Weather junkies eye pig spleens

Posted Dec. 30, 2010, at 6:42 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 05, 2011, at 7:05 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — “Whether the weather be nice or whether the weather be not. Whether the weather be cold or whether the weather be hot. We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.”

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year at college was spent working at a summer camp on the Oregon coast where every day at breakfast we sang the above ditty.

It stuck with me all these years, not only because it was sung every single day all summer long, but because it really sums up my relation to weather perfectly.

I love weather and can talk about it all day.

I even have numerous weather-related websites bookmarked on my computer and look forward to daily and weekly weather updates through e-mail. In between, I consult my multifunction indoor-outdoor weather monitor and fantasize about the day I can afford an elaborate weather station apparatus for the house.

That’s just the tech side of my obsession with the weather. There’s a whole natural and folklore component equally fascinating to hard-core weather junkies.

On a regional level, there’s the Farmers’ Almanac, (www.farmersalmanac.com) based out of Lewiston and the Old Farmer’s Almanac (www.almanac.com) published in Dublin, N.H.

Both claim to use formulas based on historical observations, solar science, sunspots and weather patterns in coming up with their annual weather predictions.

Both also claim an 80 percent to 85 percent accuracy rate.

This year, for example, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a milder than normal winter across northern New England and colder to the south with the snowiest periods in late December, mid- and late January, mid- to late February and early March.

For their part, the folks in Lewiston at the Farmers’ Almanac are saying New England is in for “a cold slap in the face” with colder than normal temperatures this winter with their snow and precipitation predictions closely mirroring that of the New Hampshire publication.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has helpful forecasting information such as how to predict the weather using a persimmon seed.

Simply find a locally grown persimmon — so as to reflect local weather — and study the shape of the kernels inside.

Spoon-shaped kernels mean lots of heavy, wet snow over the season, fork-shaped means light powdery snow during a mild winter, and a knife-shaped seed means cutting, icy winds.

Since the likelihood of finding a St. John Valley-grown persimmon is pretty remote, maybe I’ll try the almanac’s next prediction method — using a pig’s spleen.

This method according to the almanac, was devised by Gus Wickstrom of Tompkins, Saskatchewan.

Every six months when Wickstrom slaughtered a pig, he carefully studied the animal’s spleen using a method passed down from his father.

Old Gus divided the spleen into six areas, each representing one month. The top section represented the current month and the bottom one the end of that six-month period.

“Where the spleen thickens, a change in the weather is indicated, usually pointing to a cold spell,” according to the almanac’s website. “Where there is a pronounced bulge, expect even more inclement weather.”

Gus could even determine wind and rain variations from the spleen’s shape and size.

Reading pig spleens is apparently popular in Saskatchewan as Joe King, another resident of that province, also learned the art from his father and maintains a spring spleen is nowhere near as accurate as a winter or fall spleen.

Is it just me, or is it too easy to imagine Gus and Joe’s dads sitting around on a cold Saskatchewan winter’s night and cooking up the spleen-reading notion to see whether their sons would buy it?

I also have to wonder how accurate a pig spleen would be from a hog exclusively fed local persimmons.

A bit closer to home, weather lore in the St. John Valley also relies on animals.

Here are a couple of sayings gleaned from my years of listening to locals talk about the weather:

If grouse have fuzzy legs in the fall, expect a low snow year. Conversely, bare grouse legs spell a banner snow year. Apparently, the snow insulates their legs.

On the other hand, the fuzzier woolly caterpillars are, the harder the winter will be. I guess snow doesn’t insulate them.

And pay attention to bees’ nests — the higher they are, the more snow to expect.

I remember my husband and his family talking about “Le trois du mois fait le mois,” or, the third of the month makes the month. That basically means you should keep track of the third of every month, as that day’s weather will be the dominant condition for the rest of that month.

A fellow weather fan suggested I talk with longtime weather junkie Jeff Marcotte of Lewiston, who says people’s fascination with weather comes down to the allure of the unknown.

“I think there’s the suspense of not knowing what the final outcome is going to be,” said Marcotte, who is not affiliated with Farmers’ Almanac published in his town. “People look at a storm but they don’t realize what kind of magnitude it could have. Sometimes people don’t realize how a subtle shift in a storm’s track can be the difference between getting a foot of snow to just 2 or 3 inches.”

Marcotte likes watching weather patterns and has been doing so since he was a teenager.

“My family told me I missed my calling,” he said. “But living in Maine and the outdoors means I have an interest in what’s going on with the weather.”

Marcotte likes to blend the old and the new using state-of-the-art computerized weather models combined with historical data supplied by the weather almanacs.

He’s also a believer in the ability of animals.

“There’s a lot you can look at, like how high the bees’ nests are,” Marcotte said. “Animals are part of nature, and they know what’s going on.”

I agree, but in the meantime I’m going to see if there’s a way I can rig a pig spleen to a home weather station.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She may be reached by e-mail at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

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