The sidewalk was full of acorns again," I grumbled, entering the house to refill my cup of coffee. "More than the load I swept up just a few days ago."
"Sure sign of a cold winter," grunted my Aunt Toogie, without looking up from the morning paper where she was deciphering a sudoku puzzle.
My lovely wife, Grace, inquired with a grin, "Which sign? The abundance of acorns or Dalton grousing?"
"Acorns," Toogie chortled. "Dalton whining is an indication he’s probably running low on Maker’s Mark."
I let the gibe pass but made a mental ‘note to self’ to check on my supply of bourbon and vermouth. For now, I settled on a kitchen barstool with the sports page and a hot cup of joe.
"Years ago," Toogie continued, "folks put a lot of stock in nature’s signals forecasting the weather, especially the winter season. The colored band on a wooly bear caterpillar was another indicator."
"I remember that," Grace replied. "If the black band was wider than normal, a colder winter was in store. Or was it a narrower band?"
"Wider band," Toogie answered, setting down her newspaper. "A wooly bear is black at each end with a reddish brown band in the middle. It’s that middle band that predicts the weather."
"My daddy used to say," Toogie continued, "spiders in the house in the fall was another tip off we were in for a wicked winter."
"Really," Grace mused. "I have been picking up a fair number of those lately."
"And thicker than normal skin on apples and tomatoes is a dead give away," Toogie pontificated, now waxing like a broadcaster from The Weather Channel.
Leaning back in her chair, Grace called over her shoulder, "Dalton, are you listening?"
"Don’t forget Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog from Pennsylvania," I scoffed, picking up the sports page and stepping toward the den.
"Oh, don’t be such a ninny," Grace shot back. "Sit down. This is interesting. You might learn something."
Captured by the vortex of the discussion swirling around the kitchen table, I settled into a chair next to Grace.
"Now, isn’t it fascinating," Grace queried, putting her hand on my arm, "how nature provides these subtle, yet profound, prognostications?"
"I guess so, although to tell the truth, I hadn’t much noticed."
"Precisely the point I was about to make," Grace exclaimed, becoming more animated. "People miss these cues in today’s frenetic world, but folks years ago paid attention to such signs."
When I didn’t respond, Grace continued, "Animals get it. Look at all the squirrels we’ve had in the yard lately. They are stocking up on acorns for the coming chill."
"That’s another signal of a cold winter," Toogie chimed in. "Bushy tails on squirrels."
"Bingo!" Grace declared, resting both palms on the table. "I rest my case."
As I pondered how the pesky squirrels who had chewed my outdoor light cables had suddenly become weather wizards, Grace mused, "Speaking of a long cold spell, you haven’t written a column for the paper in ages."
"I wrote one about our grandson Charlie a while ago."
"It was a touching one," Grace replied. "But without it, you’d be zero for the football season to date."
"I’ve started a few columns, but just could not get them completed," I explained. "I guess I’ve got writer’s block."
"Poor baby," Toogie gushed sarcastically. "Dalton’s got writer’s block."
"How about all the topics in the news," Grace offered, coming to my defense. "The economy, the flu, the healthcare debate."
"It is a humor column," I sighed. "And there is nothing funny about those."
"He’s right," Toogie piped up, now apparently on my side. "Forget the flu. What those knuckleheads in Washington are doing with healthcare is enough to make you sick!"
"Toogie and I can help you come up with some ideas," Grace suggested. "How about the airline pilots who overshot their destination?"
"I got a better one," Toogie cackled. "How about our governor and his Argentine escapades?"
"Actually, I started a story on that," I replied. "But I mislaid it."
"Imagine the irony," Toogie chuckled. "You and the governor both mislaid…"
"Tiger!" Grace blurted, cutting Toogie off. "You could write about that fiasco or the presidential state dinner crashers."
Holding up both hands to cease the incoming fire, I pleaded, "I appreciate the ideas, ladies. I really do. I’ll come up with something."
"A sweet Christmas story would be nice," Grace cooed.
"I’d say you need to take a lesson from the squirrels," Toogie barked.
Before I could respond, Grace inquired, "How so?"
"Write something every day," Toogie advised. "Squirrels collect acorns every day. That way they are well prepared for the cold spells."
"Sage advice," Grace observed.
"But the first step is to get off your butt and start writing," Toogie continued, now standing to add to the impact of the lecture. "You need to march into that den and start typing or whatever it is you do in there. You won’t get any acorns if you stay in the tree!"
Grace pursed her lips to hide a grin. "Can’t hurt to give it a try, Honey," she offered with a supportive smile.
Somewhat reluctantly, I trudged into the den and turned on the computer. My mind was almost as blank as the Microsoft Word screen in front of me.
Think. Let’s see – recent news. The end of hurricane season; the only named storms were Bill and Fred…sounds like two guys at the Elks Club…how about the Ohio man selling his motorized barstool on eBay after he was arrested for driving it drunk…or another Ohio man who had a deer crash through a picture window while he was watching a football game on television…what’s in the water in Ohio? Scratch, scratch…
The scratching noise interrupted my daydreaming. The noise was coming from outside the window nearest to where I was seated. I peered through the blinds and found myself face to face with – a bushy-tailed squirrel. Perched on the ledge and sitting up on his hind haunches, it was nibbling an acorn. Probably the same rascal who gnawed my outdoor lights. I tapped on the window to shoo the pest away. This maneuver caused it to only turn obliquely as if to ignore my protest.
"Hey!" I hollered, rapping the window harder. "Scram!"
The rodent nonchalantly gazed back at me, tilting its head over the left shoulder. Its mouth seemed to be turned up at the corners as if in a smile. I then noticed a large pile of acorns on the window ledge, a clear indication my critter companion was better prepared for a ‘cold spell’ than I. The squirrel looked at the pile of nuts, then at me, and with a wag of his bushy tail scampered off.