So, the Farmers’ Almanac has released a comprehensive list claiming to be “20 Signs from Nature of a Hard Winter Ahead.”

I wasn’t going to do anything with this — who needs reminders that winter is going to be a hell of backbreaking shoveling, knuckle-busting windshield scraping, white-knuckle driving and a wallet-busting sucking sound from the heating oil tank?

Not me, that’s who. But then I noticed that one item on the Almanac’s list — No. 12, to be precise — is “pigs gathering sticks.” Boy, does that image just set the mind to wandering. I had no idea that pigs did anything as advanced as gathering sticks and when I imagine it, I see a group of hogs hanging around at the Stick Store, elbows up on the counter as they discuss the day’s news.

PIG ONE: “Gonna be a haaard winter, I reckon. If you’re smaaaaht, you’ll get yourself 10 cawd of wood instead of your usual five, you skinflint.”

PIG TWO: “Waddaya think I’m doing here at the Stick Store, ya damn fool? I didn’t come here for truffles.”

PIG ONE: “Ah, your mother eats pork rinds.”

Then they get to brawling and I don’t care who you are, brawling pigs is just a darned good time.

Also on the list, at No. 11, “spiders spinning larger-than-usual webs.” Right. Of course. Spiders. Typically at this time of year, I discover spider webs by walking face-first into them. It happens as I’m wandering in the backyard, thinking about that Nobel Prize-winning novel I’m going to write aaaany day now. Head filled with genius thoughts, I walk between posts beneath the deck and that’s when the magic happens.

You feel the thin, sticky strands stretching across your eyes, mouth and ears. More of those cool wispy fingers curl around your neck like a delicate noose. The sensation is like wet gauze pulled over the face and in those first frantic fragments of a second, realization dawns. The horror of having your head shrouded in the spider’s death trap is compounded vastly by the knowledge that said spider could be anywhere by now and it’s probably huge.

It could be in your hair. It could be crawling into your ear, or possibly, it has dropped like an eight-legged ninja down the back of your shirt where it will begin burrowing into your flesh to lay its eggs and transform you into a living, breathing spider incubator.

Or something. At that point, I tend to snatch myself nude right there in the backyard and who gives a fig how big or small that web happens to be? Maybe the Almanac people break out their measuring sticks when they walk into a web, but not me. I’m too busy screeching, pulling off my clothes and spraying myself down with a neighbor’s hose. Winter is going to be hard? Who cares, man, I’ve got a spider on me!

“Thicker than normal corn husks” comes in at No. 1. See, now this one makes sense. If I’m an ear of corn and I know a hard winter is coming, I’m sure as hell going to put on a thicker coat. Although you have to wonder why an ear of corn cares what the coming winter will be like. In the end, they’re all just going to get tossed into pots of boiling water, slathered with butter and eaten typewriter style. How is that more noble than freezing to death?

At No. 9 is “mice chewing furiously to get into your home.” Which I don’t get at all. Do mice ever chew casually? What is the threshold for furious chewing and exactly who gets to make that distinction?

“Ants marching in a line rather than meandering” is at No. 13. This is another one that I find absurdly pleasing. I’m absolutely sure that I’ve seen ants marching like the world’s most efficient soldiers somewhere. A quick Google search reveals this to be so. There are ants marching in such great numbers in a Tom & Jerry cartoon that it rumbles poor Spike’s T-bone steak right off his plate. The ants then march off with the steak, some nice plump tomatoes and a loaf of bread. Because it’s going to be a hard winter, you see, and they need to fatten their ant pantry. If it happened in a Tom & Jerry cartoon, my friends, it’s got to be true. Stupid ants.

“Thick hair on the nape of a cow’s neck” is No. 6. Ha ha! Ol’ Moo Moo has a neck beard! There may be some morsel of truth to this one, but I think it’s probably mostly bull.

“The early departure of geese and ducks” is No. 4. It makes me imagine a goose and a duck sitting at the airport bar wearing flowered shirts and sunglasses as they prepare to beat feet to Florida for the winter.

“I pity the fools who have to stay here all winter,” says the goose.

“For sure,” says the duck. “Winters in Maine ain’t all they’re quacked up to be.”

“Ha” cries the goose. “I see what you did there. But seriously, do we have time for another one of these Bloody Marys? They’re delightful.”

“Woodpeckers sharing a tree” is way up high at No. 2 on the list. I’ve seen evidence of this. The other day, high up in the walnut tree out back, I saw one woodpecker hanging a sock on the door to let his roommate know that he was getting busy all up in there. Which is smart: If you’re going to share a room, it’s best to have some hard rules.

On and on goes the Farmers’ Almanac list with bees acting strangely, crickets crawling all over your fireplace and Monarch butterflies heading south with the goose and the duck. Squirrels are gathering nuts at a fever pace, raccoons are growing their tails thick and full-bodied and the always-popular woolly bear caterpillar is getting a complete makeover like nature’s prima donna.

Do I believe in this kind of lore? Not really. To me, the best indication of a nasty winter is the calendar itself — if the months between November and April are listed, then winter is coming and really, when has there ever been an easy one?

All things considered, I’d rather be with the goose, the duck and the butterfly, headed to lands more tropical to read about Maine’s winter from the beach. Instead, I’ll be right here as always, writing weather stories, complaining nonstop about the cold and occasionally stripping nude to run around in the backyard with a garden hose.

I may never appear personally in the Almanac’s list of weather lore, but if they ever come with a “20 Signs that Your Neighbor is a Freak,” by God, I should take the top spot.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer who once told his editors, “I’ll write a weather story by choice when pigs gather sticks.” Email him at [email protected]


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