(Cauldron Ridge Farm II, February 2008)
This is weird. I usually write these on Sunday nights, polish them up on Monday evening and publish before I leave for work on Tuesday morning. I wrote the bulk of this post last night (Sunday) while canning. This morning, I logged into my email account and saw a bit about how the 2009 Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a winter that may be close to catastrophic proportions this year in some temperate areas and even chillier than usual in normally mild areas. They claim to be 85% accurate and we should expect record snow, ice and cold.
Ok, now on to what I wrote up before I heard this forecast:
One of the biggest changes in outlook from days of yore and modern times, in my opinion, is how we deal with winter here in north central and eastern U.S. From literature I’ve read, winter past was dealt with through summer and fall preparation and thought of as the time of year for hunkering down, a rest between the planting & foraging times of the year. The focus was on family because family was going to be the main faces you saw until spring returned.
Now-a-days, we hardly think of the seasonal changes except by the decorations Target has for sale. We know when we see pumpkins, black cats and skeletons, fall must be here. Then before it has ended we start to see evergreens, snowmen, and silver bells and realize winter is just around the corner. We don’t think about the amount of snow fall we may receive or how cold the temperatures will fall before the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun again. Big snow merely means annoyance: Schools cancelled, roads slow to be plowed, or the cold that nips at our unclothed body parts as we race between building and vehicle.
These are, of course, my opinions, nothing more, but in my quest for a simple, more natural life, I think a lot about seasons and how to live through them if I was without some of today’s conveniences. I have managed to learn how to plant and harvest during spring and summer; I preserve food stores during autumn, but winter skills still elude me in this adventure of life I am living. I am a child of modern times and I have never had to live a hard winter, one where what I prepare for actually keeps us alive and well.
My father grew up in southwestern Virginia. His folks lived up in the hills and, though the winters are much more mild than my own Great Lakes region of the country, they knew how to prepare for months of home time. They also kept a system of natural signs to help predict how hard the winter would present itself. Most kept a root cellar (I wish I had a picture of the one my uncle Pleas built his wife, it‘s great!) and in summer the gardens were put up carefully. If the locust bloomed heavy during the summer, they simply stored extra sauerkraut, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, apples, onions, potatoes, collard greens, peaches, eggs, and corn. They bought bulk sacks of pinto beans, corn meal, flour and dried milk (for constant pots of beans and ham hocks with cornbread and biscuits and gravy every morning). I guess you just never knew how long you were going to be stranded up in the hills. Growing up, my dad had a bit of the winter prep mentality and they canned a small amount, but for the most part winter, as I said, was a nothing more than an annoyance.
(As an aside, I’d love to participate in a PBS reality show on Appalachian Mountain living [any period before WWII]. Living poor up in the hills would be such an excellent dose of reality for most of us).
I think because we have moved so far from our self-reliant roots, we have lost touch on how to read Nature’s signs. Folklore abounds on how to tell if an upcoming winter will be hard or mild. Because my father chose not to carry on his relatives’ lifestyle, folklore was, for the most part, absent in my childhood. Most of us are a couple of generations away from the line between yore and modern times. Some us never knew our grandparents and our parents ran as fast as they could from self-sufficient lifestyles. Fortunately, we do have a few tools (Internet & books) at our disposal that actually expands our resources for learning some of the old ways, particularly when dealing with the seasons. This new knowledge not only reaches across generational lines, but cultural ones as well.
So, with that long introduction, I wanted to mention what got me thinking about all of this. Around here, the fruit trees are laden with fruit. Everywhere I look, I see ripening apples and pears, and Michigan orchards mentioned it’s been one of the best years for plums, apricots and cherries. The nut trees already look chock full of nuts and I am just waiting for them to drop so I can compete with the squirrels. Now trees heavy with seeds/fruit generally could mean one of several things, including the tree received plenty of moisture and nutrients the year before or it is trying to propagate itself in times of impending hardship. I started thinking that maybe I should be preparing for a harder winter this year based solely on what I have been observing with the trees. If I’m wrong, it won’t hurt to have a pantry full of food to eat, warm blankets to snuggle under, and extra wood to burn for maple sugaring.
So, who wants to guess what winter will be like in your region? Do you use any folklore?
Here is a list of winter weather folklore I scrounged up:
1. Kentucky wisdom claims if there are plentiful berries in summer, the winter will be cold and severe.
2. North Carolinian folklore is that an unusually large quantity of sweet gum berries, wild grapes, etc. will bring a hard winter.
3. If hornets build their nest low in a tree, hard winter is eminent.
4. Look for wooly worm which is the larva of Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella), the original weather predictor. The wider the orange band, the more mild the winter will be. If it mostly black, prepare for a winter with lots of cold, snow and ice. This would make a great statistics project for home schooling.
5. Year of snow, fruit will grow.
6. Onion skin very thin, mild winter coming in. Onion skin thick and tough, winter will be cold & rough.
7. If a tree blooms in fall, expect a harsh following winter.
8. If snow falls on unfrozen ground, the winter will be mild.
If folklore wisdom for weather predicting is just too hit or miss for you, I do have one more suggestion and this one is a tried and true weather predictor. Oh, you better get a pen and paper for this one.
First, find yourself a good rock (any type). Place rock in a clear, prominent location in your yard.
Then, just look for these things:
If it’s dry ——Weather’s Clear
If it’s wet —–It’s Raining
If its white —It’s Snowing
If it’s gone —Tornado
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