Living Like The Long Winter ~ Signs of Winter

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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:

  1. Thicker than normal corn husks.
  2. Woodpeckers sharing a tree.
  3. Early arrival of the Snowy owl.
  4. Early departure of geese and ducks.
  5. Early migration of the Monarch Butterfly.
  6. Thick hair on the nape (back) of the cow’s neck.
  7. Heavy and numerous fogs during August.
  8. Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands.
  9. Mice eating ravenously into the home.
  10. Early arrival of crickets on the hearth.
  11. Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers.
  12. Pigs gathering sticks.
  13. Insects marching a bee line rather than meandering.
  14. Early seclusion of bees within the hive.
  15. Unusual abundance of acorns.
  16. Muskrats burrowing holes high on the river bank.
  17. “See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest”.
  18. Narrow orange band in the middle of the Woollybear caterpillar warns of heavy snow.
  19. The squirrel gathers nuts early to fortify against a hard winter.
  20. 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!

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  1. Last summer our squirrels started gathering nuts in early August, which is 6 weeks early.. We had the most snow that we have had here in 16 years with extrememly cold temps that went on for weeks. Now it is extrememly hot day after day and it hard to remember the cold at all!

  2. I JUST ASKED my husband about this a few days ago because our cats are also getting extremely THICK fur coats on them, and it has been around the 70’s and 80’s here in Oklahoma. This next week the lows are supposed to hit high 30’s to low 40’s.

  3. I forgot to mention, we have several oak trees around and they are LOADED with acorns! They have been dropping since at least last month, there are a ton on the ground but the trees are still FULL of them!

  4. I’m thinking here in pa we are going to get a TON of snow. We’ve had over 66″ of rain here since April and now this week we’re to get more rain. Every week we get an average of 2-3 inches of rain. If that is any indicator, we’ll get snow here every winter. Maybe I’d better get a little more prepared for wnter than I’ve been.

  5. Travica: I think it might sneak up on us! Karen: Crazy about the acorns! Charity: The farmer’s almanac says we are in for alot of snow this year, it will be interesting to see how much! Amanda: My sister said her horses have thicker than normal fur also!

  6. Today my cousin (a local) said, “I heard a Whippoorwill this week. That is supposed to mean the 1st frost is 6 wks off (according to locals), which puts the 1st frost prediction at mid SEPTEMBER!! Said too, the thick foliage we have is an indicator of a COLD winter ahead.

  7. Here in Buffalo, NY the leaves have begun to change and they are already talking about heavy snows and a long winter

  8. Definately a early winter here. Every farmer in the area says we are approximately three weeks ahead in the season. We never have peaches till August and we had them the second week of July. Hoping for a good hard winter this year though.

  9. Our squirrels have started stripping our hickory trees of nuts . This is really early for that. They strip them all off the trees and let them dry for a few weeks and then gather them. They have been at it for about 5 days already and it is usually mid August before they start this. One must be careful walking in the yard lest one start rolling on nuts and breaks ones neck!!

  10. Some of the trees here have started to drop leaves .. much too early. I wouldn’t mind a real winter and a white Christmas this year

  11. As much as I hate the cold, we could use a long really cold spell. From what I understand, that’s what will kill off the pine beetles.

  12. Flies are inside like MAD… the squirrels are already making short work of the pecans on my tree.. eating and stealing…. and everything bloomed almost a month earlier than it was supposed to, in my gardens.

  13. Love the website! Here in Iowa the locusts have been singing for about a month which according to grandma should mean frost about Sept. 10! Too early for me!

  14. well over here in new zealand we seem to having spring early. so i guess its the oppostie to you in the us. my black currants are breaking buds, the blossoms on my fruit trees are nearly due to crack open, and my quinces are putting out their new growth and new leaves and its only august,plus the grass is growing too.

  15. I live in the ATL area, and due to really no winter at all last year, we’ve got tons of insects, early West Nile virus, and increased rabies, among other things. I loathe hot weather, too, and we’ve suffered with horrible upper ’90s and humidity this summer. So ~ an early, cold, long winter sounds wonderful to me.

  16. Oklahoma has been suffering with temps around 110 – 115 for the last 2 weeks. Heat finally broke last night. Grandma always said heat like that preceded a long winter.

  17. It’s really interesting to see the differences around the world this year, intense heat in some areas and no real summer in others. We’re in the NW of the UK renowned for it’s rain (!) but even we’ve had much more than our fair share this year!! We’ve had the odd couple of weeks of sun early on but otherwise it’s been a wet, mild and pretty dismal summer…. really hoping the winter brings something better!

  18. I didn’t know that flies inside meant an early winter! With the amount of flies I’ve killed today (10) winter should be here next week! LOL!

  19. I live in sunny FL, no signs of winter yet! I am however full of the knowledge and know how from the book. ” Long Hard Winter” is such a good sad book. Pa reports the native American to report that every 7 winters is hard but the 7×7 or 49th winter will be nothing but blizzards. It was amazing the
    Ingalls all survived.

  20. It’s really interesting to hear of all these different things! Kelly, my dad says that when flies start coming indoors they are looking for a warm place to winter. We’ve had them extremely bad here for about a month now:( He also said it’s the same with spiders…when we see those starting to make their way inside then winter should be on it’s way shortly! Kathy, I heard that this morning too! Early winter could be a very good thing in that case! Holly, my grandpa actually used to tell me the same thing about the 7 year thing and I don’t think he ever read the LH books:)

  21. We had a swarm on the window just today!! Behaviour usually seen in Oct. We almost never have flies. We are in northeast Penn, s/w Poconos area. All the seasons are ‘jacked’ it seems, they’ve been off for over a year now.

    1. Remember when they said the Japanese earthquake was so powerful that it knocked the earth off it’s axis by a few degrees, ( I don’t remember how many), unless there was some sort of counter event, that would put the earth back onto it’s original axis the seasons would be effected, unless someone could figure out which way and adjust the calander accordingly. However; since that time if you’ve paid attention to the news, you would have noticed that the weather has become increasingly destructive, ie. hurricane sandy landed way farther north than anything I can remember in my 50 some years of life, wildfires way more frequent, I have never seen flooding on the front range of Colorado like it did a couple of weeks ago. Maybe the earthquake in Japan of which there has also been more frequent in recent years is the start of what the Bible prophesied would happen.

  22. I go by the theory that ignorance is bliss when it comes to winter signs cuz’ I have no clue as to what they are. 🙂 But our winters aren’t too hard in WA.

  23. I live in eastern South Dakota (about 25 miles from DeSmet- the location of several of Laura’s books) and I am hoping for a hard winter. But not an early one. I want to enjoy fall for awhile. Summer has been too sweltering.

  24. we too have had gross amts of flies but we figure it’s because of the severe drought….they want in out of the heat!

  25. I clicked over to your blog and read the “living like the long winter” post and the comments. I noticed they were from last year at this time. How about a follow up? 🙂 Did you all that saw the signs of a hard winter have one? Would love to know.

  26. Wow! I love this post! My grandma used to tell me these things but I was always too worried about playing outside with my sisters to care, boy, I wished I’d listened! I’m up in the Tehachapi Mtns. in CA now and the old times here will tell you to watch for when the acorns fall off the trees and to look for heavy and early coats on the horses! I actually watch my cats! When they start to get an late summers lion’s mane around their neck I know it’s going to be an early winter!

  27. A friend states that the inside of a persimmon will predict the severity of the coming winter. The inside will show a pattern resembling a spoon or a fork. this is a new saying for me. Has anyone ever heard of this saying?

  28. I was told as a kid that the wider the stripes on a skunk the harder the winter would be. Also, if the snow stays on the trees after snowing it won’t stay around long.

  29. Hi
    I live in Brazil, in fact I was born here. Some amazing things:
    I read this book translated into Portuguese as a child !!!
    Now with 63 years and 41 years of work as an agronomist, I created a certain intimacy with the weather forecast.
    But I want to tell you what I learned from my Italian grandmother:
    Rainy summer, heavy winter!
    That’s true here, I don’t know in the northern hemisphere …
    The layers of the onion, the thicker the more severe the winter will be!
    congratulations on the post !!!