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.

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Billtacular / Flickr Creative Commons

I went out into the woods and fields this morning: Small cups of gossamer were shining with dew, hanging to the tips of the dry wingstem. In the mist, the grass was yellowing, and the woods appeared like it does in April, bright leaves like new flowers.

Seeds were sprouting in rotten tree stumps, the sweet smell of autumn ground all around me. The low sun rested in the treetops. The silver winding river, the fallen logs invisible in summer, lay below me.

Martin LeBar / Flickr Creative Commons

On October 22, the Frog and Toad Migration Moon comes into its final quarter. The following day, called Cross-Quarter Day, the sun reaches half way between autumn equinox and winter solstice, entering the fertile but chilly sign of Scorpio.

Paladin27 / Flickr Creative Commons

The Frog and Toad Migration Moon waxes until it becomes completely full  October 15. Rising in the evening and setting in the morning, the moon will be overhead around midnight.

Full moon should strengthen the traditional mid-October cold front, increasing the chances for frost and even snow fluries.

And this stage of the lunar orb may affect more than the weather.

Elliot McCrory / Flickr Creative Commons

Under this waxing moon, a major shift in foliage color occurs all along the 40th Parallel. The nights grow colder; the mornings sometimes bring frost. The frogs and toads wander yards and gardens looking the right places to dig in against the winter.  Throughout the fields, aster and goldenrod flowers lose their color. Brown beggartick burs stick to your stockings, and the winged seeds of Japanese knotweed fall.  In urban ponds, water lilies stop blooming.

trekr / Flickr Creative Commons

The days continue clear and warm and bright. Two weeks ago, much of the landscape was still deep, late-summer green. Now, a few maples and dogwoods are red and orange, cottonwoods and catalpas and sweet gums and shagbark hickories are yellow, and grape vines and nettles are bleached with age. Locust leaves drizzle steadily to the undergrowth. The serviceberries are almost bare. The black walnut trees keep only their last fruit. Purple poison ivy and Virginia creeper outline the changes.

goldenrod in the fall
Bridget Leyendecker / Flickr Creative Commons

I wander into the chilly, wet morning of an old farm on equinox, swallows circling above me, crows, blue jays and cardinals and mockingbirds, ground crickets and field crickets and tree crickets accompanying me on my walk.

Common ragweed everywhere has gone to seed. In patches of soil between slabs of old cement and blacktop grow ancient chicory and Queen Anne's lace, horseweed past its best, pink smartweed in large clumps, blushing wild dogwood, small white asters (two tiny bees huddled- one on top of the other - on one aster blossom), tall goldenrod full bloom.

Sara Björk / Flickr Creative Commons

Now when the nights are cool and the moon is dark, those giant puffball mushrooms swell in the woods,  getting so big...

September fogs, the sliding sun, and one of the most radical weather shifts so far in the season, calls them up from the ground.

As the day moves to within a few degrees of equinox, other creatures tell the time as well as puffballs.

Giant Hostas
Lola Audu / Flickr Creative Commons

Deep in the woods, tall wood nettle, wingstem, ironweed, and touch-me-nots have obscured the web of spring and summer, all the trilliums, the violet cress, the ragwort, the purple phlox, toothwort, Jack-in-the pulpit and bluebells, honewort, waterleaf.

slappytheseal / Flickr Creative Commons

I have fond memories of puffballs and their moon because twenty-eight years ago, a friend called me up with some news.

“There’s a lady out on the street,” he said, “with a real big mushroom.”

I went to see the sight, and there, indeed was a young woman holding what was to become the world’s largest puffball mushroom (calvatia gigantea), 18.38 pounds, 77 inches around.

In our conversation years later, the woman told me that her giant fungus (“Puffy, as she called it,”) had made the 1990 and 1991 editions of the Guinness Book of World Records.

Tyler Sprague / Flickr Creative Commons

Having dropped below the celestial equator in the first week of late summer, the sun has now left the stability of Leo and entered the more volatile sign of Virgo, the first of the most violent periods of change in the second half of the year.

At the transition between Leo’s great plateau of heat and color in July and Libra’s sudden collapse of the forest canopy in early fall, Virgo brings the first turning of the leaves and the first chance of frost.