Tony Bender

Rural North Dakota living is great about three months out of the year. For those California emigres who have forgotten about the climate, we still have four seasons: 1. Snow. 2. Floods. 3. Hail. 4. More Snow. Climate change can only help.

I’ve spent more time outside in the sunshine this summer than I have in years, which explains why my house looks the way it does. If my self-analysis is correct—I’m a Jungian—it’s because I was traumatized by the more than 100 inches of snow we got last winter that left many of us snowbound for days at a time. It didn’t help that my Bobcat was out of commission for the really big storms. Good thing my neighbor and best friend with a tractor, Dean Blumhardt, has more dependable equipment.

Historically, I haven’t spent much time worrying about winter or even the bills I have to pay. I come from the Doris Day, Que Será, Será, School of Thinking. I’ve spent most of my life in denial, and if you think about it, denial is closely related to optimism. If you just don’t think about your problems, maybe they’ll go away. It’s not working with the bills, but I haven’t completely abandoned the theory, yet.

But now, the reality of winter’s impending arrival has begun to creep into my psyche, and I can tell you folks, reality ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m already thinking about snow tires. I actually know where my jumper cables and tow chains are, the propane tanks are topped off, I’ve got gas for the Bobcat, a pantry full of canned goods, and ever since I accidentally joined a wine club (always read the fine print), enough red wine to get me through three or four apocalypses.

I don’t think I’m the only one who was traumatized by the last winter. I’ve bumped into more than one grizzled old farmer who’s shaken his head in concern and predicted another rough winter. Like he’s Old McNostradamus or something. C’mon. It’s North Dakota. How tough can it be to predict a bad winter? The two easiest gigs in the world are being a meteorologist in California: “Pleasant and sunny,” or in North Dakota: “We’re all gonna die!”

Every New Year’s Eve, Delbert and Donna Eszlinger of rural Ashley, do an “onion calendar” to predict moisture in the upcoming year. I don’t know if it’s always right about rain and snowfall, but it’s 100% accurate in predicting liver and onions for dinner the next day at the Eszlinger Ranch.

One time, I ever-so-delicately, questioned the accuracy of the onion calendar, and boy, did people get mad at me. It’s like there’s an onion cult around here. But I guess everybody needs to believe in something. Even Delbert and Donna got a little irked with my Doubting Tony act, but thankfully, there was no onion defamation suit. However, since Delbert is chairman of the prestigious county water board, it kinda hurt his street cred. The way I remember Delbert’s explanation, it wasn’t the calendar that was wrong, it was the weather.

And as long as we’re on the topic of animal innards (liver), there used to be a guy near Steele, years ago, that used pig spleens to predict winter weather. So, how do you know it’s going to be a hard North Dakota winter? The pig dies.

I’m not sure what the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting for this winter because I didn’t want to spend $16.95 to find out. But there are some traditional folklore predictors. If the Woollybear Caterpillars have a narrow rust colored band in the middle, it will be a hard winter. The same goes for thicker-than-usual corn husks. Then there’s Punxsutawney Phil. If you connect the dots, it means meteorologists are no smarter than corn, caterpillars, or an overfed gopher.

I did check in with the National Weather Service—because it’s free—and they’re predicting a warmer than average winter across the country, so in layman’s terms, in North Dakota it will be mildly miserable. But they are unable to predict how much moisture we’re going to get, because apparently they don’t have onions.

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