Poor Will’s Almanack for the first week of Late Fall.
I used to know a local woodsman by the name of Vern Hogans, a hunter and fisherman. One July, we were talking about the weather, and I was wondering what the winter ahead would bring.
He told me right away he'd noticed that the groundhog's fur was getting rich and heavy. "Oh, it's going to be a cold winter!" he predicted.
A few weeks later, he took me out to a woodlot north of town. "I'll show you the bark on the trees," he said. "They'll tell 'ya somethin' too."
He brought me to a hickory tree. "I call this one a bitternut," he said. "Now you see how tight that bark is?" He put his hand to the trunk and stroked it. "See, it's tight. You can't pull off one piece."
He told me how the trees "loosen up" and shed in the spring, "just like a snake sheds his skin. If winter's gonna be cold, they drop the old bark early. And if the winter's gonna be warm, the bark comes loose late, and it stays loose. But you can see how this bark here is."
We went by elms and oaks. Hogans touched them all. He stopped and checked a green ash. "Boy, he's tight, ain't he! And this one's a cottonwood. You see now, he's well sealed. And thick. The trees, they put on deep coats for winter just like animals."
Indeed, that winter was a bitter one.
Unfortunately, Vern has been gone now for quite a while, and I'm still trying to get the hang of the tree bark thing. That -- and the national weather service hasn't decided whether the wicked La Nina will return again this year to bring us snow and ice!
Next week on Poor Will’s Almanack: notes for the second week of Late Fall. In the meantime, find a tree, any tree. Check out its bark. If you know what it's saying, let me know.