Ed Cullen, whose “Attic Salt” column was a popular Sunday Advocate feature until he retired in 2013, wrote memorably about all the seasons, but he seemed to like autumn best of all.
So it’s fitting that Ed has now filed a couple of stories with that national tribune of fall, the Farmers’ Almanac.
About farmers almanacs, you already know. They pop up each autumn on news racks at drugstores and groceries, offering readers gardening tips and weather forecasts for the coming year.
The almanacs trace their origins to the earliest days of the republic, when most Americans were farmers, many of them living in remote places that made them especially hungry for advice and entertainment. Farmers almanacs provided both, mixing horticultural guidance with proverbs, jokes and the occasional story.
The country has changed, and farmers almanacs have changed a little with it. Much of the content is aimed at home gardeners now, a reflection of the nation’s shift to cities and suburbs. Even so, the almanacs retain a retro feel, which is part of their charm. The almanac that’s known simply as Farmer’s Almanac began in 1818, and it’s something of a newcomer; its closest rival, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, started in 1792.
The Farmers’ Almanac that features Ed’s work has a hole drilled through its top left corner, just like editions going nearly a century back. In 1919, the publisher started placing holes in the cover to make the almanacs easier to hang around the farm — including in the outhouse, where pages came in handy for use as toilet paper.
One of Ed’s almanac stories explains the Cajun Navy to the rest of the country. “The Cajun Navy is a well-respected community of volunteers,” he notes. “In fact, when French Louisiana mayors and other officials want to honor someone, they make them admirals in the Cajun Navy, the way other states, including non-French Louisiana, often hand out the honorary rank of colonel.”
Ed’s other contribution to Farmers’ Almanac 2019 is “Southern Superstitions,” a lively survey of regional lore. Among the popular beliefs below the Mason-Dixon line is that lightning will seek silver and bounce off mirrors and that motorists should hold their breath while driving past a graveyard.
That kind of folk wisdom feels right at home in a farmers almanac, which has always combined fact and fancy in breathless plenitude, rather like the internet does today. Among my favorite parts of each year’s almanac are the gestation tables for various animals where we learn, for example, that it takes Mother Nature some 640 days to make an elephant. A hen, on the other hand, only requires 21.
Odd information, yes, but more cheerful than the headlines. Get your own almanac and see what I mean.
Correction: In last week's column, I misspelled the name of Marvin Steinback, a ranger at the Port Hudson State Historic Site. I’m sorry about that mistake.