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the occasions lady and

The Sundog
by Audrey Poff, illustration by Brittney Guest

Traveling over the Intracoastal Waterway on Florida’s iconic Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine last summer, our then 16-year-old daughter had an unusual comment – the kind of comment that makes you whip your head around.

“I see heaven,” Sophie said from the back seat of our car.

Since Rodney was driving on the narrow drawbridge, I turned around to make sure she was not rising up toward the heavens as part of the rapture or in some sort of trance-like state. I wasn’t sure what to expect. A quick glance ensured me that Sophie was OK, but her eyes were fixed on something in the sky.

As I turned back around to look out the passenger’s window, I saw what had her mesmerized. Just above the horizon were brilliant colors of red, orange and blue. It was as if a hole in the blue sky had been filled with intense colors of the rainbow. It looked like it could indeed be an opening to heaven.

I was immediately intrigued but had no idea what it was. Fortunately, a quick search on the Internet provided an answer.

Although its official name in meteorology is a parhelion, what we saw last July was a sundog.

Information on the National Weather Service’s website states that 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 extend from red on the side that is closest to the sun, to blue on the outside of the sundog.

Speculation is that these colorful spots of light are called sundogs because they follow the sun like a dog follows its master. Sundogs (or sun dogs) are also referred to as mock suns or phantom suns. 

I regret not getting a photo of the only sundog that I have ever seen. My family has grown accustomed to me stopping for a photo at any moment, but even I admit that it’s not a good option to stop when you are traveling across a busy, narrow drawbridge. Fortunately, Occasions’ Art Director, Brittney Guest, recently got to see a few sundogs of her own during a trip to California, so she was happy to illustrate this optical effect.

I am hoping that I have a chance to view more sundogs in the future. If there is a next time, sundog, I’ll be ready for you.