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  • Kelly Marks

A Cold Winter

Years ago, when sleep was not a problem, my mom dragged me out of bed at some unholy hour to go to a farm to pick strawberries. I still don’t know why we had to go so early, but it must have been the right thing to do because the farmers were ready and waiting for us. They handed out little white plastic buckets for us to take to the field and fill up with plump, ripe strawberries.


It was maybe the middle of May, and it was early(did I mention that?); it was also very chilly. Still half asleep, my eyes were open only enough to keep me from tripping and falling down. Mom walked up to the woman in charge and by way of greeting said “It’s cold enough to hang meat.“


What? My eyes flew open wide, and I was instantly awake. What kind of greeting was that? I was more than a little embarrassed, but there was no need. Apparently in farm-speak this made as much sense as a normal “How do you do?”


It made me aware of some of the colorful ways people who live close to the earth talk and the signs they rely on. Before Doppler radar and all the weather apps and tracking systems, people had to look to signs in nature to predict harsh winters. If you look in the Farmers’ Almanac it will give you a list of things that will let you know if it’s going to be a cold winter: thicker than normal corn husks, woodpeckers sharing a tree, early departure of geese and ducks, heavy fogs in August, the size of the orange band of the wooly worm, and an unusual abundance of acorns.


I don’t know if acorns take into account the effects of El Niño, La Niña, and climate change, but if they do, we are in for a humdinger of a winter. I see the irony in that statement since when I wrote part of this yesterday, mid-November, I was in a short-sleeved T-shirt.


My folks came down last week and were helping me fix my lawnmower. They are the ones who noticed that there were more leaves than normal this year and along with that there are also a gazillion acorns. And “gazillion” is not an exaggeration. So I started getting up leaves. And yes, I realize I’ve been talking about leaves a lot. I’m starting to sound a little OCD.


But as I began the work, I happened to notice that despite the thick layer of leaves on the ground, there are more still on the trees than on the ground. It was just a little disheartening. In the past I have tried many tactics. I have tried to get them early; I have waited till spring; usually I have waited till they all fell, but then the job was overwhelming.


This year I’m trying something new. Along with the old-timey weather predictors, a phrase that many people followed was “It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.” These were people who kept the lawn mowed, the house clean, and the farm in good working order. They did a little bit at a time instead of letting it pile up. This is something my mom has always followed, and I have spent at least 40+ years rebelling and trying to prove I didn’t have to do it that way. And now here I am, this many years later, adding one more thing to the list of “Mom knows best.”


By the way, don’t forget your umbrella today, I noticed 3/4 of the cows were lying down. That means it’s going to rain.






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