WYSO

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

Marilylle Soveran / Flickr Creative Commons

Today, February 14, is the first day of early spring throughout the Lower Midwest. Although temperatures can be in the 30s almost half the time or even in the 20s, February 14th suddenly offers a 50 percent chance of highs above 40 degrees.

And tomorrow, the 15th has the highest incidence of highs in the 50s and 60s of any time so far in February - a full 40 percent of the afternoons reach those levels. That’s the first time since December 15th that the likelihood of mild temperatures has been so great.

brambleroots / Flickr Creative Commons

Since I came to southwestern Ohio in the late 1970s, I have recorded the dates for many of the earliest snows. There is no scientific method here, but rather a shaping of personal context.

The earliest flurries fell on October 5 of 2014. The first snow of almost half a foot came on October 30 of 1993. On November 11, 1984, I made the first snowball of the winter. This year the first snow, about four inches, arrived on December 13. The latest first snow came on December 31, 1998.

Henry T. McLin / Flickr Creative Commons

I walk toward the wetlands near my house, cardinals keeping me company.  I reach the swamp that is still frozen over in some places, and I am to free to walk where I want, right up to the clusters of sleek, plump skunk cabbage, red and orange speckled, in the open rivulets, nestled in the cress.

More cardinals sing up the ridge and farther down along the river. I hear a blue jay, and the call of a pileated woodpecker. Here in the swamp, in spite of the cold wind and the gray sky and ice, I feel untouched by winter.

Karen Blaha / Flickr Creative Commons

Winter’s third phase, late winter, is the vestibule to early spring, rousing small mammals to courtship and growing the cardinal mating songs.   As the birds call out the end of deepest winter, Lenten roses (hellebores) bloom in the most sheltered microclimates. Among the earliest flowers to blossom, the Lenten rose prophesies precocious aconites and snowdrops, snow crocus and soft violet henbit. Maple sap runs when hellebores bloom, and most of the nation's lambs and kids are born.

Mikael Wiman / Flickr Creative Commons

The Sun enters its sign of Aquarius on the 20th, bringing in the last days of deepest winter. Even though the mornings are still so dark, the days are more than a quarter hour longer than they were at Christmas time!

Marty Gabel / Flickr Creative Commons

I am tired and the sky is dark and the wind cold against my windows. The powerful perigee moon is turning full, and sundowning closes around me. I mix myself a drink, take a small bowl of Spanish peanuts and settle in by the wood stove.

Nancy Girard Bégin / Flickr Creative Commons

Although winter may seem long and gray, its progress slowly unravels spring. A natural calendar offers reassurance that the coldest days of the year will really and truly lead to warmth.

A Guy Taking Pictures / Flickr Creative Commons

This winter I have been reading poems attributed to the fourth-century writer, Ambrose of Milan. His verses, sometimes sung as hymns, combine traditional cosmology with petition.     

Amborse addresses  the power that has created and orders the universe, the one who shapes the seasons of all things. He asks this giver of order to help us have the proper stability and natural balance in our spiritual life.

Ross Griff / Flickr Creative Commons

A recent visit to Serpent Mound in southern Ohio reminded me about the astronomical skills of ancient peoples. At intervals throughout the serpent-shaped structure, the mound builders had constructed sites from which they apparently observed the spring and autumn equinoxes, the winter and summer solstices, the farthest distance of sunrise and moonrise north in the summer, south in the winter.

Vanil-Noir / Flickr Creative Commons

In The Emerald Tablet, an ancient text by Hermes Trismegistus, the author attempts to explain the astrological mysteries of the cosmos. The work contains the phrase: “As above, so below.”

Indeed the land does reflect the sky above it, and the Earth watcher can crete constellations and story no less than the astrologer. Both observers are “horoscopers,” or time trackers, who make shapes, signs and sense from scattered, arbitrary elements.

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