Signs of Winter: Uncle Ray Says Dig Out the Long Johns

By Robert Seay, U of A Division of Agriculture

First posted on 11-16-2009

“Hey!” Uncle Ray’s voice was as crisp as the November morning. “You dug your long johns out of storage yet?"I had the feeling this was going to be his usual “one-up-man-ship” phone call, but I replied, “Not yet. Do you think I need too?”

Satisfied with my response he barreled into me, “I can tell you ain’t checked any ‘simmon seed yet or you’d know we’re in for a tough winter!” I should have known not to correct him, “Uncle Ray, do you mean persimmon seed?” He fired back, “That’s what I said. Is somethin’ wrong with your hearin’?”

Splitting persimmon seed and reading the shape of the embryo to predict winter weather is a practice as old as the Ozark and Appalachian Mountains. It’s primarily a conversation piece – or an argumentative point when it comes to folks like Uncle Ray, I have to say.

Without 24-hour weather information at their finger tips our rural dwelling ancestors depended on nature for signs, symptoms and signals in their effort to outwit the weather. Persimmon seeds, the width of the colored band on a wooly worm, thickness of hickory nut husks, the activity invested by squirrels to store winter food supplies and the timing and intensity of the flight of migrating birds were a few methods used.

Meteorologists scoff at these methods as simple myths of a bygone era. Truth of the matter, I’ve never located a record or research comparing myths to actual winter conditions. However, in defense of myths, we can note frequent misses by modern methods to predict weather patterns. This year would be a classic example. No doubt these modern misses serve to promote confidence in mythologists like Uncle Ray.

Speaking of Uncle Ray, I did split a number of persimmon seed and the embryo shape in each was of a spoon or shovel as he noted. “That means we’re gonna be scoop’n snow all winter!” he advised.

Trying to beat him at his game, I asked, “What shape were persimmon seed last fall?” He replied, “I don’t remember, but it was a pretty mild winter so they must’a been forks.” I couldn’t help badgering him, “That’s convenient that you didn’t keep a record, but you assume they were shaped like forks!”

As the myth suggests: forks predict a mild winter; knives predict ice and wind that slices right through you, and spoons predict lots of snow. After the conversation, I checked the location of my snow shovel, but wouldn’t want Uncle Ray to know it. ‘Til next week!