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.

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Ib Aamaro / Flickr Creative Commons

Everything happens so quickly between the end of March and the middle of May. Bare trees fill out, and the brown, silent earth comes completely alive.

The feelings that move over me in the wake of all those changes range from exhilaration and joy to disappointment to a sense of being overwhelmed, to a sense of sadness.

Brian Wolfe / Flickr Creative Commons

I got up a little after 5:00 in the morning. My window was open, and the air was cool and damp. I felt the anxiety and fear that sometimes greet me when I wake. I was still tired and wanted to stay in bed, but remnants of my dreams kept me from going back to sleep and finally pulled me up.

Brandon Giesbrecht / Flickr Creative Commons

In the course of my almanack record keeping, I have found that soil temperatures generally follow the normal average air temperatures within maybe ten degrees. But in the spring, the ground often lags behind the weather, remaining cold, and causing considerable anguish to the farmer and gardener.

For example, if your beans go in before the earth is warm enough, they rot where you lay them. “Nothing sprouts,” says the ancient Greek sage, Theophrastus, “before its proper time.” At least I think he said something like that…..

Jo Naylor / Flickr Creative Commons

Cross-Quarter Day is April 21, a day before Earth Day this year, the day on which the sun reaches halfway between equinox and solstice, and enters the late spring sign of Taurus. Now the meager inventories of change that characterized equinox quickly fill with new details each day. The floral and faunal fragments of the season multiply, literally filling in the space of Earth with tangible, visible clockwork.

hoptographie / Flickr Creative Commons

The older I become, the more I am aware of the sources of my moods, the more I see the almost deciduous nature of my emotions, the clear and critical relationship between the outside world, the passage of the seasons, and my mind.

I've found that my self is somehow loose, unanchored, and that it continually needs an abundance of landmarks and time tellers, needs colors, and aromas, and textures over and over in order to find meaning, orientation, and place.

frted / Flickr Creative Commons

“I believe,” wrote the poet Robinson Jeffers,  “that the universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole….”

Under the spell of middle spring, it is not so difficult to feel part of that one being, to sense that we express its energy and hope. Because this  is the week of pale violets in the lawn and vast patches of dandelions along the roadsides.

Jerry and Pat Donaho / Flickr Creative Commons

In his 1989 classic, The End of Nature, ecologist Bill McKibben talks about people’s expectations that spring will come the way it always has come. There may, of course, be cold springs and warm springs, wet springs and dry springs, but what if  our deeper expectations are unmet? What if spring is so cold or so warm that it becomes a different season altogether? And what happens, McKibben asks, if our certainty about the predictable sequence of nature falters?   

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.   

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