When I asked my wife for an almanac for Christmas, she looked at me like I had a second head. “Why?” she asked. “Just ‘cause,” was the best response I could come up with.
My desire for an almanac was sparked by seeing a bookshelf full of them while checking out at the grocery store (I’m a sucker for wanting books just because I see them). But there was more to it than that — having an almanac would allow me to approach the new year in a new way. Most of us spend a lot of time in the digital world, and the almanac seemed to offer a way to ground my imagination and knowledge in the practical, natural world.
The almanac made a great stocking-stuffer (thanks, dear!), and has already helped me feel more rooted and capable — here’s how.
I’ve heard people talk about food being “in season” for most of my life, but to this day I still don’t quite understand what that means. I know that plants grow better at certain times of the year, which means prices will be lower and quality higher as produce hits its peak. But if you were to ask me to describe what plants fall in which seasons — even if I could answer in broad strokes — I’d be totally stumped.
That’s where an almanac comes in. It is, at its heart, a periodical for farmers and homesteaders. As a calendar of growing seasons, frost seasons, and even mating seasons, it can give us a better sense of when and where our food comes from.
Why should this matter? My ignorance of seasonality is a by-product of well-stocked grocery stores and supermarkets. Food is always available, in season or out. As I try to better understand how to eat in a more environmentally friendly manner, I know seasonality will need to play a bigger part in the choices I make about the food I prepare and eat.
By eating seasonally (and locally!), my food choices can place less strain on the soil and utilize natural growing rhythms to spur growth rather than a reliance on synthetic additives. More importantly than that, it reminds me that I don’t actually dictate nature’s rules — a small lesson when it comes to food, but an important foundation to all the ways I interact with the environment.
Learning new skills
Beyond the occasional Ikea construction project, I am not much of a handyman. In my family, that role was always occupied by my older brother. He lives a continent away now, though, which means I can’t rely on him to help me when something needs fixed.
When push comes to shove, Google and YouTube help me figure out how to get something done, but my brief experience with my almanac has changed the way I research practical projects. The almanac holds a wealth of DIY knowledge, and it also exposes gaps of ignorance in topics I hadn’t even considered.
Take, for example, these entries found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac:
- Detailed explanation of how to tell if your property has been visited by a predator, and how to deter them;
- The meaning behind symbolism found in cemeteries;
- How to cultivate a field for crops;
- Definitions for a variety of tidal terms.
I live in old, coastal Connecticut — we’re surrounded by rural areas, cemeteries, and tidal rivers. This information — which I didn’t even know I wanted to know about — has proved pretty helpful. If you don’t live in Connecticut like I do, there’s plenty of other helpful information in the almanac that you didn’t know you didn’t know.
Connecting with history
My biggest pet peeve has become use of the word “unprecedented” for events that are, in fact, precedented. We have experienced a number of new historical and important events recently, but for so many people who have come before us, global pandemics, racial unrest, and political turmoil are, unfortunately, very precedented.
Knowing that previous generations have experienced difficulties similar to ours doesn’t negate our struggle, just as their joyous celebrations don’t detract from our joy. But trying to keep in mind these pains and joys of times past can give us hope and inspiration to keep moving forward.
An almanac isn’t exactly going to give us a snapshot to see how generations past handled the hot topics of their time, but its regular use does force me to consider all those men and women who would have not only utilized this tool, but relied on it. It’s a small but real symbol that real people lived our history, and that we have much to learn from their experience. The almanac is a window into the way they lived, and presents some of their practical wisdom for us to benefit from.
Here’s my final attempt to convince you to get an almanac: they are incredibly fun. The helpful information, weather predictions, farming calendars, and measurement tables are surrounded by enjoyable articles, funny jokes, and even some fairly enjoyable advertisements.
So, give it a shot. Add an almanac to your reading list this year — it’s a low-risk, high-reward route to a better year.