Old Bill worked at Bill Joslins as a handy man and was able to tell us kids things we never knew and scary things too. We learned early about Bill’s dill pickles, hotter than the horns of Hades or so we learned, more red in the jar than green, from the red pepper. So, Kit Bradley and I schemed to get Bill Joslin’s nephew from Canada to come down to Bill’s which consisted of a shake and pole shack, okay in the summer, but not fit for winter. His army bunk was up against the far side and that is where us kids mostly sat. If Bill had a story to tell us kids, he would invite us up to his shack for a pickle.
We were kind of hiding out at old Bill’s, as it was caterpillar season and we were supposed to be home, lighting torches to burn the cob-web nests out of the trees. We considered it great sport to hear their little bodies sizzle as they fell into the orchard grass to be promptly stepped on. Kerosene was our fuel and we soaked long rags wrapped around the end of a 10 foot cedar stick that had been used for the same purpose for many years, where one end was all burnt where it had caught fire. We used bailing wire to tightly wrap the cloth to the pole which was then soaked in kerosene and lit. We called the caterpillar nests tents, because they were small villages of tiny creatures that were doing our peach trees harm. I hear the new way is to cut the branches off.
John had a slightly different take on the demise of the caterpillars: “I was the lighter and re-fueler from a can of kerosene..Sometimes this did not work well, as wads of cotton or bailing twine fell off and lit things on fire..We had to stamp out the fires. But if you misplaced your refueling kerosene can..You could have a big problem, which I did several times in dry grass.”
A different kind of caterpillar we called a “wooley”, because his fur was long and he shriveled up into a ball if you touched him. The orange or gold band around his middle tells us how bad the winter is going to be. The wider the band, the colder and longer the winter. I have found more than one year where it didn’t prove out. John remembers squeezing the caterpillars to see them spit up nasty green stuff that irritated your skin. “Us kids debated our parent’s wisdom, handed down from grandparents about winter predictions based on the size of the gold band. Conventional thought was that more gold was indicative of a worser winter.”
Fireweed appears where there has been a fire and in the fall can resemble snow as clouds of the wind enabled seed blows down the slope. The six foot plant blooms from the bottom to the top. Fireweed flowers indicate the end of summer.. They ripen and turn brown from the bottom up. If you can see pink blooms at the top, the amount indicates how long you have left..If they only have an inch by mid-august, you have about two weeks left. “When fireweed goes to cotton, summer is soon forgotten.”
John’s grandfather, a predictor, would look at his neighbor’s woodpile..who was an old Swede and say: “That Lars has gotta really big pile of wood, must be a hard winter coming.” One year, John asked Lars about his woodpile and how he knew it was going to be a hard winter. Lars explains: “Well, ya better ask your grandpa..Ya..And when it gets sooo big, your grandpa comes over and buys a cord, so I gotta keep cutting, and then he comes over and buys another cord. “So I tink your grandpa knows it’s going to be a hard winter, so I keep on cutting. I dunno how he knows these things…