When summer’s lasted too long, and the headlines are all nasty and bleak, and the year begins to sag under the weight of its worries, I look to each autumn’s arrival of the latest farmer’s almanacs to cheer me up.
The new almanacs appear in the drugstore sales racks around September, tucked beneath the recent editions of People magazine and The National Enquirer.
They’re a reminder that beyond the endless cycle of celebrity gossip, the world answers to a deeper rhythm of seasons — the first hard frost, the cold earth, and beyond that, in the far distance, the promise of another spring.
It’s all laid out there in the almanacs, which offer weather predictions, horticultural advice, astronomy forecasts and folk wisdom for the coming year.
Americans have been publishing farmer’s almanacs since the country started, and one doesn’t have to be a farmer, or even a gardener, to appreciate the editorial contents.
I like the bright oddities that glimmer from every page, like the objects in a curio cabinet. I’ve just flipped my new edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac to Page 80, where the editors solemnly pose a question that had somehow never occurred to me: “What’s Happened to All the Quail?” On Page 168, there’s an earnest tutorial, “How to Estimate the Weight of a Fish.” A two-page spread on ancient remedies for improving one’s love life includes this jewel: “Eat 20 almonds and 100 grains of pulverized pine tree heavily covered with honey just before going to bed.” Apparently, this is what our ancestors did before Viagra.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac was founded in 1792, and a publication that age is bound to make a fetish of tradition. In this year as in others, a tiny hole adorns the top-left corner of the almanac — a nod to the days when readers might run a length of twine through each issue and hang it from a kitchen, barn or outhouse wall for ease of reference.
Even so, I prefer to keep my almanac unleashed. I like the portable companionship it provides as it migrates from car seat to couch to reading chair, a handy antidote to modern malaise.
For all its traffic in nostalgia, after all, the farmer’s almanac is essentially a forward-thinking journal, its eyes keen to the next season, the next year, the next horizon.
In a handy Gestation and Mating Table, for example, we learn that Mother Nature requires about 336 days to make a horse, 150 days to make goat and 115 days to bring a pig into being.
The almanac’s abiding message, as it considers the foal not yet born, the tomato not yet sprouted, the full moon yet to ripen in the winter sky, is that the world, broken though it may be, is still a work in progress.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.