Sunday, July 24, 2016

La Canicule

[ Outside the Beltway, USA , 24 juillet 2016]

Canicule vient du latin Canicula, qui signifie « chien », en liaison avec Sirius, étoile principale de la constellation du Grand Chien. Elle ne concerne donc à l'origine que la période annuelle du 24 juillet au 24 août, où cette étoile se couche et se lève en même temps que le Soleil3,4, ce qui avait laissé penser aux anciens qu'il existait un lien entre l'apparition de cette étoile et les grandes chaleurs. Ainsi Pline l'Ancien écrivait : « Quant à la Canicule, qui ignore que, se levant, elle allume l'ardeur du soleil ? Les effets de cet astre sont les plus puissants sur la terre : les mers bouillonnent à son lever, les vins fermentent dans les celliers, les eaux stagnantes s'agitent. Les Égyptiens donnent le nom d'oryx à un animal qui, disent-ils, se tient en face de cette étoile à son lever, fixe ses regards sur elle, et l'adore, pour ainsi dire, en éternuant. Les chiens aussi sont plus exposés à la rage  durant tout cet intervalle de temps ; cela n'est pas douteux5. »

[Figure at left:  Dr Justice, slowly going extinct]

At present, our area is suffering the worst heat-wave in years.   Where you are, possibly even worse.  (If you’re in Morocco, for sure.)

Blow *harder* ... !

I thought for a bit  before deciding on the title for this post -- something that would get across the sense of moral revulsion, as towards a rabid dog, and not just reflect a reading on the thermometer.  Heat wave and its literal equivalents -- Hitzewelle, ola de calor, موجة حر -- won’t cut it.  (Indeed, Heat Wave has been used benignly, as the title of a romantic song.)  A literal quasi-equivalent of canicula -- “dog days” -- won’t work, since it has been defanged through sentimental journalistic use (“the dog days of summer”/ “it’s a dog’s life”).   Life under the local “heat dome” seemingly involves more than a matter of Fahrenheit.  The atmosphere itself seems infected.  Yesterday, I went out briefly for a task on the front lawn;  by the time I headed back into the house, I was having difficulty breathing, as though the air had the thickness of mercury, vicious and viscid, and had to be laboriously sucked-in and plungered-out.  It wasn’t just the heat and it wasn’t just the humidity, since at that point I had yet to even break a sweat.  It recalled the old miasmatic theory of the cause of malaria -- mala aria—"bad air".

[For further meteorological meditations, click here.
For a blithe take on the whole schmier, here.]


[Update 25 July]
A classic conundrum of philosophy is, “What is it like to be a bat?”  That’s a toughie; but today I know what it’s like to be a muffin, browning in the oven’s all-enveloping heat.

[Update 26 July] Finally defying the unrelenting mid-to-high-90s temperatures, my wife and I ventured forth from our A/C cocoon, to go down and look at the lake.  Reaching it, and finding ourselves still alive, we proceded further, to check out our friend the local snake.  He  -- or rather she, for we witnessed her parturition -- lives at the base of the footbridge. Sometimes we see her and sometimes we don’t.  Reptiles (cold-blooded, seeking to be warm) like to sun themselves on rocks, so there was hope;  on the other hand, desert-dwellers shelter from the noonday heat in burrows.  Now, this isn’t the Gobi, or the Sahara; but would today’s Eastern seaboard heat  prove too much even for a snake?
It turned out that our serpentine friend had already slithered out of sight, seeking the comparative cool beneath the rock.  Marveling at the wisdom of Nature, and at the folly of suburbanites who feel obliged to take exercise, even on a day like today, we gathered our remaining forces, and headed back.

[Update 27 July]  From his woodsy cabin in northern California, our brother writes:

This heat is oppressive!  It might even hit 72 on Friday!  Crank up the AC. 

As for you, well, just swelter in place.

(One detects a touch of Left Coast schadenfreude.)

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