Or Woolly Worms as they are also known. In googling them, they’re also referenced as Wooly Bear/Woollybear, but that name was never mentioned when I was growing up. My Father referred to them as Woolly Caterpillars.
He was always quite interested in studying them in the Autumn to determine what sort of winter we would have. As a child I assumed they were only in the Snow Belt. And frankly haven’t paid much attention to them as an adult until the last few years.
Folklore of the eastern United States and Canada holds that the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a Woolly Bear caterpillar (commonly abundant in the fall) are an indication of the severity of the coming winter. It is believed that if a Woolly Bear caterpillar’s brown stripe is thick, the winter weather will be mild and if the brown stripe is narrow, the winter will be severe.
The reason I bring this all up is because I found one this morning, all curled up, near my front porch. Which got me to thinking about all my ancestors who didn’t have instant weather on their smart phone or tv, or even radio. Watching the sky and learning the clues it gave was the only way they could predict their weather.
My Grandfather would religiously order the Farmer’s Almanac, and even my Father would consult it before planting his small garden. I remember he paid particular attention to the moon phases before he planted his various vegetables.
As a child that made no sense to me – how could an object so many miles away make any difference to the little seeds or seedlings planted here on earth?! That’s how far removed I was from my ancestors who planned their lives and farming around the almanac.
I believe I probably held a Farmers Almanac in my hands at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Grandpa consulted it much more frequently than my Father. But as an adult? I nearly believed it had went out of existence.
Research brought up this amazing fact however: The Farmers Almanac has been in continuous publication over three centuries: since 1818! For those of you not in North America, it’s a American/Canadian softcover book containing weather and astronomy information, gardening guidelines, jokes, recipes, fishing advice, and probably just about anything else you need to know for everyday life.
So as I stand here with a cold Woolly Caterpillar in my hand, I am briefly transported back through all my farming ancestors who used various signs in nature and consulted the Farmers Almanac to run their lives. And I am grateful for all their hard work in their tilling and planting to take care of their families.