Where did I go wrong?
"Do you think today counts, Doc? It's kind of foggy outside, but it isn't real bad."
As often happens during conversations with my clients, I had no idea what he was talking about. He must have figured that out from the look on my face, because he went on to explain."They say that the number of foggy days in August will always be the same as the number of snowstorms in the coming winter," he said. "The trouble is, Doc, I can't decide whether today should count or not."
I suggested that the day might represent a rather small future snowstorm and that seemed to make him happy.
Just a few hours later, I heard a similar theory from Mr. Barley down at the Farmway Store. We were loading horse feed onto my truck when he predicted a harsh winter.
"The husks are tight on the sweet corn this year, Doc," he said. "That's gonna mean a rough winter with plenty of snowstorms for sure."
I asked if he didn't subscribe to the foggy-days-in-August theory.
"Oh, that's just an old wive's tale," he said. "The only things you can count on are the stripes on the fuzzy caterpillar, and the husks on the sweet corn."
I drove away feeling a little disappointed in myself for having been unfamiliar with these gems of forecasting knowledge. These are the things I should have known because I took a course in meteorology as an undergraduate at Penn State. Unfortunately, the only thing I remember from that course is that State College, Pennsylvania harbored a unique combination of air temperature, wind speed and classroom locations which, when taken as a whole, made me feel that it was inconvenient to attend the class on a regular basis.
I realized now that there have been many times when my lack of knowledge could be traced directly to my poor study habits in college and veterinary school.
For example, I was attending a Grange meeting with a friend of mine recently when someone expressed concern about a few cases of botulism that had been reported in the horses in our area. One of the fellas present, who was particularly knowledgeable about such things, explained to the group that botulism occurs when you don't comb the bots off your horse. The horse licks at those, swallows the bots and gets botulism.
I didn't know that! I thought botulism was some kind of food poisoning. They must have covered that in my third year medicine class the day I decided to go fishing.
Then there was the time Mr. Yokel came to see me because his dog had worms.
"Old Blue has got the worms, Doc." He said. "Something must be wrong because I dosed him good with gunpowder just like my granpappy always told me to do, but the worms are still there. I called one danged fool veterinarian who told me granpappy's treatment was wrong. It was some young guy. Probably doesn't know his stuff."
At that point, I didn't want to admit that I hadn't heard of the gunpowder treatment. They probably went over that in parasitology class the day some of my classmates and I drove to Delaware to check out that topless bar. At any rate, I was able to cover for my lack of knowledge by pointing out that Mr. Yokel had used smokeless powder, whereas in my granpappy's day, they used black powder. He was happy with the explanation.
When Mrs. Pigment came to my office with her new puppy, Hybrid, my lazy habits of the past haunted me once again.
"What kind of dog is he, Doctor?" she asked. "I know he's a purebred. You can tell by those black areas in his mouth."
You can? That must have been covered in genetics class the day I went to that football game. Besides, this dog didn't even seem to represent one species, let alone a particular breed. I told her I wasn't sure if the black gum theory always held true. Her confidence in me was seriously shaken.
We'll, I've learned my lesson. The next time I go on one of those continuing education trips, I'm going to actually attend some of the lectures, not all of them mind you. There's no reason to become a fanatic.