It was late one fall afternoon, and I was frustrated, disgusted and ready to throw my shotgun down. My sporting clays lesson had gone poorly, and I felt like I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Cody, my instructor, stood patiently behind me while I took a deep breath to settle myself. As I gazed skyward, trying to control my temper, I saw a beautiful halo around the sun.

The sun was low in the hazy blue-white sky, and a clear halo encircled the sun. At the 9:00 and 3:00 positions on the halo, small points of light, looking like baby suns, glistened. It was otherworldly. I’d never seen anything like it.

“Look Cody,” I breathed. “Sun dogs.” Pulling out my phone, I took a few pictures.

I had read about sun halos and sun dogs but had never seen them. Seen most often in far northern climates, halos appear when ice crystals in cirrus clouds high in the atmosphere refract the sun’s light. If the conditions are right, the refraction also causes the auxiliary points of light along the halo, the “dogs”. The conditions must be just right: the sun low in the sky, cold weather, high altitude clouds. And they only last for 15 minutes or so.

I have always loved nature, and seeing a natural phenomenon I’d never witnessed cheered me right up. Breezily, I finished my lesson, much less concerned about my shooting skills.

Not three weeks later, walking into Costco one afternoon, squinting at the bright sun, I glanced upward, and dang! A sun halo and faint sundogs! Without thinking, I whipped out my phone, stood stock still in the middle of the parking lot and took photos. A nearby man stared at me, crazy lady taking pictures of the sky, so I grabbed his arm.

“Do you like science?” I demanded (He must have thought I was nuts).

“Why yes, and my daughter does too.” He replied.

“Look!” I pointed upward and proceeded to give him a one-minute sun dog lecture. He pulled his phone out, took pictures, and exclaimed, “You’ve made my day! I can’t wait to show these pictures to my daughter!”

My faith in humanity strengthened, I shopped in Costco, and was a bit sad the halo was gone when I emerged from the store.

So, what about sun dogs? Many cultures believe they portend a change in the weather, and meteorologists agree; rain often follows within 24 hours. Ancient cultures revered halos and sun dogs. Greeks thought the dogs were Zeus’s dogs, running across the sky behind him. Norse mythology described dogs chasing the sun as the source of sun dogs. Native Americans felt the halo, being a circle, suggested that unity and harmony were important, so the presence of a halo and sun dogs admonished them to put away grudges and seek friendship.  

What am I to make of sun dogs, my new favorite phenomenon? Both times, I’ve seen them when I was concentrating on something else, and they jumped into my sight and changed my day. I wonder how many times I have missed them, because I was too focused on my own little world. The dogs seem cheerful, and I feel like I’m being reminded to enjoy the day, no matter what. I’m being told that nature is infinitely varied and beautiful, and is not to be missed.

I find myself looking at the sky more often now, hoping to see this lovely sight. No longer squinting, being annoyed by the bright winter sun, I’m happily searching for sun dogs.