When Wooly Worms Disagree

I love this time of year in the North Carolina mountains.  The leaves have fallen in a blaze of color, the air is crisp, and the wooly worms are out.

You’re familiar, of course, with the legend of the wooly worm.  The woolys have alternating bands of brown and black on their furry bodies, and from ancient times, folks have studied the bands to predict the coming winter – black bands for cold and wet, brown for milder and dry.

In the mountain town of Banner Elk, there’s an annual Wooly Worm Festival in October.  One of the features is a wooly worm race, in which the entrants climb up a length of string.  The winner is proclaimed to be the champion predictor of what’s ahead.  More about that in a moment.

So I’m out for a walk in the mountains and wooly worms are everywhere.  The first one I spot has bold black tips front and back and a length of brown in the middle.  So, a tough start to the winter, a mild middle, and the usual nasty February and March.  Great.  Now I know how to plan my wardrobe.  But wait, the next wooly I spy has all brown.  Not even a hint of black.  So this guy is telling me the entire winter will be mild.  The longer I walk, the more woolys I see, the more confused I become.  They have every color combination imaginable.  Alas, my only sartorial choice is to layer.

What’s going on here?  Do wooly worms communicate with each other?  Do they get together and have a convention and over-indulge in wooly worm libations and decide to play a fast one on humans?  Okay Charlie, you go all brown and I’ll go wild with stripes and maybe even a little fuschia thrown in.  Then we’ll watch these hapless humans from the underbrush and laugh our butts off.

Another possibility is that the wooly worms could care less about predicting the winter, and are more attuned to finding a good place to hibernate.  And finally – and I think we have to give this careful consideration – is that this year, the woolys were too much distracted by the political campaigns and got thoroughly confused.

My friend Delbert Earle says his great uncle Orester (an avid amateur meteorologist if there ever was one) puts no stock whatsoever in wooly worms.  He consults his bunions, which he claims are a wildly accurate predictor of weather in the offing.  Orester will sit barefoot in front of the TV, watching the folks on the Weather Channel, and mutter, “That’s not right.”  Occasionally, Orester is right, which, unfortunately, encourages him.

Now, about the winning wooly worm at the Banner Elk festival?  His name is Hans Solo, which gives him a certain panache, and here is his prediction: a normal start to winter on December 21, followed by a couple of weeks of cold and snow, then 7 weeks of above normal temperatures with little or no snow, and finally a couple of weeks of average temperatures with light snow.  Somewhere out there is another wooly with the same markings, but I didn’t see him on my walk.  There are a couple of them in the underbrush laughing their butts off.  And I’m layering.  When all else fails, I’ll go see Orester.

Robert Inman's novels -- Home Fires Burning, Old Dogs and Children, Dairy Queen Days, Captain Saturday, and The Governor's Lady -- are available on Amazon Kindle and through Amazon.com.

Bad Weather? Blame an Author

There are some folks who seem to think my writing contributes to natural calamities.  There may be some truth to that.  The evidence keeps piling up.


As I look out my office window, there is a foot of snow in my back yard and on the golf course just beyond the hedge.  Kids on sleds are having great fun barreling down the twelfth fairway while some of their parents are slipping and sliding along the roadways in our area.  It’s the biggest snowfall in North Carolina in a decade.  For those who consider anything more than an inch of snow a calamity, I’m afraid they may start blaming Cooper Lanier.

Cooper is the heroine of my latest novel, The Governor’s Lady, newly-elected governor of her southern state.  On the second day she’s in office, the state is hit by a blizzard which paralyzes everything, and the snow serves as a backdrop against which a test of wills plays out between Cooper and her husband Pickett (former governor and now presidential candidate).  Will Cooper be a figurehead, a stand-in for Pickett, or will she be a dynamic decision-maker in her own right?  How she deals with the blizzard sets the stage for what comes after.

When ill-prepared Atlanta got flummoxed by snow a couple of weeks ago, several readers suggested that the honchos there should have read The Governor’s Lady to see how to handle things.  So far, no one has suggested that my inclusion of the blizzard in the story was a portent of Atlanta’s calamity.  But with a foot of snow in my back yard today, and folks slipping and sliding, I’m a tad concerned that rumblings will begin and Cooper and I will get the evil eye.

Nonsense, you say.  But it has happened before.  I grew up in a river town in Alabama, and during my youth the local lore was rife with stories of the Great Flood of 1929, when the river got out of its banks and inundated the town.  My grandmother and her four kids had to escape their home in a rowboat.  While I was growing up, the river behaved itself.  Then in 1991, I published Old Dogs and Children, set in a southern town much like my own.  One of the major events is a flood.  My heroine, Bright Birdsong, escapes with her small child in a rowboat.

The novel had barely made it into print when – you guessed it – my hometown flooded.  The river, calm all those years, went nuts.  Local folks are invariably nice people, and no one said to my face that the book was to blame for the calamity, but for years after, I got jaundiced looks whenever I visited, even in church on Sunday.  I think most folks have finally forgotten and forgiven.

I would like to share the blame for any natural disaster with my fellow storytellers.  We may all be complicit in this sort of thing, whether we write of calamities or not.  The computer age has a lot to do with it.  I sit at my keyboard typing away and constantly mashing the backspace key or even highlighting and deleting entire sentences – nay, paragraphs – of slovenly prose.  By definition, it is bad stuff, not worthy of human consumption.  Where does all that bad stuff go when I zap it from my computer?  I wonder if it may be floating around out there in the ether, roiling the atmosphere and contributing to floods, hurricanes, forest fires, sun spots, and other assorted natural maladies.  Who knows, it may even be contributing to the dysfunction in Congress.

But if any of this is the case, my fellow storytellers and I will just have to live with it.  We scribble on, employing imagined disasters as grist for our tales.  All we ask is, the next time a blizzard hits your locality, don’t run over your local author with your sled.