Signs of a hard winter to come

As I've strolled about Boston this month, I've noticed a bountiful crop of berries on such shrubs as cotoneaster and holly. And I'll have to admit that the first thing that popped into my mind was, "Guess we're in for a hard winter."

Now, I know better. Those berries grew from blooms that were pollinated earlier in the year and their abundance is a result of the weather, the number of pollinators at bloom time, and the amount of water -- and care the plants received -- since then, plus how many blossoms there were in the first place.

Nevertheless, each fall when temperatures start falling, I think about those homey prognostications of bad winters to come. (Ever notice how no one predicts a mild winter? We may long for one, but it's not as much fun to anticipate.)

I'm not really a winter person, and I'll have to confess that I have to work at appreciating fall, my mom's favorite season. Not that I don't love its fabulous foliage, pumpkins, mums, scarecrows, and lower humidity levels. It's just that those nights in the 50s, then 40s, are too much of a reminder that Old Man Winter is on his way.

So after the berry incident, I began thinking about all the "signs" predicting a hard winter -- woolly worms, squirrels with extra-bushy tails, an extra-large crop of acorns on oak trees, and so forth.

I thought it would be fun to explore some of the folklore about fortelling harsh winter weather.

This guessing about the winter ahead goes back a long way. Here's some early North Carolina folklore about it.

Here are 20 homespun "methods" from the Farmers' Almanac.

And 20 more

Ever hear of predicting winter weather by cutting open a persimmon and looking at the seed?

Woolly worms

More on berries

There's even a woolly worm festival in Banner Elk, N.C., Oct. 18 and 19.

And finally, did you ever think about what the woolly worm or woolly bear caterpillar becomes when it grows up? This interesting article explains: They're the "larval form of the Isabella tiger moth, which is a medium-sized moth, with yellowish-orange and cream-colored wings spotted with black."

It also explains why, although woolly worms reach maturity in summer, you see so many of them in fall -- they're searching for places to overwinter (under leaves or logs, etc.).

I like knowing the facts, but still, the legends are more fun!

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