Prepared for What’s Coming: Forecast and Hindcast

This morning, the Crossing Guard and I exchange our regular pleasantries, and I request a bit of his wisdom–in whatever form it may take.

(Yes, I still occasionally walk down the hill with my youngest daughter and send her off to middle school even though the Walk to School Campaign is a thing of the sweet past.)

We talk about the weather, and I ask for his predictions about the coming winter. He’s always correct, so I lean in to listen.

“Will it be bad?” I ask, pulling my winter coat around me in the 29 degree morning.

He nods and waves some cars on while stopping others with his bright stop sign. My daughter walks on into her life, braced against the cold air. He says: “I’ve heard that nature takes care of the squirrels ahead of what’s coming. Look at the fat acorns. They’re huge. The squirrels will need them to survive what’s coming. It will be a hard winter. I don’t know if that’s true about the acorns, but that’s what I’ve heard.”

I have no idea if it’s true, but the idea that nature takes care–ahead of time!–for what’s coming brings a certain delight. Can the acorns forecast? I have to know! I decide to do a little research, and I find that while the Farmer’s Almanac claimed in 1978 that the abundance of large acorns forecasts a large winter–and other sources insist large acorns constitute a true sign–scientists claim that big acorns aren’t a forecast but a hindcast. 

A hindcast!

It means that the acorns we’re currently crunching underfoot tell us what was happening several winters ago. Their size comes about from past mild winters and rainfall levels, for example. They are signs of what happened, not necessarily what’s coming. 

But who knows for sure?

Either way–forecast or hindcast–it’s just as marvelous. I think of the acorn in a new way: it holds within its big shape a history, a particular climate, and an experience to remember. I pick one up and examine it carefully. It has a story to tell of winters’ past.

Perhaps the acorn does forecast, but today, I love thinking of the hindcast. I think of the shape of our lives and what we reveal about where we’ve been, what harsh or mild conditions, and what unusual environments. We hold so much information even as we look ahead to the hope always coming with each new season.

We forecast and hindcast all at once.


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