Every year at the point when temperatures make a slide downward, weather prognosticators whip out their charts and maps in an attempt to predict the winter ahead. Using modern scientific methods along with numerous formulas and sophisticated instruments at their disposal they dispense advice to the masses, but in the end like we ordinary people, they are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Frequently, as we all are very much aware, Mother Nature can be quite capricious.
To the best of my recollection, I don’t remember hearing or reading reports warning inhabitants living in my area about the advent or possibility of a mini ice age this winter. If anything there was supposed to be a lighter than usual snowfall and periods of heavy rain but somebody, somewhere, got their wires crossed. This winter is one for the record books with sub-arctic temperatures lasting weeks on end accompanied by strong gale-force winds. All the focus on weather leads one to ponder how we were led astray and the validity of anyone being able to predict a weather pattern with any certainty. Most people can tolerate snow around Christmas time when sets of outdoor lights twinkle on and off, enhancing the exterior of homes.
However, comes February, snow is like a house guest that over-stays her/his welcome. It’s like the “must-you-leave-already?” syndrome where the door is open for an imminent departure.
As gardeners weather patterns are important in order to maximize the survival of shrubs and perennials’ throughout the year. Most of us place our faith in modern technology in determining weather conditions based on cold or stationary fronts, pockets of low or high pressure, rain and drought conditions, in addition to the sudden arrival of severe unexpected storms that can catch people unaware.
However, it’s been my experience that farmers and ordinary folk can match or at least come close to the professional prognosticators, by using signs and omens in nature as a guidepost. Being a gardener that requires all the outside help available, I’ve accumulated some non-mainstream advice from various sources over a period of time.
Some of my best and most interesting alternate advice – or “AA” as it shall be known, was dispensed by my next door neighbour, Kathleen, who grew up on a farm in Ireland.
“Eleanor,” she would say as we both watched my dog walking the length of the back garden chewing blades of grass along the way, like a canine lawnmower, “your dog is telling you something important.”
That this dog was slightly neurotic-bordering-on-weird was not a revelation, however I digress…
“She’s telling us to expect rain and maybe some bad weather,” she would state matter-of-factly.
Although rain did occur perhaps fifty-percent of the time when Daisy did the grass cutting routine, I could predict with absolute one-hundred percent accuracy that she would regurgitate the source on the living room carpet.
According to folk lore it will be a cold, snowy winter if squirrels accumulate huge stores of nuts. Examining the accuracy of this particular axiom is difficult if not impossible, since the thieving…squirrels always seem to be in a state of accumulating something, all the time. In the autumn and Spring they “accumulate” bulbs and continue to dine al fresco throughout the summer at gardeners expense. This fall though it should be stated for the record that some of the regular furry-tailed rodents calling our back yard home, did seem – how shall we say – slightly bloated in the stomach area. This adage requires more study but how many of us gardeners would stand around and not intervene, while watching them steal away with plants, in the name of science?
Consider the rhododendrons, which have the ability to act as temperature gauges. When air temperature rises, their leaves unfurl. At twenty degrees they are completely closed but when the temperature reaches sixty degrees, they are completely open. This is stuff you want to know about!
Your common, every-day Field Cricket is another accurate thermometer but since there’s a mathematical equation involved, I can’t vouch for its validity. Seems that by counting the number of cricket chirps in 15 seconds and by adding 37, a person will know the temperature where the cricket happens to be at that particular time.
The problem here is how would a person know if it’s the same cricket and not another cricket that took the first one’s place? Don’t all crickets sound alike? What happens if the cricket is in the shade versus the cricket that’s chirping in the sun? Would the results be the same?
In the end it’s all open to interpretation. According to an almanac a windy winter equals a rainy Spring. Great. Just what we needed to know.