How ironic that we should be going through The Long Winter right in the middle of summer. Oh well, maybe thinking of the cold days will be like mental air conditioning? In the first chapter of the book, Pa is getting ready for winter. It’s fall, the harvest time, and Laura is helping out with what she can.
“Laura put her hand on the wall of their house. The coarse plaster was hot in the hot wind and sunshine, but inside the thick mud walls, in the dark, the air must be cool. She liked to think of the muskrats sleeping there. Pa was shaking his head, “We’re going to have a hard winter,” he said, not liking the prospect. “Why, how do you know?” Laura asked in surprise. “The colder the winter will be, the thicker the muskrats build the walls of their houses,” Pa told her. “I never saw a heavier built muskrat’s house than that one.” Laura looked at it again. It was very solid and big. But the sun was blazing, burning on her shoulders through the faded, thin calico and the hot wind was blowing, and stronger than the damp mud smell of the slough was the ripening smell of grasses parching in the heat. Laura could hardly think of ice and snow and cruel cold. ” ~ The Long Winter p. 12
I know sometimes it can be hard to look past the season you are in. Right now we are simply wishing for the rain to slow and the sun to shine. Soon we will be wishing for the temp to drop and the leaves to fall. After that we will look towards the snow coming and the icicles on the house. And then we will be wishing for the rain and the warmth again.
It’s easy to tell when a storm is coming, you just look up at the clouds and watch how fast they are moving and you know about how much time you will have until the storm hits. There are even a few ways to tell how severe that storm will be (without hearing a weatherman tell you!) I always watch to see if the cows head to a safe spot or bed down in the pasture. If a storm comes across and they are still happily munching the grass, I’m not too worried. But if they are moving quickly towards the corner of a field and laying down together, I know it’s time to get ready.
With winter, we are given many signs by nature and by the animals what we can expect. In this paragraph from the book Pa is talking about an example of this by looking at the muskrat house. Here are more tips of things to watch for a long hard winter:
- Thicker than normal corn husks.
- Woodpeckers sharing a tree.
- Early arrival of the Snowy owl.
- Early departure of geese and ducks.
- Early migration of the Monarch Butterfly.
- Thick hair on the nape (back) of the cow’s neck.
- Heavy and numerous fogs during August.
- Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands.
- Mice eating ravenously into the home.
- Early arrival of crickets on the hearth.
- Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers.
- Pigs gathering sticks.
- Insects marching a bee line rather than meandering.
- Early seclusion of bees within the hive.
- Unusual abundance of acorns.
- Muskrats burrowing holes high on the river bank.
- “See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest”.
- Narrow orange band in the middle of the Woollybear caterpillar warns of heavy snow.
- The squirrel gathers nuts early to fortify against a hard winter.
- Frequent halos or rings around sun or moon forecast numerous snow falls.
Have you ever noticed any of these things before winter? Have you ever seen any other signs that indicated a long winter?
(thanks to The Farmer’s Almanac for the signs)
Make sure you check out the entire Living Like Little House series!