Reacting to a fellow journalist’s inquiry over a widely circulated rumor, famous Missourian Samuel Clemens once wrote, “the report of my death is an exaggeration.”

Of course, the man we all know as Mark Twain was no more dead than a songbird in spring when he penned that line for the New York Journal in June of 1897 (which has since been frequently incorrectly re-printed in multiple forms).

Likewise, I was still alive and kicking a couple of weeks ago when word circulated in parts of Texas County that I wasn’t. Yep, to a handful of people I was considered a memory for at least a while; I know because I was approached by someone who had heard from someone who heard from someone that “Doug is dead.”

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

After asking around a bit, I determined the rumor had surely started due to the death of a local man whose name was quite similar to mine. While I was sorry he had passed and hoped his family members would look to God for strength and comfort, I was nonetheless OK with still being around.

Having a friend shake my hand and say, “boy, am I glad to see you,” and then finding out he said that because a few days earlier he was unsure I was alive, was a pretty impactful moment. And naturally, the next few days presented a set of thoughts and feelings I hadn’t experienced before.

We all (bar none) take the gift of life for granted, but when faced with no longer being able to retain that gift, we inevitably become humbled and reflective. When you and death are closely associated, it’s impossible not to stop and think.

“What’s long enough?”

“What’s good enough?”

“What’s enough?”

I, for one, am completely comfortable with the fact that the Lord both gives and takes away (as the Bible says in Job 1:21). In turn, I’m content knowing that when my God-given time is up, I’m out – no matter what.

I know I’m not in control of when I exit terrestrial existence and I realize my Earthly situation is temporary (as is everyone else’s). And that’s no problem; I didn’t

make this world or this reality and I’m just grateful the one who did is allowing me to be part of them for a while.

But no matter how content a person might be with the big picture, it’s still odd to be faced with pondering death.

It’s pretty final, you know, and when it happens you aren’t going to make that trip to Costa Rica, finish that garden project, see your favorite aunt again or watch the playoffs.

It’s like, that’s it. Thanks for your time. I hope you enjoyed your stay and we enjoyed having you.

My premature demise was obviously bandied about by only a scant few folks, but there are plenty of examples of alleged, but untrue, early exits of famous people like Mr. Twain, whose rumored deaths gained a bunch of attention.

Probably one of the best is that of Paul McCartney, who burst onto the American rock and roll scene in the early 1960s as a singer, songwriter and bass player for the Beatles. Most of us who are ancient enough will remember the claim that when the classic “Strawberry Fields Forever” (from the September 1969 release “Abbey Road”) was played backward, fellow Beatle John Lennon’s voice could be heard saying, “I buried Paul.”

Conspiracy theorists claimed the deceased McCartney was replaced by a look-alike and the band continued its incredible run without missing a step. Maybe.

Lennon later said the backward phrase was actually “cranberry sauce,” and McCartney is still going strong many decades later (whether the original or doppelganger, who’s to say?). I’m guessing the salty Lennon was just playing along and there was really no deep hidden message in the reverse version of that Beatles song, let alone any other. I’m also guessing the Paul who went on to “McCartney and Wings” fame is the same Paul who wrote and sang “Yesterday” and “Penny Lane.”

Maybe not, but you name the odds and I’ll take the bet.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure if you played back a tape in reverse from the handheld voice recorder I use for interviewing story subjects, you’re more likely to hear something like “Wally is cool” than “I buried the reporter.” I understand my time might arrive today, but it didn’t a few weeks ago and that’s fine with me. I feel like there are things left to do – God willing.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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So Nov. 6 will soon be here, and another major election day will have come and gone.

On Nov. 7, we’ll finally know who took the prizes in numerous political fashion shows and which special interest groups bought enough favor to have their agendas become “policy.” But the arrival of that day will also bring what, to me, will be a very welcome extra: The Houston Herald can go back to being a weekly community newspaper and bear less of a resemblance to a tabloid.

The surreal displays that have for weeks and weeks appeared on the pages of your local news source are – in my estimation – a very telling example of the culture of brash behavior that has become so deeply entrenched in our society. Many people will stop at almost nothing when it comes to promoting their opinions, desires, and agendas, even if it means figuratively shaking them in others’ faces.

You see it in other areas of society, but the political arena presents the perfect chance to go all out – any many do just that. When it comes to what is popularly called “mudslinging,” virtually all forms of name calling, reputation bashing, and outright maliciousness seem to now be standard procedure, and there are apparently few, if any, boundaries in what are deemed acceptable tactics.

And it’s not even done anonymously. Almost as if it’s some sort of sign of strength, or badge of honor, people don’t even mind having their name associated with wildly creative or loosely conceived mudslinging.

Doug Davison

I’m not quite ready to start pushing up daisies, but I’m getting to be a pretty old guy. And in the fairly lengthy time since I became coherent enough to comprehend what the game of politics entails, I’d have to say I’ve never seen anything like what has gone on during this year’s campaign season (which is thankfully soon to conclude). Many of my fellow oldsters apparently agree, because I’ve heard many say that they haven’t either.

And I’m not referring to any particular level. The same stuff now seems to happen with the same frequency and intensity at the national, state and local levels. Nothing and nobody is immune.

Not that mudslinging doesn’t have a place in political advertising. To the contrary, it can at times be a valuable source of information.

I was recently talking with someone who holds an elected office and who pointed out that mudslinging sometimes turns out to be a way of finding out important aspects of a candidate’s character or past, and what we learn through “negative ads” can (and maybe should) add to our cache of knowledge about people who want our votes.

I agree. While mudslinging is often treated as a smear tactic rather than a valid tool (and sometimes borders on slander and libel), it at times can and does allow us to learn legitimate details about a candidate that they might fail to mention when describing how wonderful they are and why they are the best (or “only”) answer to our problems.

I guess what’s bothersome is the amount of it we now must endure, and how the spirit with which much it is delivered has simply gone over the top. For crying in the mud, mudslinging has – as they say in sports circles – been taken to the next level in this country.

Another person who holds an elected office recently said to me that the biggest problem with our current political system is that it prevents many people who might be our best options from seeking office. I agree with that, too. I believe our best options in most cases never become options.

After all, who can blame anyone for keeping their name out of the hat? Beside the fact that it takes about a zillion dollars to run theses days, it’s hard to imagine having your reputation and everything you stand for dragged through the mud and spat on to the extent that takes place in political fashion shows. And it’s not just you. Your family and everything else in your life might end up targeted – and truthful justification isn’t necessarily going to accompany the attacks.

It would be nice if everyone running just ran on their own merit instead of focusing on building a case against their opponent, and if everyone who believed in a cause simply promoted the merit of that cause rather than harping on the stupidity of not supporting it.

But I realize that none of that is ever going to happen. We’ve already blown that bridge up and there’s no going back.

Kind of like Mark Twain once said, many politicians aren’t prone to letting the truth get in the way of a good story. And believe me, it’s clear we live in a world of dual truth, and gray areas seem to be preferred over right and wrong (no surprise there, though; that’s certainly mentioned in many ways in many passages of the Bible).

Anyway, I’m just looking forward to making it to Nov. 7 when there won’t be two truths to quite as many issues, and there won’t be quite as much dirty laundry being hung out in plain sight.

Well, that’s enough rambling and ranting. Let’s get this over with and move on.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.  Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

When famous Missourian Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) came up with his famous quote “everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” he surely understood the reality that nobody can do anything about it, other than talk.

The bottom line is, when it’s hot, it’s hot, and when it’s cold, it’s cold, and either way all we can do is deal with it.

Even though the weather around here seems to have taken a cooler, wetter turn of late, there has obviously been plenty of heat this summer. And since no one could do anything about it while it was going on other than use it as a topic of discussion, that’s what people did.

Or course, whenever the temperature in the Ozarks drops way down or climbs way up, the questions and opinions are sure to follow.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

“Which do you like better, the hot or the cold?”

“I much prefer the heat. I need a sweater when it drops below 70.”

“Well, I can’t stand it when it’s really hot – I’ll take the cold, thank you.”

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong in this issue. It’s OK to feel more comfortable when the lawn is fried, the leaves on the lilacs are wilting, and your skin turns sticky and clammy the moment you set foot on the front porch. But it’s also fine to feel better when fields are frozen solid, there are no leaves on the lilacs, and moisture from your breath freezes on your nostril hair.

An online poll recently done by a Michigan TV station showed that 52-percent of people responding preferred “frigid cold” to “blazing hot.” One wonders if the heat wouldn’t beat the cold in a similar poll conducted in late January.

But whether you weather the weather better in high heat or frigid cold, or you do equally well in either extreme, you probably have at least pondered which end of the spectrum better suits your style. If you’re like me, your conclusion might be that high heat and bitter cold both make the going kind of tough.

But then again, each temperature extreme does present enjoyable options that wouldn’t really work or make sense with the other.

For example, swimming in the cool water of a spring-fed river is hard to beat in mid-summer when the air temperature and relative humidity are both about 96. I guess you could swim in early February, too, but it may not be practical because you might need a pick-ax to get to the water. And your odds of surviving the inevitable onset of hypothermia would be pretty low.

Conversely, sitting by a fire sipping hot coffee and watching a good movie is always nice on a cold winter’s night. I suppose two-thirds of that scenario wouldn’t be so bad on a hot summer evening, either, but the fire part doesn’t sound all that attractive. And cuddling up next to the air conditioner just isn’t the same.

Could be worse

Of course, as miserably hot as it has been here this summer, it could be worse. Like it has been in other parts of the Midwest.

While we’ve been whining our way through many days in 90s and some in the 100s, triple-digit temperatures have been beating our neighbors in Oklahoma to a steaming pulp since June.

Oklahoma City is on pace to easily beat its previous record for days in the 100s in one year (50, set back in 1980). And it’s been so hot for so long in OKC that several roads and bridges have buckled, causing damage to vehicles and even injuries.

My wife knows a woman who lives in the small town of Ringling in south-central Oklahoma just north of the Texas border. High temperatures there have stayed above 105 for weeks on end now, and topped 110 on numerous occasions.

The heat there has been so excessive that the local school district has already decided to postpone the start of the school year a couple of weeks in hopes of giving kids (and teachers and AC units) a break.

The woman told my wife that she’s used to seeing her lawn more or less goes away for a couple of months each year during the peak of the summer season. She also said she has a bad feeling it’s not coming back this time.

Meanwhile in Plano, Texas, an assistant football coach collapsed and died after his Prestonwood Christian School team’s first football practice on the afternoon of Aug. 2, and heat was said to be at least partially responsible for the death. The day was the 31st in a row that the high temperature had soared past the 100-mark in the Dallas area.

Making the best of things

Leave it to the animals to show us how it’s done.

During our hot streak, cows in Texas County went temporarily aquatic, taking turns hanging out in ponds when not huddling together in whatever shade they might be able to find in their given fields.

When they’re submerged up to their backs and not much of their head is above the water line, they almost look like a bunch of hippos pondering their next mouthful of river weeds.

A female cohort in our office told a story recently of watching a hummingbird doing an airborne dance in one of those sprinklers that sprays about eight narrow streams of water and slowly goes back and forth over the same area. As the sprinkler was doing its thing, little bird was apparently flitting about in and around the streams of water.

At my family’s remote outpost, one of the outbuildings is an old smokehouse with thick, homemade concrete walls. It stays kind of cool even when the outside temperature is hot.

We’ve been leaving the door open on purpose, and not surprisingly, the dogs and cats have taken advantage of their “cool room” and can often be found in horizontal mode inside the inviting space.

Anyway, we may well have turned the hot corner, so to speak, and we may not see any more days in the 100s until next summer (if there’s still a world then – you know what they say about 2012).

Thankfully, all those people who have been saying they’re “ready for the heat to be over with” may well be getting their wish. Of course, that means before you know it cattle ranchers will be rolling out round bales and we’ll all be donning winter coats.

And of course, not long after that, many folks will surely make it known that they’re “ready for the cold to be over with.”

And I won’t blame them.

I vote for perpetual fall.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.