Old timers on Blair Branch used to say that if it thunders in February it will frost in May. If that holds true, the Little Ette bunch bean seeds that Loretta and I dug out of the freezer and Andy planted in the garden last week don’t have a chance. In fact, I’m sitting here hoping they are slow to sprout because it looks like we have a few more frosts headed this way in April. Ah well, we have enough seeds left to replant but not enough to share with anybody else.
Stevie Craft, one of those Blair Branch old timers, used to say that if it thundered in January, that didn’t mean it would snow in June but it still might and, if it did, there was no sense in blaming it on thunder six months ago. That was his comeback to frost predictions in May. Uncle Stevie also said that if he thought a groundhog might be stirring around on the second day of February, he’d be out with his .22 rifle trying to put meat on the table but he still had it under the bed.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of little communities like Letcher County’s Blair Branch, the place I still call home, scattered throughout the hills of eastern Kentucky. Most folks still call them hollers. Basically they are narrow little valley roads running between two mountains with small streams usually running right beside or crisscrossing the road with bridges or culverts. The hills are so steep that it is not practical to build housing or roads on them, but there is enough semi-flat land at the bottom of and between the mountains to build homes and establish communities.
The mountains are so high that folks who live in the hollers get a lot less direct sunlight than those of us who live in the flatlands of central and western Kentucky. Simply put, the sun is slower to rise and quicker to set up there than it is down here because of the mountains’ long shadows. That’s an oversimplification because the larger a stream is, the wider its valleys become to accommodate building small cities and towns. Even though there are none of those in the hollers, Paint Lick and Lancaster still get a lot more early morning and late afternoon sunshine than, say, Blacky and Isom, but only because the mountains are not nearly as high in Garrard as they are in Letcher County.
Anytime a bird started singing in the middle of the night on Blair Branch when I was growing up, some who heard it might speculate that it was a sign someone was going to die, or give birth or get pregnant etc. In any event it was usually purported to be a sign of something.
One night last week here in Paint Lick, a mockingbird started singing its head off sometime around midnight and it carried on like that for about 30 minutes. I later found out that the same thing had happened all over the county as well as in Lincoln, Madison, Rockcastle, Laurel and a couple other counties.
I asked one of my neighbors what he thought that might be a sign of and he said it was cloudy and the moon was coming up and even though we couldn’t see it, the birds could. They thought it was the sun and they were ready for daylight. I’d be willing to bet that Uncle Stevie would have figured that one out as well.