Dog days of summer

Up in the trees, the male cicadas seem to relish the increasing summer heat this time of year and quickly contract and relax their internal timbal muscles causing their timbals to emit a sustained, resonating clicking sound that attracts female cicadas.  Most cicadas have a life-cycle of two to five years, but some, such as the Magicicada, have a 17-year cycle and, with a combination of a long-life cycle and periodicity, are sometimes called 17-year cicadas.  Cicadas live underground most of their lives, but eventually tunnel to the surface and molt (see one shedding its skin here).  The Golden Cicada in the Chinese classic, Journey to the West, illustrates the belief that transformations in life can lead to enlightenment and immortality.dsc_0010-cereus-vertical-night-sky.jpgSo we are now in the dog days of summer, the hottest, most sultry days of summer, usually between early July and early September.  The ancient Romans called these days Caniculares dies (days of the dogs) after the “Dog Star”, Sirius, which is in the constellation Canis Major and is the brightest star in the sky besides our Sun.  The ancient Romans noticed that in their summers Sirius rose just before or at the same time as the sun and they thought that their combined heat caused this stretch of hot, humid weather.  The ancient Egyptians noted the peak of their seasonal flooding of the Nile River occurred after the heliacal rising of Sirius, which became their “watchdog” for this event. Some people believe that this is an evil time when dogs become mad and men hysterical.  Politics fray and town hall meetings become raucous.  This is the season when hurricanes churn, wildfires rage, dragonflies swarm, and spiders grow and proliferate.  Others see it as a time when dogs lie lazily about and ants accelerate their march in search of food and water.Indeed, while I was researching this and more on my MacBook Pro laptop computer, I noticed an Argentine ant walking across the beach scene of my computer’s wallpaper. (See CNN News article, “Are ant invaders taking over San Diego?“)  While unsuccessfully brushing it off with my hand, I noticed that this ant was actually inside my computer’s display panel.  I tried to ignore its random explorations back and forth on the beach in hopes that it would just find its way out for some water, food or fresh air.  But when it became apparent that the ant preferred to stay on my beach, I became concerned that it would eventually die there, and become an eyesore and a permanent distraction.dsc_0125-ant-on-dock-macbook-pro.jpgI then noticed that the ant became very interested in my computer’s cursor (in the form of an arrow) which I moved about with the computer’s mouse.  The ant must have thought that the image of the cursor arrow looked like another ant and when I brought the arrow near the ant it followed the cursor as if it were following a brother ant and I was able to use my mouse to lead this ant safely off the beach onto my dock where I put my finger down on the subject.  Better to stabilize it on the dock at the bottom of the screen than risk having it litter the beach, I thought. Everyone was amused during my next Apple one-to-one session and they suggested that I show it to the Apple Genius Bar.  They laughed and took pictures of it with their iPod camera and, to head off any long-term consequences of an ant deteriorating in the computer, they authorized a replacement of the display panel under warranty (Apple lived up to its great customer service!)Most of my dog days of summer, however, were spent as the third alternate juror in a gang-related murder case.  I was never actually called upon to deliberate the defender’s fate, but I did find the case fascinating and probably equivalent to a Gangs 101 college level course.  I learned what criminal gangs do (criminal acts), how they recruit (give marijuana-laced cigars [“blunts“] to young teenagers), and how gang members increase their gang-standing (commit more criminal acts).  I learned about gang culture, clothing, colors, symbols, tattoos, graffiti, hand signs, and music (Gangsta rap).I learned how police fight gang-related crime (document gang members using field interview reports, arrest gang members, interview witnesses, and collect and process evidence).  Forensic evidence, such as DNA, GSR (gunshot residue), fingerprints, and ballistics, is playing an increasingly important role in criminal justice.  A career in forensic science offers an exciting combination of science and law studies.  Forensic science is now playing a major role in helping jurors decide on a guilty-beyond-reasonable-doubt verdict or a not guilty verdict.  The Deputy District Attorney (see him prepare and present another San Diego case) instructed us jurors about the felony-murder theory (besides the actual perpetrator, all conspirators present in aiding and abetting a murder may be prosecuted for mu
rder).The trial ended earlier this month and the defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder. It was delayed by another prisoner in the county jail contracting Swine Flu, which resulted in a 10-day medical lockdown of prisoners (who could then not meet with their lawyers or attend court).  (As of August 12, 2009, there have been 1,005 confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in San Diego County, including 16 deaths.)  During the many trial breaks, I was able to finish one of the books, True at First Light, written by Ernest Hemingway when he returned from Kenya in 1953, seen on our patio table in my “Stepping into summer” article.The Nightblooming cereus seen above and below were blooming on a full moon night earlier this summer.dsc_0012-nightblooming-cereus.jpgRecent cool breezes in San Diego have made these dog days of summer more tolerable, at least for the moment.  So now that my ant problem has been resolved and the jury case concluded, things are looking up…dsc_0220-bird-of-paradise.jpgand I can relax and listen to “Dog Gone Day’s 2009” music, while contemplating our next Airstream trip.


  1. insightout says

    Your disposition of the ant invader, somewhere between the garage band and MS/Word on the dock, was clever. Better that, than GSR on the screen. Any theory from Apple on how the ant secured unauthorized entry to the display screen interior?

    Just when you thought that your ID and password provide comfort, safety against virus….. is nothing sacred when an insect can penetrate a sophisticated firewall ?

    I’m forwarding your blog to my next door neighbor here in the remote eastern U.P. of MI, Graham Mackintosh, novelist and resident of San Diego. He travels 2500 miles to escape your dog days of summer with his two dogs, Pili and Pedro. He and his wife, Bonni (a recovery room RN), are both ardent naturalists and sure to enjoy your observations.

    Not taking any chances, I’m headed now for the Ace Hardware to buy a can of Raid and a generous supply of Terro ant traps.

  2. Bill D. says

    Very astute of you, good Dr. C, to notice the location of my disposition of the ant invader. It was a momentary dilemma and decisions had to be made quickly.

    As I enticed the ant over the last heap of kelp on the beach I knew that the ant wouldn’t linger in GarageBand long enough for me to put my finger down on it and it might not die of boredom in Solitaire XL next door. I considered containing it in one of the nearby Spaces or grinding it with the gears of System Preferences. I then remembered the power of (Microsoft) Word, being mightier than the sword, and let its weight and my finger bear down upon it and rested my case.

    The moral of this story is to carefully examine any nearby vase of cut flowers for ants as you blissfully surf the net. It seems one ant might have gained unauthorized entry through one of slots on either side of the iSight camera.

    Thank you for sharing my observations with novelist and naturalist Graham Mackintosh, who it seems is also our neighbor just down the road when he is not at your northern retreat or exploring Baja California:

    BTW, don’t forget to get some extra ant traps for your Avion.

  3. Graham says


    Can’t say I know Bill… but I related to many of his SD musings. A good read.

    Pedro and Pili appreciated their new fame. I took them out towards the beach for the final bathroom break around midnight last night and found myself saying… Wow! The Milky Way and all the constellations in amazing clarity. Just like a clear night in the desert or mountains. It was perhaps more stunning because with all the rain we’ve been having I expected it to be cloudy. Sirius was long gone with the sun, but Pedro and Pili were reveling in their dog days.
    The guys have just returned from walking me to St. Vital’s Point. The surf was so high and loud we surprised a fox down by the water and Pili had to run it down just to throw her wet weight around. Luckily at my urgent shouting she didn’t follow it into the trees and brush. The other day she had a bat cornered… and then there was the rabbit! I’m just waiting for her to bring home a skunk or porcupine.

    I don’t think cicadas are going to entertain them as much as all the fascinating UP wildlife.

    Here’s a photo of Pili doing her butterfly-chasing dance. Your dog Jack would be impressed.


  4. says

    The cicadas are so very loud here that usually when I go inside, I have a bit of ringing in my ears from the sudden lack of noise. It’s always an annoying thing, say if I’m trying to have a conversation with someone sitting RIGHT next to me…but, I know it’s necessary for their lives. So, I am OK. Deaf. But OK.

  5. Bill D. says

    Well, sadira, for the opening of this article I had to rely on my sense memory of the continuous chorus of mid-to-late summer cicadas up in the maple, oak, and ash trees surrounding our New Jersey home where I grew up.

    Although some say there are about 30 species of cicadas in San Diego County, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard the sound of cicadas around our home in San Diego, unless I cue it up on You Tube: