A surprising source for things you never thought to ask about

Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac for the year of our Lord 2013 (Harris Publications, Inc., 2013)

When I was a pre-schooler, I got farmed out (literally) to my aunt and uncle’s farm in Alexander, Illinois quite a bit since mom–a single mother in an age when they were looked down upon–frequently had to find other work to support us. There are so many good memories about that place I wouldn’t know where to start, but one of them was seeing The Farmer’s Almanac on the table next to Uncle Mike’s chair. He would sit of an evening after supper reading through it while the rest of us watched television. I didn’t read that copy, but older copies were always available in the restroom.

The “restroom” at my uncle Mike’s was a small, wooden structure that you got to by walking through the chicken yard. The old Almanacs were there for your reading pleasure. There were other publications there as well, mostly old catalogues, but they were there for … well, I am sure I needn’t go into that here.

Once, I helped my uncle and a neighbor man “move” the restroom (I “helped” by staying out of their way). It was done by simply digging another hole nearby, picking up the outhouse, setting it over the new hole, then filling up the old hole with the dirt from the new one. The old plot became an extension of my aunt’s garden. I don’t mean to brag, but Aunt Theresa was known to have the biggest tomatoes in Morgan County!

But, I digress. The point is, I became familiar with The Farmer’s Almanac at a very early age, and enjoyed flipping through it and looking at the pictures and reading whatever parts of it I was able to make out at my tender age.

Well, The Farmer’s Almanac has not only survived, but continues to sell some four milliion copies a year. I picked up a copy of the 2013 Almanac the other day at a Walgreen’s, and have found myself flipping through it whenever I have a few extra minutes.

What’s neat about The Farmer’s Alamanac is that it allows you to think about and learn about things you would not otherwise think to go looking for.

For example, in the new edition of the Harris Farmer’s Almanac, there is a brief article about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which taught me things I had never known about the writing of that ten-sentence masterpiece. Did you know that Lincoln kept it short because he wasn’t feeling well? Or that  borrowed an expression from a sermon by an abolitionist preacher named Theodore Parker, which read, in part,

“Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.”

I sure didn’t. But it was right there in the 2013 Farmer’s Almanac, in an article titled “Ten Sentences that Made History,” by Gregory McNamee.

Here’s something else I’ll bet you didn’t know. The first ever crossword puzzle appeared in the New York World in the Sunday Fun section December 21, 2013, composed by journalist Arthur Wynne.

But the real claim to fame, and the thing that farmers always want to know, is what the Almanac says about the weather.

Weather information for the entire year is presented by regions of the country, and even though naysayers claim that you can’t predict the weather much beyond a few days or weeks, the Almanac bravely does just that, as it has for hundreds of years.

Just for fun, I took the Almanac’s outlook for November 2012 for Region 9, in the northeast united states, and compared it with actual results. (You can do this yourself, if you ever find yourself in the restroom with an Almanac and an iPad (how times have changed!) by going to Current Events dot Com / Weather.

The Almanac predicted “slightly above normal temperatures” from 44 in the west to 52 along the coast” for the month. Vague, you say. Perhaps, but when I compared it with actual temperatures for Pennsylvania, sure enough, average temperatures in Eastern Pennsylvania was 50 degrees. Western Pennsylvania went off the charts at 62 degrees average … but that is definitely “above normal”– even if more than slightly!

I don’t think I would bet money on the Almanac’s weather predictions, since many claim that the predictions are little more than “guesses,” and its methods not only unscientific but “unpublished.” Check out a website called Research Penn State, which carries an interesting article about the “unscientific” system used by the Farmer’s Almanac.

So, if you ever find yourself longing for simpler times, and want to be surprised by things you didn’t know and wouldn’t even have thought to ask about, pick up a copy of The Farmer’s Almanac and keep it … on your nightstand. You might just learn a few things.

But, if you are planning an outside event, check the Almanac — but check the forecast on Accuweather a few days in advance just to make sure!

Note: This article is based on a reading of Harris’ Farmer’s Almanac. Other Farmer’s Almanacs might also be of interest, such as The Old Farmer’s Almanac (OFA, 2013), or Farmer’s Almanac 2013, ed. Peter Geiger and Sondra Duncan (Famer’s Almanac, 2013)

Copyright 2013 Isaac Morris

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