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Welcoming the Dog Days of summer

One of the nicest pleasures in the summer is to sit on the porch swing in the early morning coolness and watch the day unfold. The sun has yet to peep out over Pilot Knob, and mist covers the deep hollows on the mountain. The songbirds are tuning up for the day, enticing the sun to come on up and bless our day.

The cows venture out of the barn and begin to crop the sweet grass in the meadow. In the chicken house, the laying hens are beginning to stir and quibble among themselves. It is a peaceful, contented scene, and it calms the spirit to sit and rock while enjoying a cup of tea. Our world has not fully awakened, and quietness spreads over the landscape like a blanket.

Soon the silence will be broken by the busyness of the day -- but right now, it is a blessed respite from the cares of life. The chores will begin; Minnie and Sparky will follow Criss to the barn and chicken house, pausing briefly to bark at the squirrel feeders hanging on the tree. Sparky's consuming desire is to catch a bird; he tries to creep up on a robin that is intent on catching a worm. At the last minute the robin takes flight and the dog chases it through the air, barking furiously.

We have a family of catbirds in the mulberry tree, and they love to steal the cat food. They swoop across the porch, light on the cat's bowl, and fly away with a dry morsel in their beak. I suppose they are feeding their young ones. Catbirds are a delight -- they mimic other birds and many other sounds. They are welcome to the cat food.

Dog days made their simmering way into our hills on the third of July. Lasting for 40 days, they will end on August 11. During this time, humid air, mold and mildew and clogged salt shakers will be rampant. Dog days derived their name from the dog star, Sirius, which rises and sets with the sun during this period. It is the hottest part of the summer. An old country preacher once stated, "The Lord can keep you through dog days and fly time!"

It may just be an old wives tale, but it is believed widely that if dog days set in dry, it will be dry for 40 days. Likewise, if they sets in wet; it will rain for 40 days. Whether this is true or not, it did rain on the first day, and it has rained every day since. It was once believed that dogs go "mad" during this period, but that possibly came from the fact that dogs salivate more during this hot period.

I have heard also that snakes are blind during this time, and there is a grain of truth in that. When snakes shed their skins, there is a milky change in their eyes, and their eyesight is temporarily impaired. Snakes grow more in warm weather, thus shedding their skins more often. I do know snakes are more numerous during this time.

We were never troubled much with poisonous snakes until Interstate 79 was being built at Amma. Evidently, the blasting disturbed the copperheads, and they began showing up in our area. I know there is a theory of "live and let live," but I don't want them living along the creek bank and fields here where our grandchildren play.

I suppose there have always been poisonous snakes back on the hills, and in isolated spots. When Andy was just a kid, he was scouting around in Hick's Holler. Looking down, he saw a copperhead coiled up at his feet getting ready to strike. He looked around for a stick, and saw another one on the other side of him. Fear lent wings to his feet, and he made it home in record time. He decided they could claim Hick's Holler.

Daddy kept a big blacksnake up at the barn for years. He said it cut down on the rat population (which most small farms have a problem with), and it grew nice and fat. He forbade anyone to kill it. I reckon it died of old age. Criss has no such qualms. He has always been paranoid about snakes. After he had bypass surgery, he suffered for nights from snaky nightmares. One night, he grabbed me in a death grip, muttering something about snakes. He said afterward that snakes were coming up through our mattress!

Mom had a morbid fear of snakes, which wasn't helped by an experience she once had when we were camping at William's River. There were no toilets there at that time, and as we camped in a tent, we had no bathroom. We were taught that when we had to "go" out in the woods, to dig a hole and then cover it up. Mom had on a pair of bib overalls, and just as she adjusted them and started to squat down, she saw a big rattlesnake almost under her.

We heard her come crashing through the underbrush and briers, trying to run and hold up her overalls at the same time. She was brier-scratched and bloody but safe. She referred to her wounds proudly as "her snake bite!"

Criss and my brother Larry were picking blackberries (they were camping) up on Gauley, and Criss remarked, "This looks like a snaky place!" Larry scoffed and replied, "Why, I've been picking berries here for 30 years and never saw a snake." "You better look behind you," Criss said softly. Sure enough, there was a huge rattlesnake stretched out behind him. Criss quickly dispatched it, skinned it, and brought home 3 ½ pounds of meat.

Matthew and his buddy Larry claimed the meat, which they grilled and pronounced "delicious!" Criss and I wouldn't touch it; then Matthew went a little too far. His daughter, Rachel, was just a baby, and he attempted to feed her some. Criss went livid, and threatened to give him a whipping. "The Lord cursed the snake," he shouted. "It's not meant for us to eat it!"

Genesis 3-14 does say this, "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Verse 15-"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."

 I think I will pass on the rattlesnake meat.

Contact Alyce Faye Bragg at alycefaye@citlink.net or write to 2556 Summers Fork Road, Ovapa, WV 25164.


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