Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

February in Pigeon Roost


The 1974 Winter Edition of the Foxfire Magazine contains a compilation of newspaper articles written by Harvey Miller. At the time of the magazine’s publication Miller’s weekly column had been around for sixty years and was till being published in the Tri-County News located in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

Here are a few of the February excerpts from the magazine.


Donald McCoury has been keeping a record of the weather at his home for three years. His home is far up on the mountainside of Big Ridge where he has a vast view of the surrounding countryside, so much better than most everybody. He can see when the weather is playing freakish tricks, referring to last summer when his mountain would be getting a hard rain while down in the main Pigeon Roost valley the sun would be shining brightly and not a drop of rain was falling.

He first began to check the local weather with the weather chart on a calendar to see how they paralleled together and he soon got so accustomed to doing this that with the continuous service, he now calls it an interesting hobby.

He is 14 years old and the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Aspie McCoury, who have lived at this same location on Byrd Creek for over twenty years. The Pigeon Roost lad has been so handicapped down through the years due to suffering from a nervous disorder and other lingering illness that he never did get to attend the public school a day in his life, yet he has managed to accomplish the knowledge of about a a fifth grader in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The jotting down of this daily weather report has come to be no hard problem at all to do. His weather report for the year of 1959 reads like this: 152 rainy days, 57 days with thunder storms, 46 frosty mornings, 30 snowy days and 80 days of fair weather.




Mrs. Senia Ray, a resident of the Pigeon Roost area, reported that she has a “pet” redbird that she has seen about every day this winter.

The redbird first alights on her clothes line wire stretched near her home, where it makes a noisy call, and when Mrs. Ray puts more food on the feeding board, the beautiful bird then promptly comes to the feeding station which is nearer her doorsill to eat.

There is an old saying that is still going the rounds here about the redbird – when you hear its noisy song during a dry weather spell, it’s a good sign of it going to rain.

There is another saying used about the redbird by the unmarried girls. When they see a redbird sitting far up on a limb of a tree and making its noisy chat and these young girls will begin to quote out loud, “Redbird, redbird, fly to my right hand and I will see my sweetheart by next Saturday night.”

I have learned of a family in the Pigeon Roost area who has in their family Bible that has been handed down from generation to generation a feather from a wing of a redbird that is believed to be about 75 years old. The feather is always kept at a certain passage in the Bible where the scripture reads about birds.




Donald McCoury of the Byrd Creek section of Pigeon Roost said the Easter flowers in his section was two inches high out of the ground on Feb. 4th. He said that the wild dandelions was in full bloom on that day. McCoury said there seemed to be plenty of pheasants on Big Ridge; he said the covey of birds flew in every direction.

McCoury also said the first thunderstorm of the year was on Feb. 9th, and he said according to  the old timey saying is that we may look out for a killing frost on May 9th.



I think it would be a wonderful thing to write down the weather every day and then look back over it at year end like Donald did. I’d just need to figure out a way to remind myself to write it down!

I’ve been watching a red bird in the apple tree out the window from my computer. It’s flight catches my eye and then I watch it sit in the tree until it flies away. I need to teach the girls the quote and let them run out and yell it at the bird next time I see it.

After our unusually warm February I’ve heard more than one person say we’ll pay for it come March…maybe in the form of a blizzard! Which as you can imagine makes me grin from ear to ear because I’m still holding out for one more big snow before spring of the year arrives for real.

Be sure to jump over to the Foxfire website and poke around. They are still publishing the magazine and those wonderful Foxfire Books too.


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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 2, 2018 at 2:07 am

    “When Cardinals appear, angels are near!” I believe this with all my bird lovin’ heart!

  • Reply
    Michael Montgomery
    February 27, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    My favorite term noted by Miller is EMBER DAYS. He made observations about this calendar tradition in 1960 and 1969 (quoted after the definition):

    ember days (also amber days) noun According to folk tradition, days on which it is propitious to clear land but not to plant (apparently based on the Anglican or Catholic observance of three days set aside for prayer and fasting four times a year).
    1960 Miller Pigeon’s Roost (Sept 22) One farmer said that he noticed it to be a certain sign that if it rained on the 8th day of June which he said it rained on that day this year, that there would be no grapes that year. The farmer explained that was one of the first of the three ember days of the month and on the 8th day of the month was the day before the full moon. There was three other ember days before those in June of this year which were on the 9th, the 11th, and 12th of March. One of the old sayings is that you can kill a locust tree by peeling it during the ember days of June and it will rot out by the root, that is if you will strip up on the bark when you are peeling it. 1969 Ibid (June 5) Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week is ember days and what I can learn, there will be several farmers in this lower end of Mitchell County section who will not set out any plants on ember days, especially tobacco plants. It is proclaimed that plants set out on these three ember days will not grow. But it is said that you can peel locust trees on ember days and they will die out by the roots and soon turn up by the roots. Ember days has long been looked forward to by the farmers of this area.

    • Reply
      February 28, 2018 at 9:46 am

      Fascinating! Thank you for sharing the information with us Michael : )

  • Reply
    February 27, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    We had a storm roll through here yesterday but I didn’t hear any thunder. It was just wind and heavy rain for a few minutes. After it padded it cleared off and the sun came out and I swear when I went back out the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. In 30 minutes it went from about 75 to down in the 50s. I had to put a jacket on and close the windows in the house.

    The red bird says wet-wet-cheer!

    There is another bird, I call a raincrow, has a cry like a dove. I have never seen one, only heard them. They are also a portender of rain.

    • Reply
      February 27, 2018 at 2:57 pm

      After is passed! I don’t know where padded came from. Maybe it’s because of this cell where they keep me.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    In about 1981, Gary Cagle brought me my White Toyota 4 wheel drive Truck. He is a car-fixer-upper and I told him that when he found a 4 wheeler truck, to save it for me. Well, this was in April and I had several inches of Snow here at the shop. After he showed me what he knew and how to use the truck, I decided to take it home. (to see if it would make it.) It made it to my house without spinning and there was 16″ of Snow on the ground. As you can guess, I was very pleased.
    It went away in just a couple of days. I love Snow! …Ken

  • Reply
    harry adams
    February 27, 2018 at 11:02 am

    I have a question for you and your readers. My uncle wanted me to put shucks in his old corn mop. I put them on with stem end up. He said they were supposed to be with the stem end down. I have found pictures on the internet with the shucks in both directions. Does anyone remember the mops being used and if so which direction are the stems?

    • Reply
      February 28, 2018 at 2:40 am

      Shucks downward, at lease thats what my grandpa told me when I asked him back in 1964.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Yep I remember a big snow in March, I was an apprentice lineman at the time, we had 50mph gust all day and it was very hard climbing a pole not counting trying to stay on it, Lord spare us that again.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    February 27, 2018 at 10:36 am

    I served in the Navy for thirty years and saw duty in eight different ships. I wish I had kept a journal with a simple notation of the ship’s location each day. Sometimes I can be talking with a shipmate and we will disagree on when we stopped in a certain port. Often times memory doesn’t serve.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2018 at 9:06 am

    We have had some bizzare and record breaking weather here in KY so far this year. A creek runs that through my property is out of it’s banks and standing several feet high in the bottoms. I’m lucky to live far enough away to avoid flooding in my house. My neighbors all around are not so lucky. Schools were closed yesterday and delayed today due to the flooding in my hometown. I do write the weather conditions in my daily journal. Our first thunderstorm was January 20th. I was gone to a ballgame and couldn’t hear the thunder inside the gym. I only knew we had a storm when I returned home and saw the mud left by one of my dogs on the back storm door. She has never been in the house, but goes crazy and jumps on the doors and windows trying to get in when it storms.
    Just as we are trying to dry out, they are predicting an additional two inches of rain tomorrow. It’s already the wettest February on record. Hope we don’t get all the rain now and have dry weather when our gardens and crops come in.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 27, 2018 at 8:54 am

    This must be a redbird day. My wife saw one sitting on the fence all spotlighted by the sunrise. And two friends sent me information about a yellow cardinal seen in Alabama. It is more nearly gold than yellow. They are very rare, said by one person to be a “one in a million” event. I would sure like to see one.

    Weather watching is kinda addictive if it interests to start with. The weather where you are is quite likely to vary from the general forecast, sometimes significantly. Understanding the way your own weather acts is a long-term process of watching and learning. Here where I live my garden will be frost-free sometimes when there is frost in my neighbors pasture less than 200 feet away. I can risk planting even when I expect there will be frost close by.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 27, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Our farmers predicted another cold front before February ended, don’t think it will happen.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 27, 2018 at 7:40 am

    If I were recording the weather every day, most days for the last month would start with…Strangely warm! And Yes, Tip, it ain’t over till it’s over. After all these warm days this morning it’s 29 degrees! I will not be at all surprised if we have a big snow in March, we’ve had them before!

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