There is a very good possibility that today was Richesnay. All the signs were there. The sudden blowing, swirling, voluminous, late winter snowfall that surely marks the coming of spring.
While I am certainly not one to scoff at Punxsutawney Phil's prediction this year of 6 more weeks of Winter. It would be far less likely for me to turn my back on the perennial wisdom of my Grandfather. While the rest of the world seems to make bank on a woodchuck's shadow, yea or nay, we will put our faith in Richesnay.
Richesnay does not boast the forecasting precision of "Grounhogs Day" nor does it exhibit the degree of universal acceptance. For Grandpa at least - and for us by extension - it is a truism. It is just one of those things that you have to see to believe. As far as my family is concerned, we have seen it enough to believe.
The truism - simply put - goes something like this: "We can't have Spring until the Richesnay." If my Mother's acuteness to the conditions that constitute Richesnay are anywhere near those of my dearly departed Grandfather then we should fully expect Spring to be just around the corner. While this prediction lacks certitude it's always been good enough for us.
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I awoke to freshly fallen snow this morning, on the order of 5 inches (give or take.) A blustery dusting through the course of yesterday ushered this snowfall in. However it was this morning's telephone call from my Mother that brought with it the promise of Spring. "Do you think that this could be Richesnay?ï¿½ she asks. "Oh my goodness, how could I have forgotten to be watching for it", I thought to myself.
Richesnay. What a curious word. This word is not to be found in any dictionary I have consulted. In fact I was truly amazed to find no mention of it in any of several Internet search engine queries. If Webster was one of our clan he might have entered the following:
Richesnay [RIH-ches-nay]- The sudden blowing, swirling, voluminous, late winter snowfall that surely marks the coming of spring.
But alas, could it be that the existence - much less the origin - of this event is destined to be lost forever to the passage of time? Is my family the last remaining people to adhere to this tradition? Or are we just so far removed from the center of the population of those that recognize this day that it merely seems that we are the only ones. What is the chance that somewhere out there is a village that finds this the perfect excuse for a big ol' barn dance or some sort of hootenanny at least? Do they get together and build a bonfire because here comes Spring? I would really like to know!
Now if we were to ask my Grandfather about the meaning or origins of Richesnay he would tell us little more than we have already discussed. He would explain that this is how it was presented to him and his ability to discern the signs were honed through a lifetime of observation assisted by the instruction of those with a similar understanding. One would certainly think that folklore with a heritage dating back generation upon generation would show up on the research "radar" in some form or fashion. However, this does not appear to be the case.
Groundhog Day - perhaps one of the closer related observances - can trace its roots down several pathways. Kimberly & Albrecht Powell's, Your Guide to Pittsburgh begins to explain it as follows:
German tradition holds that if the sun comes out on Candlemas, the precursor to Groundhog Day, the hedgehog (or badger) will see its shadow and six more weeks of winter will follow. When German settlers came to Pennsylvania they continued this tradition, using groundhogs instead of hedgehogs to predict the weather.
I am sure there are probably those that could enter in to an in-depth scientific discussion as to the phenomenon that have led to this admittedly odd tradition of Groundhog shadow watching. However to the casual observer the whole thing seems to lack a certain logical credibility. Not to knock Groundhogs day, I'm just looking for answers. It is in this quest for answers that I have begun to speculate on the science behind Richesnay. I even feel reasonably confident that I am coming close to finding the root. I am hoping that this post may result in further discovery and confirmation of the veracity of our family tradition.
In an investigation of this term, I have to allow that what we now know as Richesnay could well be a bastardization of another word or words to describe an idea. It is the simple promise that springtime is near at hand that has led to the survival/perpetuation of Richesnay as we have come to know it. Unlike the esoteric connection between the shadow of a hedgehog and the changing of the seasons, Richesnay has always carried the air of "as-a-matter-of-fact"ness. I think it is because we are using the weather to tell us about the weather we have always accepted that this is true because it has been shown to be true.
My Grandpa was of Dutch extraction. A little bit of sleuthing words has revealed that the Dutch word for snow is sneeuw [pronounced snay-oo]. Further- the word snee [pronounced snay] means slice. I find it interesting that we immediately get our connection to snow. I feel like the investigation of the Dutch angle just might bear fruit. I am additionally rewarded to find out that in the lexicon of the Bawlmerese (Baltimore Natives), snow is quite often pronounced snay. I have already found enough information to be convinced that the "snay" portion of our word refers to snow. This leaves the first part or the "Riche" section. Now I'm no linguist but I'm not ready to assign the French word for rich to this portion of the word. In thinking of words that may be plugged into this puzzle I look at Rich snow, Riches snow, Witches snow, Wrenches snow, and Ridges snow. Of these word pairs it is Ridges and Snow that yeald clues that come closest to our discussion.
So what is it about ridges and snow? I instinctively feel that something about the interaction of ridges and snow is conducive to weather prognostication. A recurring property that appears in searching this word pair is regarding snow cornices (the snow that gathers in overhanging piles on the lee side of a ridge.) So I am left wondering; when springtime is near do these cornices break away, look as though they have been sliced? (Remembering the Dutch "snee" for slice) So..."We can't have Spring until the Richesnay" may actually be saying, "We can't have Spring until the ridges slice." How about simply "ridges snow." "We can't have Spring until the ridges snow." To me this seems to make a lot of sense. Is it possible that when Springtime is approaching the March winds blow the snow from the ridges into the surrounding countryside resulting in "the sudden blowing, swirling, voluminous, late winter snowfall that surely marks the coming of spring." The application of Occam's razor - based on the information I have found available - favors the latter.
The simple fact of the matter is that we really don't know the origins, beyond our family tree, of this phenomenon. We are curious to discover if there is some broader recognition of what we have always known as "Richesnay." It is my sincerest hope that by circulating this information I will have contributed to the continued survival of Richesnay. This is important to me because after all, we can't have Spring without it.