Telling Temperatures By Fat Birds And Cats

By Bill Hall

You don't need a thermometer to tell the temperature. You can tell the temperature by looking out the window and observing the rhododendrons, the cats, the birds and the teen-agers.

At 32 degrees, a rhododendron folds its leaves, holding them closer to the stems. You would do the same thing if you were standing outside naked with your feet in the mud. But if you look out the window and see a folded rhododendron, you know it's below freezing.

Cats are even more precise. If it is below freezing, you find them inside asleep on the heat vent.

But if it is warmer than that, you can tell the outside temperature by looking out the window and observing the position and posture of the cat. If it is 35-40 degrees, the cat will be sleeping on the warm hood of a car that has been driven within the hour and is still giving off heat from its engine.

If it is 40-50 degrees, the cat will be sleeping on the sun-soaked sidewalk, but with all four of its feet tucked underneath its body.

If it is 50-60, the cat will be sleeping on the sidewalk with its feet out from under its body.

If it is 60-70, the cat will be sleeping on its side.

If it is 70 or above, the rhododendrons will be in bloom and the cat will be sleeping on its back with its legs spread apart, keeping its stomach cool and airing out its privates.

Putting it another way, if a cat looks dead, it is above 70 degrees.

Or maybe the cat is actually dead. That's the tricky part. Nine lives or not, cats sometimes die. And a dead cat looks just like a live one sleeping in warm weather. The lesson in this is that you can tell the temperature better from a live cat than from a dead one. If you look out the window and your cat looks dead, it is either a pleasant day or time to plant the cat.

And of course, you can tell the temperature outside by simply observing how human beings out there are dressed. If they are bundled up, it is cold. If they are half naked, it is summer.

However, the difficult exception to that rule is teen-agers. Teen-agers do not wear coats in winter either. I don't know why. Maybe it is against the teen-age religion. Maybe kids, being more absent-minded than older people, have all lost their coats. Or maybe eating 12 pizzas a day builds up body heat to the point where teen-agers don't require coats.

But when telling the outside temperature by natural observation, ignore human teen-agers and dead cats. (Cats, dead or not, are the opposite of teen-agers. They never take their coats off.)

Even if you look out the window and see teen-agers and dead cats, there are still plenty of other signs out there of the approximate temperature. Fat birds, for instance. Birds are bigger in cold weather than in warm weather. When it is cold, birds fluff up their feathers to maximize the insulation. They appear to double in size. If you see an abnormally large bird sitting on a folded rhododendron near a teen-ager in a T-shirt, it is either a sign of winter or a vulture waiting for the teen-ager to freeze to death.

I have learned all of this from the powers of observation, from the insights of a keen mind, from years of study and from the shortcomings of television weather channels. We have two weather channels in this community, both of which break for commercial every time I turn them on. So I have had to learn to rely instead on the observation of cats, birds, rhododendrons and those few teen-agers who don't eat pizza.

When the weather channels finally do show the temperature outside, I doubt the accuracy. The rhododendrons are folded, the birds are fatter than normal and even a few of the teen-agers have their coats on. But the reading on television is 50 degrees.

I think there is a cat sleeping on the heat sensor.


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