Laura Dean Bennett
As summer winds down, the sights and sounds of fall become more pronounced, and our thoughts turn toward the changing of the seasons.
Naturally, in a place where weather plays such an important role in our lives and livelihoods, we can’t help but wonder what Mother Nature has in store for us this winter.
It’s time, once again, to hearken back to the wisdom of the older people, who favored predictions from the natural world.
Is “reading the signs” just a pack of old wive’s tales or age-old wisdom?
You be the judge.
Everyone knows that around these parts, each foggy morning in August counts toward a snowfall in winter – and by my count, we’re looking at quite a few.
And then there’s the maxim about the first snowfall – the number of days from Christmas the first snowflakes fall tells how many times it will snow this winter.
Flora and fauna inspire so many predictions of a harsh winter that it’s hard to remember them all.
Persimmon seeds cut open lengthwise can show three shapes.
A fork shape foretells a generally mild winter with powdery snow; a knife shape – a cold and icy winter with sharp, cutting winds; a spoon shape represents a shovel, meaning heavy snows.
Of course, be sure to use a persimmon gathered locally, otherwise you may get a prediction for a different region altogether.
There’s an old adage about fall mushrooms.
“Mushrooms galore, much snow in store. No mushrooms at all, no snow will fall.”
And pay close attention to apple skins and the onions taken from a late garden – those with thicker skins than usual indicate a tough winter.
Similarly, tight cornhusks which are denser than usual and acorns with thicker shells indicate a hard winter to come.
Native Americans observed beaver lodges for winter predictions – the larger and stronger, the rougher the winter.
If autumn leaves fall while still green, and if peak fall color is early, the winter will be mild.
The later the peak, the colder the winter.
Spectacular fall foliage that takes longer than usual to leave the trees is another indicator of a mean winter, bearing heavy snows.
The taller the weeds in summer, the deeper the snows that winter.
Early bird and monarch butterfly migration, ducks and geese flying south earlier than usual, squirrels frantically darting about looking for nuts? You, too, may want to get ready to tuck in early.
Watch for squirrels with heavy fur and fat, fluffy tails – they are dressing for a cold winter.
Everyone knows about the psychic powers of “wooly worms” – the fuzzy black caterpillar we see out and about so much in the fall.
They’re actually the larval form of the Isabella Tiger moth, which is a beautiful creature, with yellowish-orange and cream-colored wings spotted with black.
The reason we see so many in the fall is because they are hunting a warm place to take shelter – a thick leaf pile or a log – where they’ll be safe until spring.
The black wooly worm’s bristles tell the tale- if they are extremely fuzzy, winter will be very cold.
But if their bands are wide it means a mild winter – the wider the orange band, the milder the winter. If they have a narrow brownish-orange stripe in the middle, batten down the hatches- winter will be harsh with heavy snows.
I can only suppose that a preponderance of solid black wooly worms means, Katie, Bar the Door – put in extra fire wood and batten down the hatches.
The habits of spiders, bees, wasps and hornets also tell a tale.
Expect a hard winter if in the fall:
Spiders come in the house sooner, in greater numbers, and make more webs than usual.
Bees, wasps and hornets make their hives higher in the trees and put themselves “to bed” earlier in the season.
As the old saying goes: “See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest.”
Raccoons’ tails grow extra thick with bright bands and mice begin chewing furiously to get in.
Muskrats burrow holes high on the river bank and woodpeckers share a tree.
Crickets arrive early on the hearth, and ants are seen marching in straight lines.
Pigs are seen to gather sticks and extra hair grows on the nape of cows’ necks.
Animals grow thicker coats and groundhogs lumber slowly because of fat.
Evergreen trees make more and bigger pine cones and holly bushes hang heavy with berries.
Then, there’s the breastbone of a goose.
You’ll need one recently deceased goose for this prediction.
The length of the breastbone is said to foretell the length, and its color the severity of the coming winter.
The more mottled the breastbone, the colder and snowier the winter will be.
Of course, animals aren’t the only weather prognosticators.
Humans attempt it, too.
Many people swear by almanac predictions.
My granddad was never without an almanac, and he referred to it regularly.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a cheery prediction for winter 2020-2021.
It predicts a light winter for most of the United States with warmer than normal temperatures for a large part of the country… with the coldest temperatures in New England and the western states.
On the other hand, vive la difference!
Their competitor, the Farmer’s Almanac thinks differently.
The 2021 Farmers’ Almanac predicts wild temperature swings, heavy snowfalls and nasty winds besieging two-thirds of the country while the west suffers droughts.
But no matter what the signs or the almanacs say – we know now’s the time to enjoy the crisp glory of what we hope will be a nice, long autumn, because winter is surely on its way.