Over the last couple of weeks and since the first days of spring, we have experienced some unusual cold days, including snow. I guess it is my thinning gray hair and my familiarity with the country groundhog, but I often get asked just what kind of “winter” we are going through at the moment. I must say that I take no responsibility for the northern whistle pig that predicted we would have an early spring. I’ve never taken a lot of stock in that varmint, due to the fact I can never pronounce its name and it does live all the way up in Pennsylvania, meaning any self-respecting groundhog would never come out of its hole with snow on the ground unless some two-legged human made it do so. The southern groundhog General Lee down in Georgia did see his shadow and did predict six more weeks of winter weather, but who can trust something that steals from your garden and fields anyway.
Cold snaps are going to come for several more weeks and we just better get use to it. I’m always impressed how creative we become when the temperature drops on an early spring night in the middle of some early warm weather, causing homeowners to turn their yards into reproductions of the camps of Native Americans of the Great Plains. Just before dark and early in the morning during these periods of cold spring days, if you happen to drive down a Tennessee roadway, you can see the traditional bed sheet tipis covering rose and lilac bushes, grandmother Flossie’s peonies, and some tomato plants placed in the ground by over-zealous mater planters. It happens every year and for some reason it is still the greatest source for a conversation to develop in church lobbies, country stores, barbershops and anywhere else two people over the age of forty may gather.
We always have our mainstay of “spring winters” beginning with redbud winter, followed by dogwood winter, easing gracefully into locust winter, with another touch of blackberry winter in May and usually concluded with an appearance of cotton britches winter around the last of May or early June. There are even other winters that may fit other individual’s periods of explaining why it just turned cold, but before you know it, we will be celebrating the arrival of summer and talking about how warm it was the other day. I guess if we had to give a name to the most recent cold spell beginning on the first day of spring we could call it Bradford pear winter due to so many of them being in full bloom. Those trees have never been known to be the smartest tree in the yard, but they do put on a real pretty show whenever they do bloom. I guess not being from around these parts, you have to overlook their misunderstanding of Tennessee weather.
The “spring winters” do seem to be a southern, older-generation thing, and dutifully so, because these little cold snaps not only affect your peony blooms, but also give your body joints a touch of ailment as well. If only a bed sheet tipi helped the pains of old age.
It is tough trying to predict the weather. It seems at times the old folklore forecast may sometimes work better than today’s modern equipped weather stations. Right now there is even a discussion who has the best weather equipment, the USA or Europe.
For generations, farmers have been predicting their own weather. They now keep smart phones handy to monitor the rain, but some still watch nature’s signs for possible weather signs. A story is told around here about a dairy farmer who was explaining his operation to an agri-tourism group of non-farm people. He told the interested onlookers, “One of the benefits of this profession is that we have built-in weather predictions right here on the farm.”
Being a little taken back by that, one young lady asked him to explain.
Seeing he had a chance to stretch the truth a bit he pushed back his cap and with a straight face said, “You see young lady, when the cows are standing up it means its not going to rain for the next twenty-four hours. When they’re lying down you can be certain it’s going to rain.”
A man standing in the back, not overly impressed, piped up and remarked, “I saw a field of cows on the way over here where half the cows were standing up and half were lying down. What does that mean?”
Walking on in the direction of the milk barn, the farmer said, “Just like your TV weathermen, half of them were wrong.”
– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org