If the high heat of summer suggests a season touched by madness, then autumn, with its cooling breezes and gentler light, gives me the hope of a year regaining its senses, with the sun, wind and sky answering some clear and predictable plan.
The change of weather makes me more willing to believe the bright promises in the farmer’s almanacs that land in my mailbox each fall.
With their planting tables and astrological charts, the almanacs present a world that runs with the charming efficiency of a Swiss clock. Real life, I know, can be meaner and messier. Glancing down my driveway these days, I can still see the little scraps of kindling left by the trash truck as it collected the brush pile I’d gathered at the curb after cleaning up from Hurricane Isaac. Weaving through the neighborhood, the truck picked up the leavings of Isaac we’d all placed at curbside, tucking away the storm in the same way that my wife and I occasionally sweep up a shattered coffee cup from the kitchen floor.
For those of us who were lucky enough to escape major damage from the hurricane, the memory of Isaac is receding, allowing us to see Mother Nature as the almanacs view her — big but largely benign, and as easily read as a bus schedule.
The almanac market includes two rival publications with similar names, Farmers’ Almanac and The Old Farmer’s Almanac. They each pride themselves on their antiquarian origins, with both offering more than a passing nod to the tradition of almanac publishing as it was practiced in the country’s early days.
Published in New England, the almanacs are on odd mix of Yankee practicality and agrarian superstition. They alternate between straight-faced advice on home gardening and astrological charts that promise to predict the best days, according to the movements of the moon, to do everything from canning sauerkraut to getting a haircut.
Along with their how-to content, the almanacs also offer an occasional story or two to reward the diligent reader. The Advocate’s own Ed Cullen wrote two nice articles for this year’s edition of Farmers’ Almanac – one on his cherished satsuma tree, and another on a wedding dowry that continues in West Baton Rouge Parish almost two centuries after the death of its benefactor, Julien Poydras.
Janice Stillman, the current editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, opens the 2013 edition with some thoughts about how a publication appearing “more quaint than current” fits in with the high-paced information age of the 21st century. Despite their companion websites, after all, farmer’s almanacs still look like something our grandparents would recognize. Stillman quotes Robb Sagendorph, a previous almanac editor who once remarked that almanacs are always ahead of their time. “The Almanac is a book about next year,” he declared.
That’s the enduring appeal of almanacs, I suppose. As autumn throws a chill upon the dying year, the almanacs point us hopefully ahead — to a fresh calendar, full of new possibilities.