The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

All Signs Fail In Dry Weather

By Conway Smith © 1987

Issue: September, 1987

There are lots of ways of forecasting the weather.

There's the old saying, "The evening red, the morning gray, sets a traveler on his way. The evening gray, the morning red, brings down showers on his head."

Gran'pa used to say, "Sheet lightning in the north, rain in twenty four hours. Sheet lightning in the south, it will be dry."

An old friend of mine had an arthritis toe that he banked on. When the toe pained him he knew there would be falling weather. When it didn't hurt, the weather would be fair. He considered his toe infallible as a weather forecaster.

There are enough ways of forecasting the weather to fill a book; but there is one old adage you can put your trust in: "All signs fail in dry weather."

One night Mart Lorton and I went over in Little Walker Mountain fox hunting. We had six good hounds   and were hoping for an exciting fox chase; but it hadn't rained for a long time and the forest floor was as dry as powder. The dogs just couldn't follow a trail.

We were sitting by a fire atop a ridge, hoping to hear the hounds open on a running trail   but all was quiet. It was no go. Too dry. A full moon was shining, making it almost as bright as day. A ruffed grouse   known locally as a "pheasant"   was drumming down in the hollow below us: "Pumph...pumph... pumph...pum, pum, pum, pum!"

Mart said, "Icod! It's going to rain now."

I asked him, "What makes you think so?"

"Don't you hear that pheasant drumin' down in the hollow?"

"Yea, I hear him."

"When you hear a pheasant drummin' at night it's a sure sign of rain. Never fails. We'll have rain in the next few days."

Our hounds were ranging in the mountain, making an honest effort; but when they hadn't raised a fox by midnight, we called them in and went home.

A couple weeks later I met Mart on Main Street in front of the courthouse. During that time there had been no rain   and Mart was complaining about the drought. Crops were drying up on the farm; and there was not even much use in trying to arrange a fox hunt with the weather so dry.

I reminded Mart of the pheasant we heard drumming that night a couple weeks before.

"Yea I remember," said Mart.

"You told me that was a sure sign of rain."

"It is a sure sign of rain."

"But it hasn't rained yet."

"I know it hasn't   but a pheasant drummin' at night is a sure sign of rain."

"Then how come it hasn't rained?"


"Because what?"

"Because all signs fail in dry weather. You oughta know that."