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Cooling off during the dog days at Ravine Lake in Huron.
Cooling off during the dog days at Ravine Lake in Huron.

Navigating the Dog Days

Aug 23, 2016

These are the Dog Days of summer, so named because in Roman times the constellation Canis Major, or “greater dog,” rose at the same time as the sun.

Or something like that. Like many matters pertaining to constellations, this makes no sense. How could stars and the sun rise at the same time? Not to mention the whole “dog” thing. Canis Major doesn’t resemble a dog anymore than the Big Dipper looks like the hind quarters of a bear, but that’s what you do for fun if books haven’t been invented and you don’t have cable TV: you look up at the night sky and connect random stars into fanciful pictures.

When I was a kid someone told me you’d get sick if you went swimming during Dog Days. I curse the swine — it may have been Bradley Larson — who implanted the image of oozing pustules that left me sweltering on shore during the hottest part of that summer!

Anyway … here’s the part that concerns you, my long-suffering readers. You turn to me for tightly reasoned prose on important matters of the day, and at the risk of sounding immodest, I have always delivered.

Until now. Dog Days have induced a deep and abiding lethargy this year. I’ve got nothing for you. I keep notes in a file, but upon closer inspection these turned out to be … well, you supply the adjective.

If you have ever dealt with a building contractor you are no doubt aware that the term “week” has a fairly elastic meaning for them. “I’ll be there the first part of next week,” and, “I should be able to wrap it up by the end of the week,” means the promised event can occur anywhere up to six months later. When they finally do show up they act as though nothing is amiss, which was supposed to lead to a hilarious discussion about Einstein’s theory that time passes at a different rate for an object in motion than for one at rest.

See what I mean? That’s not funny. It’s stupid. Some of my “ideas” weren’t even ideas, just pithy sayings. “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie!’ while you look around for a rock.” That was useless, but it made more sense than, “Yuri and Olga Find Love While Increasing Production at the Cement Factory.” Where was I intending to go with that?

Sometimes when I’m adrift I go online, hoping it will jar something loose. It never does. You probably have your own embarrassing way of wasting time on the internet. I often end up reading about bombers and battleships and such. I don’t know why. I am a man of peace who is strangely drawn to the implements of war.

This fascination/affliction has been with me for some time. When I was a kid, my best friend, Jerry Cavanaugh, bought an old helmet at the Army surplus store. How I coveted my neighbor’s goods! I might have moved on to violating the Seventh Commandment if Jerry hadn’t gotten bored with the whole head-in-a-steel-pot experience and passed the helmet on to me.

Oh, joy! I wore it everywhere, including at the supper table, which prompted my dad to ask, “Is that thing nailed to your head?”

“No,” I replied, somewhat mystified by the question. At that stage in my life I wasn’t adept at picking up on sarcasm. He then suggested that, since an attack upon our kitchen seemed unlikely, we could proceed without helmets.

I thought about sharing my Saving-the-World fantasy. Mine doesn’t involve super powers. I imagine I have a device that enables me to deliver a taser-like shock to every politician and corporate flack who utters a hollow phrase or half-truth. If such power was within my grasp, if our leaders could be so induced to speak meaningfully and truthfully, I am certain some of our most pressing problems would soon be solved.

My next thought was that fantasizing about saving the world through physical abuse might raise a red flag or two, so I moved on to the story of a slacker who may yet be drawing a paycheck from the state of South Dakota. This idea came to my attention when I was reading about Alleged Drug Courier vs. The State of South Dakota, a case that was argued before the S.D. Supreme Court. A highway patrolman who had a drug-sniffing dog with him stopped the alleged courier. To make a long story short, 53 pounds of a substance resembling marijuana was found in the vehicle’s trunk.

Not so fast, argued the perpetrator’s alleged attorney. Police officers need probable cause — information sufficient to convince a prudent person that contraband will be found — before they can search vehicles. In this case, the patrolman wasn’t supposed to search until he got an indication that the dog smelled something suspicious. The dog never gave any such indication, said the lawyer, until the patrolman prompted him.

If you ever get hauled into court you’ll want a suit to stand up and spin implausible theories on your behalf, so don’t judge this trial tactic too harshly. What if the lawyer is right? Are we the people employing a drug-sniffing dog that can’t find 53 pounds of dope on his own? Has anybody checked his credentials?

Is that interesting to anybody besides me? I doubt it, which leaves me with nothing to … oh, wait. I do have something to offer. Just to be safe, don’t go swimming until the Big Dog sets. Bradley might be right.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the July/August 2014 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


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