Monday, August 2, 2010

Get Out Your Pig Spleen and Persimmon Seeds!

Virginia has strange weather. I don't know if it's because of geographic location or because weather across the country has been unusual lately, but we had to get out of the pool the other day (in the last weekend of July) because it was too cold.

Also, birds have been mating and nesting like crazy - not just robins and sparrows, but ducks and geese too! I'm no expert in ornithological mating habits, but isn't the end of July a little late for that?

And I keep hearing that we are in for another hard winter like last year. I didn't move here until spring, so I'm not exactly sure what that means, except a lot of snow.

"Yeah," someone will glance up at the sky and say with sage resignation, "We're gonna have another bad winter." I look up at the sky too - nothing. Just a few clouds or a dazzling blue and crystal clear sky. What are they looking at?

But when I ask how they know - I can't get a straight answer. They just know. Just like they can tell that a storm is coming long before it appears on the horizon because the leaves of certain trees turn their backsides to the direction the storm is approaching from.

Yeah - I didn't believe it either. I thought they were just teasing the California city girl. But it's true! Works every time! And now I use it myself.

I'm used to California's non-weather. It isn't true that it "never rains in California" (although I love the song). And the temperature can get down to the low 50's - pretty cold by California standards. But you're never going to get hurricanes, serious tornadoes or 6 inches of snow blanketing Los Angeles.

Here in Virginia, however, you can get any and all of these things. All this talk of a bad winter coming up made me curious, but the usual weather resources only cover today, tomorrow and the next week or so. And then I remembered: the Old Farmers Almanac!

I don't happen to have a copy. In LA, the Old Farmers Almanac is more of a quaint artifact, full of mysterious farming tips, down-home recipes, folksy wisdom - and arcane weather information.

Here in Virginia farm country, the Almanac has more relevance and its wisdom is taken more seriously. If anyone would know how to read the signs of nature to predict the weather, it would be the folks whose livelihoods are dependent upon it. And the Old Farmers Almanac is the holy grail of such wisdom.

I went on the Old Farmers Almanac website and clicked on "How to Predict the Weather" - ready to be enlightened by a compendium of hundreds of years of science, experience and old world knowledge.

What I found was a series of options. The Old Farmers Almanac provides weather forecasting based upon solar science (sun spot activity) meteorology (atmospheric conditions) and climatology (prevailing weather conditions over long periods of time - even centuries) as well as by the phases of the moon.

You can also click on "Predicting Weather with a Pig Spleen."

Say what?

I'm not making this up. All you need is a barn, a farmhand - and a live pig.

According to some guy named Gus from Saskatchewan, you can predict the weather by the shape of the pig's spleen. You have to slaughter the pig first.

There's even a diagram of the spleen sectioned off into 6 parts, each representing one month, starting at the top (the part that was towards the pig's head) and the last of the 6 month period at the bottom. Wherever the spleen is thickest indicates a cold spell. A pronounced bulge predicts stormy weather ahead. A spleen that is even all around indicates mild weather conditions for the next 6 months.

Another guy, Joe, also in Saskatchewan, is adamant that a fall or early winter slaughter is more accurate for weather forecasting than a spring slaughter. Despite harsh El Nino weather predictions for 1997 - '98, Joe forecasted mild conditions for his area, based on the evenly edged spleen he extracted from a pig that fall. And he was right - thick onion skins and corn husks notwithstanding.

Another school of weather forecasting holds that persimmon seeds are the way to go. No barns, farmhands or livestock required - all you need is a persimmon.

The Almanac fails to mention if the persimmon must be organically grown, fresh from the tree or store bought, but apparently the shape of the kernel inside a persimmon seed will predict the weather for the next several months.

A spoon-shaped kernel means you're in for a lot of heavy, wet snow and a harsh winter. A kernel that is shaped like a fork indicates a mild winter with light snow - and a knife-shaped kernel is a harbinger for cold, "cutting" winds.

Then there's the tried and true goose bone method. For those whose Thanksgiving feast features a goose instead of a turkey ( and apparently it must be a goose for weather prediction, a turkey won't do) after carving the bird for dinner, you strip the breastbone of meat and cartilage and set it aside to dry. If the breast bone remains white, a mild winter is predicted. A bone that turns blue, black or purple warns of a cold, harsh winter. The explanation for this is that the dark color indicates that the bird had naturally absorbed a higher amount of oil - as a natural fortification against the coming winter cold.

In LA, my experience with weather forecasts was on the radio or on TV news programs - with an accuracy rate of about 50-50. If they forecast a 60 - 70% chance of rain - it might get wet. Anything under 50% - forget the umbrella.

Maybe they should start reading pig spleens and persimmon seeds!

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