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

BobMacInnes / Flickr Creative Commons

Recent events have unnerved me and pulled me just a little out of my lazy spring fever. It seems very clear that the global environment will be challenged more than ever during the years ahead.

Well, I attempt to begin to respond: I return to Gary Snyder’s poem, “For the Children", and his admonition to stay together, to learn the flowers and to go light.

So I have learned a lot of flowers in the past decades of my life. I start there. I see that floral taxonomy is not so much a matter of botany as it is a result of noticing, of watching, of caring.

bishib70 / Flickr Creative Commons

The exact end of winter came well before the most recent thaws, arriving unseen in the coldest weeks of the year when flower bulbs and buds followed their own schedules and began to show beneath and above the snow.

Walking through town this morning, I found that some daffodils were budding, some even blooming, and a few tulips and hyacinths were up four or five inches.  Snowdrops, snow crocus and aconite were already past their prime. Lilac buds were swollen, fat green and gold. Pussy willow catkins were cracking.

windy_ / Flickr Creative Commons

When a thaw comes up from the Gulf, it always shatters my cold-weather cabin fever. Thaws crack and dismantle the dark cataract of winter across my vision. Thaws call up childhood and value longings, whisper some ancient truth.

I remember one year after a great thaw. I must have been only six or seven years old. I pulled on my rubber boots and went wading in a flooded vacant lot near our house. I looked for fish that could not possibly have been there, and I felt happy in the clear spring-like wetland.   

Sandhill Cranes
Mark Moschell / Flickr Creative Commons

Each event in nature always points to other events, one part linked to so many other parts and ultimately to the whole. So the robin chorus that begins this month along the 40th parallel, is a mine from which one might draw out numberless concurrent happenings, all of them together making spring.

In this month of the Robin Chorus Moon when robins start their singsong calls in the morning twilight, then pollen forms on pussy willow catkins, and the first mosquito bites. Moths appear at your porch light.

Jagrap / Flickr Creative Commons

My home is my observatory. Near winter solstice, the sun comes up just on the other side of the Danielsons’ house  across the street (as far south as it ever rises) and it shines in to the north wall of my home office, lies across the bed in the green bedroom.

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!

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