March Winds

Part I

Weather Coming

The age of Ballymore is not known, but several hundred years would not be an exaggerated guess. Bartholomew has some old letters in his library which were left by previous owls. However, the information is spotty and occasionally contradictory. Some of the older papers are not even written in English. He has studied the collection several times but hasn’t been able to put together a believable timeline. One of Bartholomew’s projects is the keeping of his diary. At least the recent history of Ballymore will be recorded for future residents.

It was Bartholomew’s custom to circle the Ballymore shoreline every night after midnight if the weather permitted. That way, he assured himself that all of the animal residents were safely in their homes. He could then retire in peace.

1 March the weather was fine indeed as he made his usual rounds. He was a large, mottled-brown owl with powerful wings. When the wind allowed, he skilfully used those wings to glide for long stretches. However, tonight, there was only a light breeze. Thin clouds occasionally drifted over the moon. As he flew just above the treetops, his golden eyes had a good view of the moonlit pond and its surroundings. Forests and meadows spread out into the distance.

Ballymore pond was located deep in the Irish countryside. Formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, it was about one-half mile long and one-quarter mile wide. The small, narrow island sat near the middle. There was no finished path around the pond, but the shoreline could be walked or hopped in about an hour and a half. It was fed by an warm underground spring, and the clear water exited by means of a small creek at the southeast end. The spring kept the pond from freezing except in the coldest of winters.

The shoreline was forested with fragrant pines. A few hundred yards back from the water, small fields and glades mingled among numerous oaks, birches, elms, and hazels. More woods and fields continued on to the horizon in most directions. The residents rarely ventured far from the pond as they much preferred the familiar to the unfamiliar.

About ten miles to the north, The Hills rose above the trees. Their elevation was several hundred feet above the pond, and typically, the wind was much stronger there. They were mostly grass and heather covered. Strewn boulders dotted the landscape. A few unexplored caves hid in The Hills, and legend has it that one of them leads to an underground lake. It was also known as a land of unfriendly hawks and bears. Although wild and rough, The Hills were very beautiful.

An equal distance to the south, Waterford hamlet rested beside the same creek that flowed from Ballymore pond. The creek meandered through the woods and eventually found its way to and through the hamlet. As far as we know, there has never been contact with the people that live there. Nonetheless, it has played an important role in the life of the Ballymore residents. The hamlet has an old stone church. From the top of its tall bell tower, a large bronze bell peals over the forests and glades every hour. The animals can’t tell time, but Bartholomew patiently taught them how to count the bongs. So, in a sense, they can tell time. He also taught them how to read a calendar, and everyone has one in their home. Although, some are last year’s.


Map Of Ballymore - March 1891

Bartholomew preferred to fly around Ballymore counterclockwise. It was an old habit. He liked habits because they helped him keep everything in order. Whenever he flew over the pond, he looked for anything unusual. This week, there had been another sighting of the ‘Pond Creature’ as it was called by some. As usual, the description was vague: large, black, and scary. He had never seen anything like that, and tonight was no exception. All was peacefully quiet, and he looked forward to his soft bed. However, as he approached the northeast shore, he noticed a lighted window in one cottage. It was the home of Morris Muskrat, the furniture maker and an old friend. For many years on a monthly basis, they had an evening of checkers. It didn’t matter who won. Both enjoyed the companionship.

Bartholomew landed, quietly, on the front porch. Through the window, he could see Morris sitting at his dining table. After folding his wings, he went to the wooden door and knocked.

Presently, Morris answered, “Come in, it’s open.”

Bartholomew entered. The dining room was dimly lighted by a single oil lamp. There were a few pieces of partially finished furniture on the floor. There was also a partially finished dinner on the table.

Morris had on a well-worn bathrobe and looked neither healthy nor happy. He was not as old as Bartholomew, but tonight he looked older. His eyes were droopy, and his fur was dull.

“Good evening, Morris. I saw your light was on, and I thought I would enquire.”

Morris looked over at Bartholomew and replied, “Hello, Bart. I was just sitting here thinking about some things.”

“Is there anything I can help with, old friend?” asked the owl as he sat down at the table.

After a pause Morris spoke slowly. “I’ve not been feeling well recently. I don’t have the energy I used to have, and I’m not able to do all the things that need doing. Also, the kite contest is only three weeks away.”

Every March the community held a kite flying contest, and Morris was responsible for building the kites. It took significant effort and he usually needed help.

“You do look a little pale. Have you seen Dr. Brigit?”

Dr. Bridget Badger was the kindly Ballymore doctor. After Bartholomew, she was the best educated resident in the hamlet.

“No,” answered Morris. He stared down at his plate.

“How long have you felt poorly?”

“About two weeks.”

“I know you are trying to avoid seeing her. None of us likes going to the doctor, but it is the best thing to do. Most of the time, she will be able to help. Please go and see Dr. Brigit in the morning.”

Morris continued to look down and didn’t answer for a while. He had always been a procrastinator or a studier depending upon your point of view. When accused of procrastination he would simply say he needed to study things more. Eventually, he would do what was required and do it quite well.

Finally, he responded quietly, “Of course, you’re right. I’ve been brooding over this too long, and it’s time I did something about it. As always, you’re the bearer of good advice. Sometimes it tastes like castor oil, but it’s still good advice.”

He scrunched up his nose and winced. Even though he didn’t appear to be, he was pleased that the decision had been made with his friend’s wise counsel.

Bartholomew smiled, rose, and placed a wing on Morris’s shoulder.

“I’m confident she will help you. Now, it’s late, and we both need some rest. I know I do. It was good to see you again. I’ll stop by tomorrow to hear how your visit went.”

Bartholomew knew that if he said he was coming back, it was more likely that Morris would visit the doctor.

Morris also rose and gave Bartholomew a hug. “Thank you. I hope you sleep well.”

“And you too. Goodnight.”

He was a bit worried about Morris, but if anyone could help, it would be Dr. Brigit. He left, finished his rounds, and returned to his warm treehouse and soft bed.

The next morning, he arose at 9 bongs of the hamlet church bell. He felt stiff and needed to stretch his wings a few times. Each morning it was the same and reminded him that he was not as young an owl as he used to be. One more good stretch and he was ready to begin the day. He hoped Morris was visiting Dr. Brigit. Before he returned to Morris’s, he decided to visit Grenby Groundhog. After a quick breakfast of oats and milk, he flew to Grenby’s hut on the southwest shore.

Grenby was the weather forecaster for Ballymore. He lived in a wooden and thatched hut, which was mostly underground. The hut was very old. It was the ancestral home of the Ballymore weather forecasters, who were always groundhogs. Grenby was quite eccentric and preferred to keep to himself. He rarely left his hut or the surrounding forest. Whatever he needed, he had delivered to him. From mid-November through mid-February, he retired to the lowest level and slept for most of the time. Consequently, there were no weather forecasts in the winter. Winter forecasts were unnecessary because everyone should stay indoors. At least, that’s what he believed.

As mentioned, groundhogs have a long tradition as weather forecasters, and Grenby continued that tradition. He learned the skills from his father and has kept them a closely guarded secret. In general he observed the trees, the caterpillars, the wind, and the sky. Throw in some intuition and you had a weather forecast. He was right about 90% of the time. Although he didn’t have any close friends, he and his forecasts were well respected.

Each morning he got up early, made his observations, created his forecast, and posted it. Posting was done by hoisting coloured flags up a flagpole near his dock. Most of the animals could see the flagpole from their homes. To ensure complete coverage, a second and even taller flagpole was erected in the middle of the island. The Swans, Stoddard and Sean, were responsible for hoisting the flags on that pole.

There were six flags raised up each pole each day. The highest three flags were for the current day. The fourth and fifth were for the following day and the lowest was for the following five days.

Unlike most groundhogs, Grenby didn’t provide seasonal forecasts. He thought that it was too inexact a science. Here is a listing of the flags and their weather meanings:

Highest Flag - Today’s Forecast

Blue - Fair

Green - Cloudy or Partly Cloudy

Red - Rain

Black - Heavy Rain

Purple - Fog

Yellow - Ice

White - Snow

White/Black - Heavy Snow

Second Flag - Today’s Wind

Blue - Calm or Light Winds

Green - Moderate Winds

Red - Strong Winds

Black - Storm Winds

Third Flag - Today’s Temperature

White - Very Cold

Green - Cold

Purple - Cool

Blue - Mild

Yellow - Warm

Red - Hot

Fourth Flag - Tomorrow’s Forecast

Blue - Fair

Green - Cloudy or Partly Cloudy

Red - Rain

Black - Heavy Rain

Purple - Fog

Yellow - Ice

White - Snow

White/Black - Heavy Snow

Fifth Flag - Tomorrow’s Wind

Blue - Calm or Light Winds

Green - Moderate Winds

Red - Strong Winds

Black - Storm Winds

Lowest Flag - Five Day Forecast

Blue - Nice Weather

Green - Acceptable Weather

Red - Poor Weather

Black - Storm Weather

Purple - Variable Weather

The flag sequence today was: green-green-purple-black-black-purple

As you can see from the codes, the most perfect weather would be six blue flags. As you can also see, Grenby was predicting a storm for tomorrow.

Grenby's Flags

Grenby's Flags

When Bartholomew arrived, Grenby was sitting in his old chair in front of his hut. He was slurping soup from a large bowl. He liked to eat and didn’t believe in exercise, so he was paunchy. The chair had become a bit too small for him. More truthfully, he had become a bit too large for the chair. He was wearing his favourite red and white striped pyjamas with a green bathrobe. Actually, he was more noticeable than his weather flags. Bartholomew smiled when he saw Grenby and thought, he hasn’t changed and never will.

“Good morning, Grenby. How are you?”

“I’m as fit as a fiddle. Can’t you tell?” Grenby laughed.

He knew he looked ridiculous but didn’t care at all. By his way of thinking, someone had to be different. Otherwise you wouldn’t know what normal was. He was content to fill that role.

“Some March winds coming?” asked the owl.

“Yes, I think there will be a significant storm,” Grenby replied. “It might last one or two days. Or maybe it won’t. Or maybe it will. Check the pole tomorrow.”

He looked up at his flags flapping in the breeze.

“I wonder what the pole will say tomorrow?” and he laughed again.

“I certainly will,” assured Bartholomew. “I certainly will.”

They continued to chat for a few minutes, mostly about the weather. When that topic was exhausted, it was time to leave. Grenby had more soup slurping to do, and Bartholomew was ready to visit Morris. They said their goodbyes, and Bartholomew flew off.