Sundogs

I’m writing this on Thanksgiving Day (in the US). A day of reflection and gratitude. Me? I’m most grateful for my health, including my ability run, no matter how slow, while recovering from a sacroiliac joint injury months ago. And my dogs; I’m so grateful for them. And, of course, writing. I love to write. It’s a creative outlet, as well as a way to stay in touch with those who matter most to me. I have so many ideas swirling in my head that I want to write about, need to write about. It’s visceral. I’m grateful for my computer keyboard and having fingers that can type fast.

This Thanksgiving evening, as my dogs were enjoying their holiday marrow bones, I watched the sky turn a gentle orange as the sun set. Joining the boys in the yard to take a photo, I noticed a contrail directly overhead.

Thanksgiving sunset with spiraling contrail.

Thunderheads always remind me of my father. So do contrails. They’re like gentle hello’s as he pilots his stardust through the universe, sometimes skimming overhead, just as he used to do when flying his Cessna, dipping a wing a couple times in a wave to me.

Today, though, the contrail I saw was extra special. First, because it appeared to spiral, as if the airplane creating it had done a roll. (Something my father was famous for doing while testing early commercial jets for Boeing.) It had Dad’s signature. And second, given the daunting task I’ve set for myself, I read it as an encouraging sign from him, a “You go, girl!” He always supported my writing ambitions.

Here’s the thing: I’ve decided to spend now until March 1st writing, with fierce focus and purpose, what I’ve long referred to as my wolf book. A few chapters have been written, but I need to write a complete manuscript. It’s an itch that needs serious, consistent scratching. All other projects – even the money-earning ones – are officially on back burner until after March 1st. Dana, the woman who line-edited my first book (about my father and his colleagues, leading me to see signs from above this evening) has agreed to act as my developmental editor on the wolf book. She’s available starting March 1st, thus the deadline.

I always work best under the pressure of a deadline.

So. No more excuses. No more procrastinating. (Oh hell, I admit, I’ll procrastinate, especially at first, that’s just me, but to a far lesser degree than if I didn’t have a deadline.) This approach worked with Growing Up Boeing, writing the bulk of it over a three month period during the summer of 2013 when my only distractions were two aging, dying dogs (a whole other story).

I can do this. I know I can. [Note to self: Repeat, as often as necessary.]

It means, though, that I’ll be MIA with blogging. Maybe occasional posts, staying in touch with my blogging family, whom I appreciate and depend upon. But I doubt I’ll keep up with reading and commenting on the blogs I love reading. Please don’t take my absence personally!

For now, I leave you with this post about sundogs. (Or sun dogs, or sun-dogs, depending on the source.) Since my book will focus heavily on dogs and wolves, a post about sundogs seems an appropriate placeholder. That I saw two sundogs recently, while walking across a snowy field with my own dogs, is perhaps yet another sign that now is my time to write this book. (Although I confess, I didn’t realize the sundogs were there until I got home and edited my photos on my large computer screen. Still, signs are signs.)

My father rarely said goodbye. Instead, he said, “So long,” which implies, “’til we meet again.”

So long!

***

On the afternoon of November 22nd, the boys and I were enjoying a walk in the snow-covered field across our road. The wind, blowing from different directions each of the previous few days, had left an intriguing sculpted surface. My attention, as usual, was focused on the ground in front of me, as well as the boys. I took photos, enjoying the shadows cast by the filtered sun across the snow, but not looking directly at the sun.

It just happened that the boys were often between me and the sun, so I shot photos of them, blinded by the sun’s bright light, making it nearly impossible for me to see on my phone screen what I was capturing. I knew from experience to go ahead and shoot, waiting until I processed the photos later on my computer to see if they’re worth keeping. You never know.

What I didn’t see at the time, but noticed on my computer, were… sundogs! See them? They’re the hints of color to the left and right of the sun, at equal distances, on the same horizontal line, faint but noticeable.

The next two photos show just one sundog, to the right of the sun.

two dogs in snow-covered field, sun and sundog on horizon behind them
dog walking across snow-covered field, sundog on horizon behind him

One of the last photos I took, of Conall clearing ice balls from between his toes, clearly shows two sundogs. Red color closest to the sun, fading to blue/white on the far side. Short vertical rainbows.

dog on snow, sun and two sundogs on horizon

The National Weather Service provides a good definition of this optical phenomenon:

Sundogs are colored spots of light that develop due to the refraction of light through ice crystals. They are located approximately 22 degrees either left, right, or both, from the sun, depending on where the ice crystals are present. The colors usually go from red closest to the sun, out to blue on the outside of the sundog. Sundogs are also known as mock suns or parhelia, which means “with the sun.”

NOAA/National Weather Service

How this phenomenon came to be known as sundogs, however, is obscure.

In Abram Palmer’s 1882 book Folk-etymology: A Dictionary of Verbal Corruptions Or Words Perverted in Form Or Meaning, by False Derivation Or Mistaken Analogy, sun-dogs are defined: The phenomena [sic] of false suns which sometimes attend or dog the true when seen through the mist (parhelions). In Norfolk a sun-dog is a light spot near the sun, and water-dogs are the light watery clouds; dog here is no doubt the same word as dag, dew or mist as “a little dag of rain” (Philolog. Soc. Trans. 1855, p. 80). Cf. Icel. dogg, Dan. and Swed. dug = Eng. “dew.”

Dog in English as a verb can mean “hunt, track, or follow”, so Dog the true [sun] has meant track the true [sun] since the 1510s.)

Alternatively, Jonas Persson suggested that out of Norse mythology and archaic names — Danish: solhunde (sun dog), Norwegian: solhund (sun dog), Swedish: solvarg (sun wolf) — in the Scandinavian languages, constellations of two wolves hunting the Sun and the Moon, one after and one before, may be a possible origin for the term.

Wikipedia

Can I just say here that the title of Mr. Palmer’s book is epic?!

I think the Almanac offers a more realistic origin of the term sundogs:

According to Greek mythology, Zeus walked his dogs across the sky and those “false suns” in the sky on either side of the sun’s disk were his two dogs.

The Almanac

Dogs of Greek mythology (accompanying Zues, no less), Swedish wolves chasing the sun… I love it all.

The Almanac also notes that, while rainbows often signal an end to rain – the sun’s appearance during or right after a rain creating the rainbow – a sundog usually means rain is on the way, often within the next 24 hours. In my case, yes, the day after I saw the sundogs, it snowed (too cold to rain).

Just so you know: my father loved dogs, and wolves. And weather phenomena. And me. Is it any wonder he’s my muse?

I hope I make him proud with this new book.

Wish me luck…!

9 thoughts on “Sundogs”

  1. You’re inspiring me, as I started my book last fall but have been letting self-doubt keep me on the sidelines. It seems it’s time for me to set a deadline and just get it done. I’ve got several chapters and a full outline finished, so it shouldn’t be that hard if I just put my butt in the chair and do it. And winter is the optimal time, while bugs aren’t distracting me!. Good luck on the book!

    Liked by 1 person

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