Seems like everywhere I go these days somebody remarks, “Have you seen what it says in the Old Farmers’ Almanac? This winter will be colder, dump more snow and hang around longer than last year.” Do you know the Old Farmer’s Almanac? The pages are filled with solid country wisdom that I trust. It might not be scientific but generally it is more useful than the National Weather Service. Heck, anybody can tell you what the weather is while it is happening.
We who live out here isolated on the Great Plains anthropomorphize weather. It becomes a living thing, meddling in every aspect of our lives. I harbor an exceptional dread of the arrival of Uncle Winter. I can feel the chill as he gets closer every day.
I check my pantry. I make a note to stock up on bread flour and cat food. My basement shelves are lined with rows of sparkling jars. This harvest season I canned everything I could cram into jars; jams and jellies, fruit sauces in great variety, beet pickles, six flavors of cucumber pickles, tomato catsup, cocktail sauce, marinara sauce, and pizza sauce. An entire section of my shelves groans under the weight of bags and boxes of flour, sugar, oatmeal, rice, lentils, dry beans of every color, and grains of every kind. I have tucked potatoes and squash and onions and cabbages in a cool dark corner. I could make it through the winter without going to the store. Well, except for milk and eggs.
I know Uncle Winter is coming, his bags packed with frost and ice. I wish he would stay away but he won’t. He’s like a not-so-favorite uncle, the one who always “falls asleep” face first in the soup. Uncle Winter comes too early, bosses us around, dictates every detail of our lives and stays too long.
A long time ago I learned it is useful for me to visit the worst possible scenario I can imagine. If I suffer only 80 percent of what I feared, it seems like victory. When reality falls short of the worst, I feel good.
Folks around here say that anybody who predicts the weather is either a newcomer or a durn fool. As a returnee to the Hi-Line, both shoes fit my feet. But since the Almanac and I know that this year will be the worst winter ever, I predict that we will be snowed in from the first of November until sometime in April. The most frequently recorded temperature for the months of December, January and February will be minus forty. Drifts will loom over my house and I will be a prisoner in my own home, locked in by snow and ice. My mail will pile up at the post office until I hire a snow plow to go get it for me. The ice age couldn’t be much worse than this coming winter. By spring I’ll be a haggard cackling hermit, so deprived of human contact that my neighbors will run from me rather than be held hostage by my nonstop babbling.
Uncle Winter’s relentless visit will do that to me.
Around April, just when I think Uncle Winter has finally packed up and gone, when I stand with my back against the locked front door and breathe a sigh of relief, I’ll notice his faded chamois shirt and woolen union suit tucked under the cushion of my favorite chair. Sure enough, there comes a pounding on the door and with a whoosh the door blows open. There he stands, frost on his breath and icicles hanging from his eyebrows. “I decided to spend a little more time with you before I head back up north.”
And there is nothing you can do. Have a hot toddy, pull on your boots, grab the snow shovel and go clear the path yet one more time.
I’d better take another look at my grocery list. Let’s see; add dry milk, powdered eggs, and more cat food. Woman does not live by bread alone so before I hunker down, I’d better order more books.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)