Friday, November 6, 2009

Sue Weaver: All Spoons!

Wild Ozarks persimmons

The first autumn we lived in the Ozarks, we stopped by an elderly neighbor’s to chat. Our neighbor, Billy, and his wife, Rose, are lifelong Ozarkians, born within miles of our farm. The conversation turned to weather, as country conversations often do. “Have you checked your persimmons yet?” Rose asked me. With a sad shake of her head, she added, “Mine was all spoons.”

Persimmons? Spoons? What was that about? Then Rose gave us a lesson in Southern weather folklore. To foretell the coming winter’s weather, she said, collect a handful of ripe persimmons from several trees. Then pull one seed each from eight or ten persimmons, and carefully cut the seeds in half. Inside each seed will be one of three shapes: a knife, a fork, or a spoon. The knife indicates a cold, icy winter with wind that cuts through you like a knife. A fork foresees a mild winter when you can fork up the garden with ease. And the spoon: worst of all — a snowy, wet winter when you’ll need a snow shovel the most.

Spoon inside a persimmon seed

And you know what? That winter was our snowiest in the Ozarks to date.

Now everyone is talking about spoons. No one we know has found a fork or a knife so far! Not content with others’ results, John and I set out this morning to test the Ozark persimmon oracle for ourselves.

This time of year persimmons are easy to spot; the trees are bare of foliage, but their fruit still holds on tight. We gathered fruit from trees in four roadside locations, then brought the fruit home to run the test here.

The first time we tried this several years ago, we learned that persimmon seeds are exceedingly hard and abominably slippery at the same time. To make things more difficult, the seed is cut in two along its edge. The answer: needle-nose pliers to grip the seed and a sharp utility knife to slice it apart.

Gooey seeds and innards of persimmon fruit

I extracted seeds from the smushy fruit while repelling goats intent on raiding the experiment; John sliced ten seeds in half. Spoons. All spoons. Will it snow? We don’t know, but the persimmon oracle says it surely will.

We’d have liked to have double checked with a woolly worm, but there don’t seem to be a lot of them around this year. The bristly caterpillar stage of the black-specked, yellow Isabella tiger moth is known as a woolly bear in some locations but simply woolly worms in northern Indiana where John and I grew up.

According to my Hoosier grandma (and the Farmer’s Almanac agrees with Grandma’s rationale), wide orange bands foretell a mild winter, while wide black bands mean the opposite thing. Is this accurate? When Dr. C. H. Curran, former curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, tested the woolly worms' accuracy in the 1950s, his surveys found an 80 percent accuracy rate for the worms' weather predictions. Science, however, argues that the varying colors are caused by temperature levels and possibly moisture during the early days of the caterpillars’ lives. Whichever is true, “reading” woolly worms is such an ingrained part of country lore that woolly worm festivals are held in Beattyville, Kentucky; Lewisburg, Pennsylvania; Camargo, Illinois; and the granddaddy of them all, Banner Elk, North Carolina, which held its thirty-second annual Woolly Worm Festival this year.

An overabundance of acorns, said my Hoosier Irish grandpa (who scoffed at Grandma’s woolly worm predictions), is a sure sign of a long, hard winter. Either the oaks or the persimmons are wrong this year because there are very few acorns under our trees.

Thick hair on the nape of a cow’s neck, hornets’ nests built high in the trees, crickets in the chimney, and pigs making nests of sticks are said to presage bad winters, as are hickory nuts having thick shells. For centuries, it seems, humans have looked to nature to warn us of winter’s worst tricks. In the end, I think I’ll wait and see. But we’ll add another rick to the woodpile.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.


Deb Burns said...

Love this, Sue!

Gill - That British Woman said...

that is so neat I have never heard of that. There are all sorts of folk lore in different parts of the world fore telling bad or mild Winters, isn't there?

Gill in Canada

Melanie Jolicoeur said...

I've heard about the acorn/long winter connection as well, but it's so impossible to predict the weather lately. I'll just keep my fingers crossed that winter isn't too long and cold...