Bill Felker

Host - Poor Will's Almanack

Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.

Exploring everything from animal husbandry to phenology, Felker has become well known to farmers as well as urban readers throughout the country.  He is an occasional speaker on the environment at nature centers, churches and universities, and he has presented papers related to almanacking at academic conferences, as well. Felker has received three awards for his almanac writing from the Ohio Newspaper Association. "Better writing cannot be found in America's biggest papers," stated the judge on the occasion of Felker’s award in 2000.

Currently, Bill Felker lives with his wife in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He has two daughters, Jeni, who is a psychologist in Portland, Oregon, and Neysa, a photographer in Spoleto, Italy.

Ways to Connect

Chris Pawluk / Flickr Creative Commons

Sky clear: 55 degrees: Walking slowly through the wetlands, the ground green with chickweed and garlic mustard. You see the squat spears of skunk cabbage a hand high but not open, Moss is long, often gilded with bloom, on stumps and fallen branches. Red berries shine in the barberry. The river is blue from the sky, and sunlight flashes on the water.

November rain on window
Lisa Risager / Flickr Creative Commons

After almost six weeks of energy and planning, which is my typical response to the close of summer, my mood is quickly changing. It could be the rain and the cold outside my window.

Along with a shift in emotional priorities, I experience twinges of guilt and frustration. What about the projects outlined in early fall? What about the excitement of getting ready for winter. What about the sense of purpose that I had just a short time ago.

Nagaraju Hanchanahal / Flickr Creative Commons

Remembering back and forth from autumn to autumn, I watch the critical, pivotal events of November come to converge in space and time.

On November 5, 1992, the first snow covered my yard at 5:00 a.m. with heavy, fat flakes..

fauxto_digit / Flickr Creative Commons

I walk through the gateway to late fall. There is still time, the landscape tells me.

The last crickets still sing in the warmer evenings, and the last daddy longlegs huddle together in the woodpile. Mosquitoes still wait for prey near backwaters and puddles. Woolly bear caterpillars, most of them dark orange and black, still emerge in the sun.

Danny Plas / Flickr Creative Commons

The sun is bright. I shut the blinds against the day, pulling in, keeping myself from being taken outside by the clear sky, by the relentless turning and shedding of the maples.

I pull back to watch myself, to see how my body remains here, momentarily invulnerable in this room. I pull back to watch my feelings before I let autumn in, to see myself the way I was in summer.

Mark Kramer / Flickr Creative Commons

The vigil for spring begins with middle fall, and the Big Dipper at midnight is one of the easier markers for judging the progress of the year.

When its pointers, named Merak and Dubhe, point north-south, and the Dipper lies tight against the northern horizon, most of the country has entered autumn. Leaves are turning, birds migrating, wildflower time closing.

When, Merak and Dubhe, (over in the eastern half of the sky) point east-west (as well as to Polaris, the north star), the harvest is complete, all the leaves are down, and winter solstice approaches.

arcturus15 / Flickr Creative Commons

Not long ago, I made a trip to a monastery in Kentucky. I spent a weekend walking in the fields and woods, reflecting on the close of summer and the approach of winter.

The weather was warm and comforting. The surrounding hills were covered with the dusky glow of middle fall. In my wanderings, I entered a grove of oaks and maples that I hadn’t seen before, and as I walked down a gentle slope, I began to come upon statues that had been placed along the way. A weathered cherub held a message from Exodus 23: “Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way…..”

Jen Goellnitz / Flickr Creative Commons

Notes that cover decades of observations for the same day offer the writer and reader a radial time lapse in which any given 24-hour period is magnified and enhanced by an accumulation of related events from that day in different years.

The images and impressions from each year overlap, some almost the same, others seeming out of focus, but all together creating one time-lapse day across decades.

Juanita Demchak / Flickr Creative Commons

These last days of early autumn, I hear starlings chattering and whistling in the trees every morning. I watch the drying of goldenrod until it blends with the Bermuda grass, foxtail, smooth brome, orchard grass and timothy all gone to seed. The black walnut and cottonwood trees along my block are bare.

Richard Cook / Flickr Creative Commons

I have always been partial toward spiders. My mother, a stay-at-home mom who spent a lot of time in the basement washing clothes (refusing to use an automatic washer), always talked fondly of them. They were her friends, she sometimes told me.

I believed her, and so I have lived my life in harmony with spiders, protecting them when I can, only intervening in their activities occasionally to save a moth or butterfly. And I usually encounter my favorite spiders, the Microcenthas and the Orb Weavers, at the end of late summer and the beginning of autumn.