What the rhododendron tells

Nowadays it takes highly educated professionals with expensive gear to tell you what the weather is - and what it's going to be. In most places in the United States, this weather-by-high-tech works reasonably well. Sun is forecast and rays appear. Snow is called for and down it comes.

But in hard-to-fathom areas like New England, the environment's unfathomable peccadilloes still reign, so to speak. Often there's rain instead of snow, and both rather than sun.

It's enough to bring back fond memories of Grandma and her rhododendron. Forty years ago a New England family we know used neither forecaster nor outdoor thermometer to tell the wintry weather. They used Grandma.

If the side yard's rhododendron bush held its leaves tight against the stem, she'd warn: ''Cold today. Start of a cold snap. Wear long johns the next few days.'' Or, if the leaves were held looser: ''Warming trend, starting today. Don't dress too warmly.''

Grandma - and her rhododendron - had a good track record.

It's something for dulcet-toned meteorologists to ponder. Perhaps some ought to let dust gather on their electronic gizmos and turn to cultivating a rhododendron.

How would they know when the weather'll be warm enough to plant one? Maybe somebody who already has a rhododendron would look out his window and tell them.

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