Woolly Worms and Persimmon Prophecies

By Robert Smyth


have six-pack abs. I’ve just insulated them for the winter. I like cold weather, I always have. I like the smell of a winter fire, the brisk air, and the ability to hide my husky frame under several layers of warmth. I kid people that I have a girlish figure. It resembles a big Russian girl named Stephlana, but still. It is truly amazing how much a well-worn sweater can hide. People expect you to bulk up a little in the winter, but here’s the kicker: we live in the south. We have a couple of months of real winter and then it’s back to shorts and golf shirts.

Unlike our northern friends, who start winter in October and don’t dig their car out till June, we here in the sunny south have no time to shed those winter pounds and get ourselves ready for swimsuit season which could reasonably start in March. I’m still eating Christmas cookies in March! Who am I kidding? I eat Christmas cookies year round. Maybe I should just invent fluffy swimsuits.

I love how people tell me every year that we are going to have a hard winter. Of course, they use pure science in their predictions. One of my favorite indicators is the Woolly Worm. According to folklore, the black and brown caterpillars of the tiger moth species can predict just how cold and snowy it’s going to be for the upcoming winter. The caterpillars have black bands at each end of their bodies, and a reddish-brown section in the center. Folk wisdom has it that when the brown band is narrow, winter weather will be harsh. The last Woolly Worm I saw had no fur and was applying sunscreen.

Another indicator is unusual bird and squirrel activity. If the squirrels in your yard are urgently gathering up great quantities of acorns and birds are dive-bombing your bird feeder in an attempt to get as much food out of it as possible, this may mean that a big storm is on the way. The idea is that these animals can sense impending weather and are preparing for it. Who has the time to sit in the cold and watch birds and squirrels go about their daily routines? Is that a job? Maybe you just have fat birds and squirrels. The ones in my yard just eat the cat food, so not only are they not an accurate way of determining the weather, they are also underachievers living off The Man.

In doing a little research I found one I had never heard of: persimmon prognostication. According to folklore believed to have originated in the Ozarks, you can predict the coming winter weather by slicing a persimmon seed in half. If you see a spoon shape, there will be a lot of wet, heavy snow. If you see a fork, it will be a powdery snow and a milder winter. If you see a knife, you can expect harsh, cold ice and winter winds. According to Missouri’s Jefferson County Extension Office, who has studied this method for last 17 years, the seeds have been accurate 13 of those years.

My first thought was that we need to find the Jefferson County Extension Office a hobby. Apparently, they have a lot of free time. How much Ozark clear lightning do you have to drink to want to cut open and inspect persimmon seeds for 17 years? What the heck is a persimmon anyway? Needless to say, I will do as I always do when it comes to winter weather here in the south: layer in the morning and strip by the afternoon. When I start getting woozy from blood loss due to our ravenous mosquito population, I’ll know it is Spring. In this neck of the woods, it will probably start around Valentine’s Day.

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