Meaning Mondays: August!

In summer, the song sings itself.

~William Carlos Williams

Ahhhh, August. That time of year, in my neck of the woods, when the thermometer has been known to hit the century mark.

The last full month of summer. Also known as the dog days.

By the way, I sure like that phrase: dog days of summer. It makes me smile as I consider the inimitable wisdom of dogs, who know that one of the best places to spend the month of August is tucked away in the shade of a porch.

I know, I know. The dog days of summer actually refers to an ancient belief that it was Sirius, the dog star, bringing all those sweltering summer temperatures. And I like that notion too, because it reminds me that August is a dandy month not only for star-gazing, but meteor watching too.

In fact, for the past few years, each time August 12th (give or take) has rolled around, I’ve faithfully pulled my lawn chair up to the darkening night sky. And the wee small hours have found me ooh-ing and ah-ing over the sparkling Perseid meteor showers lighting up the world. All those streaking, trailing flashes. What better time to wish upon a star?

It’s a lovely ritual.

But I wasn’t always so sanguine about August. Yes indeed, I used to battle my way through it, kicking and screaming. Because, you see, I’m not by nature a hot weather person. I grew up near San Francisco, and I’ve never been able to fully reset my internal thermostat.

But somewhere along the way, I gave in. And stopped resisting, when I finally realized that I could call upon the magic of ritual to help me through.

In her book, The Joy of Ritual, Barbara Bizou explains that rituals, “Ease us through transition, and…bring structure and stability to our lives.” And the wonderful thing is they’re not just for life’s large transitions, like retirement or marriage or a new baby. No, they can cast their spell over even the most minor turning points, like a summer that seems to drone on for far too long.

So now, not only do I greet my annual August date with the Perseids with enthusiasm, but I’ve got a bumper crop of other rituals to delight me as well:

  • Eating tomatoes from the farmer’s market, layered with fresh-picked basil
  • Catching up on reading fiction (Annie Dillard’s on my list this year)
  • Sprawling and occasional napping outside on the daybed
  • Puttering through the garden every single morning
  • Playing with collage and process painting
  • Writing at the table that sits in the always reliable shade of the birch trees
  • Walking in the moonlight, after the delta breezes sweep away the heat of the day
  • Escaping for a week, to the cool and welcome embrace of the Coast’s billowing fog bank

Of course, I’ll be working this month too. Just enough. (I certainly won’t overdo it.) And each time I look up at the skylight in my office, spilling its sunbeams down into the room, I’ll remember that the sweet breath of August has got my back.

How about you?

Got any August rituals that you cherish?

And how have rituals helped you through challenging times?




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28 thoughts on “Meaning Mondays: August!

  1. Patty — I loved that you brought up the Perseids in this post. I recently read a book that talked about this August event in the sky and now, I’m looking forward to watching for it.

    I wish I could be at the beach where the night sky doesn’t seem to end, but I’ll do what you do and pull up a lawn chair and hope that the sky stays clear.

    Where I live, August is an “inside” month. The heat index today is at 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of my August activities, therefore, are inside.

    Things I love include eating fresh Cantaloupe, reading books (BTW Try “The Lace Reader”, watching my cat sleep, being thrilled and scared by our frequent evening thunderstorms, and the way the evening sky can sometimes create a rose color that is amazing. It happens more often in late summer:~)

    Thanks for this post. It’s relaxing:~)

    • Whew, sharp intake of breath on my part after noting that heat index. Personally I couldn’t live without A/C, not in this climate, and I so understand the need to escape indoors. So your comment just proves that you can create those August rituals inside or out. I love your list. And I’d love to be sitting next to you watching that beautiful rose colored sky, Sara. Thanks for that image.

  2. August is almost bittersweet for me. There is much to enjoy and appreciate: fresh tomatoes from the garden, the heat (in Minnesota we’ll take all we can get), days at the pool and evenings drinking a cold beer in the backyard. But there is also the sadness of the end of summer that adds a quiet sadness to these 4 short weeks.

    Our August ritual is going to the Minnesota State Fair, one of the biggest in the nation – a family-friendly festival with lots of entertainment and delicious food.

    And lots of fiction reading too! I’m finally getting into the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series.

    • You know I love that about you, Eva, your understanding of the bitter and the sweet. And how they merge to transform into something unique and beautiful. Thanks for the lovely comment. I spent one summer in Madison Wisconsin about 20 years ago, so I have the tiniest sense of what you’re talking about.

  3. Hmmm, August rituals. Let’s see…

    Nope, not a one, except to avoid the piercing westerly winds that we always get at this time of year. They slice through anything, leaving one chilled to the bone. Not nice! 😛

    If I could make staying in out of the cold so as to play videogames a legitimate ritual, then I would. However, Cass has yet to be convinced of its merits. I’ll keep trying! 😉

    • Smart one, that Cass! And I hoped one of my friends from the other side of the world would point out that the dog days are not in force everywhere. You did it with aplomb, Tony. And got me laughing to boot. Thanks for that!

  4. Well, you know SF, so, no dog days here 🙂 But I’ve paid attention to rituals (creating and observing them) more since having a child. This month, we’ll likely have one more picnic (somewhere warm), catch a festival in some quaint little town with lots of nice locals, squeeze in every last bit of play time in the water for the boy, book some easy hanging out time with friends before hunkering down for back-to-school.

    I have never heard of Perseids. Thanks for the tip!

    • Oh, Belinda, don’t make me jealous. I never understood why people have problems with SF in summer. I mean, what was the deal with Mark Twain? Your list of rituals is delightful. I’d sign up for all of them. Thanks!

  5. Dear sweet Patty, Your writing is so beautiful. There is something very wholesome about it, or familiar, like going home, or back to the summers of my youth. I don’t really have the best words for it. I related to so much of this, many of the things I do myself. It’s been so hot here in New Mexico that my husband and I have been going for our walks after it goes dark. And it has been MAGICAL. Although we live in a small city or large town, Santa Fe, there is still a lot of light pollution, but when we walk after dark, the traffic has died down quite a bit and if we walk over in this area that has fewer lights we can see the “some” of the stars. Even seeing those few stars makes my whole walk wondrous. I feel grand and connected to something so vast and mythical. We both come home more peaceful, feeling more complete. It is wonderful. Huge hugs to you dear Patty. Robin

    • Oh that’s lovely, Robin. Both your sweet response to the writing and your story of your evening walks. We’re sharing a similar experience, although we’re miles away and have never met. Looking up at those same stars. I’ve always liked the thought of that, and now I’m thinking of you and Sara and Belinda and me, all looking at those stars, and who knows, maybe even a few flashing meteors? Thanks so much for leaving me with that image.

  6. Hi Patty! August is a mixed bag for me. I love it – especially here at the lake where I’m usually 10 degrees cooler than if I was down in the Chicago area. But it’s kind of sad too, cuz we typically take the boat out at the end of the month. That said, I spend more time just sittin at the dock savoring the time I have left.

    Rituals? Too many to list. I think they are the habitual magic ditties that make life so sweet. Back in the day I wrote for a newspaper I tried collecting people’s rituals for an article I was working on and to my utter dismay and disappointment I couldn’t find people that HAD any! There are a few great books on rituals so I wrote about some of those – it wasn’t what I’d hoped to write about though.


    • Hi suZen – I had a feeling you’d have a boatload of rituals. They are so important, and lately I’ve been thinking in new ways about how powerful they are. Like how they’ve helped me shift this perception I had about August in Sacramento. That’s a big shift. Yet when I discuss rituals with my clients, they rarely make time for them. I like how you call them “magic ditties.” Enjoy your last sweet and sad month at the lake, and many hugs to you.

  7. Your writing is indeed very wholesome and evocative.

    I’m in new place, new job–so discovering Atlanta, no rituals yet, just avoiding the blistery heat of the last few days.

    • Why thank you, K. Staying cool sounds like the very best thing to do right now, and there’s plenty of time later to create those rituals, right?

  8. Patty!
    Oh my, I’m so late to this post. Sorry for the delay!

    I adore your prose, and I know I keep mentioning this, but I hope someday to read a larger work by you (just sayin’). 😉

    There are so many great points in this post, Patty. I love that you have found comfort in ritual. I don’t have many rituals, but your narrative about Perseids was beautiful.

    I also am constantly amazed about how one’s upbringing can define how they feel about the seasons. I love hot, dry weather and grew up in very hot summers with 20% humidity, then ice cold winters. So, to me, SF is unkind. I feel the fog seeps into my bones and I get no relief. I need dry and SUN and I get sopping wet and grey.

    But, like you I’ve learned how to become friends with weather I don’t much like. Good for you, Patty (and me). Keep up the great writing here.

    • Hi Lori – Oh, thank you! And not to worry, you can never be late in my world. Well, OK, my little slice of blogging landscape, that is. And yeah, I agree that so much of it is about upbringing. It’s fascinating, like some internal thermostat gets set and can’t be messed with much. Hey, you’re a scientist, care to make a guess on what that’s about? I do so feel for you, though, and I know SF must feel brutal. I’m thinking you would like Sacramento, though, although this summer has been very mild. xox

  9. August has long been my least favorite month of the year. I am not a hot weather gal, oftentimes everything is turning brown and dry, there are no holidays in August, and I basically usually just can’t wait for it to get the heck gone. Give me May and October, please.

    This year, though, while I am still not a fan of the eighth month, I’m doing a little better with her. I’m not sure why.

    • Yes, Shay, I will join you in singing a little ditty to May and October. Quite possibly they are the loveliest of months. Thanks!

  10. Patty –

    The dog days indeed. We’ve had an amazingly dry and warm summer in the uk and I think everyone is already feeling pretty wilted by the heat. As a kid I loved August – summer holidays, best weather of the year, playing in the paddling pool, eating fresh strawberries from the garden. Now I like that it is a slower part of the year’s ryhthm when people actually put some time into being with family, getting away from it all and slowing down. Personally I’m also loving my first ever batch of fresh tomatoes and courgettes – yum. Enjoy your rituals!


    • Hi Phil – I love that about August, too. Kind of like someone gave us all permission slips to slow down and take it easy, no matter the weather. Your rituals sound wonderful, and my mouth is watering as I read about your garden’s bounty. So you enjoy too, my friend!

  11. Patti,
    Summer sounds Divine in your yard. I wish we were neighbors. I’d help you eat your tomatoes and pull my chair next to yours. We could talk about writing and blogs and love the August away.

    • OK! Your little word picture got me going, and I’m ready to head outside to meet you right now Tess. No need to knock when you arrive, just come straight on back to the garden.

  12. Sigh… “Writing at the table that sits in the always reliable shade of the birch trees” That sounds perfect, Patty. And so do the tomatoes with basil. I love the smell of basil.

    My rituals? I can’t think of any specific to August. I continue enjoying the green trees and the sound of the wind, the sound of the rain; especially a morning where I’ve chosen to sleep in. Making pancakes and bacon on a rainy Sunday… like today 🙂

    • You know how we say we’re going to do things but don’t always do them? Well, today I did just those things you pulled out of my post: wrote under the birches, and ate tomatoes with basil. Are you psychic? You’ve made my day by helping me relive those moments. And you know, pancakes and bacon on a rainy Sunday are good too! Thanks, Davina!

  13. August rituals..
    …the month begins with the local fair– fair food, games, rides–my children and I attend every year
    ..the month ends with the beginning of a new school year for the children–new clothes, school supplies, schedules.. between those two events we try to participate in beach days, BBQ’s by the pool, stargazing at night, sleeping in when possible.

    Your story brings to mind when I first moved onto the boat as a liveaboard, I would resist the rains. Previously I loved rain, but the first year on the boat, I wasn’t used to the rain soaking everything, to the leaks that would make staying dry almost impossible, to the dampness that lasted throughout the day…I began to not like rain. The second year, I didn’t want circumstances to change my loves so I decided to embrace rain on the host rainy day potlucks at the clubhouse which is cozy and warm, to sit in the cockpit under the canvas and watch the rain throughout my harbor…It is my choice to embrace the good and allow it to grow, and it is my perspective that guides my enjoyment of that good:)

    • August sounds purely delightful in your neck of the woods, Joy. And I like your story about the rain a lot. I’ve got an image of you watching the rain under the canvas, and I can almost hear the sound it makes. Sounds like embracing the rain added to your life immensely. Thanks for stopping by and sharing that.

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