November 27, 2021

Rural Issues: Folklore forecast

The end of daylight saving time earlier this month brought with it an earlier dawn, which I do love, but also early dusk, of which I am no fan. These days with fewer hours of sunlight remind me of the next season on the horizon and leave me wondering about the harshness of the coming winter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a forecast late last month that suggested Illinois and Indiana are among the states that could see above-normal temperatures and wetter-than-average conditions from November through February. That’s thanks to La Niña climate conditions. However, no projection is set in stone.

While most of us listen to weather forecasts presented by meteorologists that we trust, others turn to signs of nature to prepare for winter. Before Doppler radar and all the tools of modern meteorology, people looked to elements of the natural world that exist independently of human activity to prepare for what was to come.

Most people have heard the winter weather lore that if a caterpillar’s orange band is narrow, expect a snowy winter. If the orange band is wide, expect a mild winter.

Cut open a persimmon seed and you’ll find a white image, the cotyledon, resembling a spoon, fork, or knife. Folklore has it that the utensil image inside the persimmon seed is the harbinger of winter’s weather.

The spoon signifies a harsh winter to come with plenty of snow to shovel. The fork predicts less snow and a more “comfortable” winter. The dreaded knife predicts a cold and icy winter with winds that “cut like a knife.”

I’m uncertain as to the specific number of seeds that should be “read” to determine the forecast, but we cut several open, only to find the ghostly white image of a spoon in every single seed.

Other signs of harsh winter, according to folklore, are raccoons with thick tails and bright bands, thicker than normal onion skins, spiders spinning larger-than-normal webs and pigs gathering sticks.

An early Monarch butterfly migration, muskrats burrowing high on the riverbank and thick hair on the back of cow’s neck are also said to portend a less-than-desirable winter season.

Other natural signs of a harsh winter to come are heavy and numerous fogs during the month of August and frequent halos or rings around the sun or moon.

You might not take these predictions seriously, but I’ll bet when a black cat crosses the road in front of you or you walk under a ladder or break a mirror, the risk of bad luck associated with the event does cross your mind.

I wonder why, when we “smell a rat” and sense troubled waters ahead, do we sometimes ignore the signs that portend real and serious trouble for our rural communities, agriculture, our country — our world.

I trust science, but I have also learned to trust my “gut.” Natural instinct is an underrated tool.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.