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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Where Art Thou Woolly Bear Caterpillar?

I've noticed since moving to central New York that weather is a major topic of conversation. Like riding a horse, I've learned to gallop along with the pace. Now I'm also watching the skies. Especially in September.

Stephen King wrote a wonderful book many years ago, 'Salem's Lot. In it he describes autumn in Maine, with warm days and cool nights, and with a brilliant blue sky full of white clouds with gray keels. Fall in upstate New York isn't much different from that far-north state and, like in Maine, comes early. Although the calendar doesn't say so, summer is gone. And all the signs of winter are brewing.

I walked Harry today and saw a few scattered red maple leaves. Not many, but enough to get me thinking. The other morning I saw a fat (really fat) blue jay. Squirrels around my house are busy, as are chipmunks, who for years haven't been frequent visitors, but now suddenly are everywhere (no, I don't know what this means). My cousin Russ mentioned Saturday that the squirrels on his property are in a frenzy of butternut collecting, this as a preamble to a friend remarking today something about caterpillars, and how an acquaintance said the Woolly Bear caterpillar and some white version around here are suggesting a harsh winter.

Egads. I know what that means...snow. And more snow.

There's something quite remarkable about looking to nature for signs of what winter might bring. My "city-fied" life has caused me to defer to the weather channel rather than paying attention to my own surroundings, but that's changing. These days I sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and study wildlife behavior. I notice trees and other vegetation, insects, the weight-gain of birds and rodents, then flip through the Pennysaver searching for phone numbers of men who sell firewood. I'm thankful that I work from home because I remember well the winter just past and how my car was buried under snow from December to March.

From that tried and true resource, The Farmer's Almanac, here are some nature tips on predicting a rough winter to come (my commentary in green):

-Thicker than normal corn husks (if only I knew what a "normal" corn husk looked like)
-Woodpeckers sharing a tree (haven't seen a woodpecker all year)
-Early arrival of the Snowy owl (ditto on the Snowy owl)
-Early departure of geese and ducks (not yet)
-Early migration of the Monarch butterfly (I saw three on the golf course last weekend, that's good news!)
-Thick hair on the nape of the cow’s neck (I have not yet had the opportunity to inspect the cow)
-Heavy and numerous fogs during August (I don't get up early enough to observe fog)
-Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands (I'm afraid of raccoons)
-Mice eating ravenously into the home (oh please God, no...)
-Early arrival of crickets on the hearth (I wonder what "early" means?)
-Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers (yes, this I have; found one in the shower the other day)
-Pigs gathering sticks (memo to me: visit local pig farm and monitor pig stick gathering)
-Insects marching a bee line rather than meandering (I saw this once with ants in Mexico, but never in my hometown)
-Early seclusion of bees within the hive (I'm also afraid of bees)
-Unusual abundance of acorns (nope)
-Muskrats burrowing holes high on the river bank (I don't even know what a muskrat looks like)
-“See how high the hornets' nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest” (I had a hornet's nest on my second floor sleeping porch last fall and we got many feet of snow. So far so good)
-The squirrel gathers nuts early to fortify against a hard winter (bad news, per Cousin Russ)
-Frequent halos or rings around sun or moon forecast numerous snow falls (*looks out window at full moon...oh no, is that a ring??)
-Narrow orange band in the middle of the Woolly Bear caterpillar warns of heavy snow; fat and fuzzy caterpillars presage bitter cold

Tomorrow I'm hunting down a Woolly Bear caterpillar. If I find a fat one with a narrow orange band, I'm buying sweaters and taking cover. Or maybe I'll just skip the caterpillar...not to mention the pig farm...and check weather.com for January predictions in Florida.

1 comment:

David said...

Also, look for FLA bound retirees.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum