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Folklore of Nova Scotia
Chapter XV. Weather-Lore

To the early settlers, the severity of the winter season was a great trial. Preparations had to be made to meet its requirements long in advance. It was then that the Indian’s skill in forecasting became useful. If the fur on the animals was thick and heavy, if the squirrel’s supply of nuts was copious, if the bark on the trees was thicker than usual, they might prepare for an unusually hard winter. The second of February was regarded as a turning point in the season, and sun on that day was not hailed with delight. The Indian wise saw, "if the bear can see his shadow on February second, he goes back to sleep again,” is matched by the Scot’s:

“If Candlemas day be fine and fair,
The half of the winter’s to come an’ mair.”

When this happened they consoled themselves by “St. Patrick’s will bring the fine weather whatever.”

Among the fisher folk the forecasting of wind storms was very important. These predictions usually took the form of verses such as:

“Mackerel skies and mare’s tails,
Make lofty ships carry low sails.”

“A rainbow in the morning the sailor’s warning,

A rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight.”

“Heavy winds kick up a rain.”

An Acadian boy would not dare to kill a toad or a spider, for his outdoor pleasure would then be spoiled by the downpour of rain that was sure to follow. A boy of Scotch or Irish descent would be deterred from doing so because it would bring him bad luck.

“If you wish to live, not die,
Let the spider go alive.”

People regarded the meeting of a crowd of women as a sure indication that a storm was near at hand. This may be a survival of the old Celtic Myth of Cailleach Bheur (The Winter Hag), a giant woman who brought the storms of winter. The myth came originally from Norway, but Celtic imagination turned it into an illustrated calendar for the Gaelic peoples. (Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll, by K. W. Grant.) The Highland pioneers brought with them to Nova Scotia all the weather lore of this myth; for example, from the middle of January to the middle of February was the wolf month, when the Cailleach, alarmed at signs of the revival of nature, summoned to her aid wolflings, or wolf-storms; the first three days of the third week of February were called “ shark-toothed/ ’ bitter stinging east winds; then followed three days of “plover winged,” swift, fitful, blasts of rain — bringing winds that killed sheep and lambs; and so on through March. Great was their joy at the vernal equinox to realize that the vicious Cailleach had at last “thrown her mallet under the holly.”

It was commonly believed that the weather on each of the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany indicated what might be expected of the corresponding twelve months of the year. Consequently a weather calendar was drawn up on this basis, the early hours of December 26th, for example, indicating the weather for the early part of January, as its later hours would prove what the close of the month would be like. A favorite maxim in weather lore was ‘‘the worst of the winter falls always between the two chairs.” (Feasts of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome and at Antioch.)

The Indians, who live at the present time along the Bras d’Or Lakes, always know that a storm is coming when they see a phantom Indian paddling his canoe up the lakes. During the year 1928, a very old Indian, who was both deaf and blind, warned his kinsmen to prepare for a big storm. He told them to go into the woods and build a wigwam in the thickets, and raise it some feet above the ground, for there would be heavy rains and violent winds. Two months after the warning was given, the wigwam was ready, and the old man advised his family to migrate there immediately. That same night, one of the most destructive storms in our history swept over Nova Scotia, uprooting trees, carrying away bridges, unroofing buildings. But the old Indian and his family were safe. How the old, infirm man knew of the approach of the storm, is a mystery which went to the grave with him a few weeks later. (Story told by a man who lived quite near the Indian Reserve, and who had it from themselves.)

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