of it, oblivious to its existence.

As an experiment I’ve started asking people two questions: first if they had ever heard of Glacier Peak and, second, that it’s a volcano. Consistently, the answer is no.

I’m now on a one-woman crusade to help Glacier Peak get that respect. It’s the least I can do for the volcano in my backyard.

Washington_State_volcanoesAs always, links to a couple of Infallible Wikipedia articles, USGS, and – for those of you under the age of 50 – Rodney Dangerfield. Gotta have those cultural references.




https://youtu.be/Z_OuflwjeiY (Rodney Dangerfield YouTube clip)