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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Carmen Eisbär / Flickr Creative Commons

In the final weeks of September, a rapid deterioration of all the wildflowers except the goldenrod and asters occurs. And after these last flowers go to seed in early October, there is no new generation of blooming plants to replace them. Except for the few varieties that open during second spring (the warm days in late fall), the final species that grow to maturity within in most of the United States and Canada are in the process of bearing fruit.

Jeffrey James Pacres / Flickr Creative Commons

I often think about an old notebook my friend Diana loaned me decades ago, the journal of a man, long deceased, containing notes in pencil for almost every day between September 1950 and December 1952.

The entries placed weather statistics and baseball scores side-by-side with phrases about marriages, anniversaries, election results, births, deaths, fishing and digging for worms. I assume that some of these things were more important to him than others, but the journal gives no clues.

Celina Massa / Flickr Creative Commons

Catching late summer in its great circular web, the giant arabesque orbweaver spins its patterns in time with the last wildflowers and the first dusky shadows on the high trees. In the woods webs of the smaller but more common micrathena spiders often block your August paths.

lcm1863 / Flickr Creative Commons

It is the last week of late summer. Toads and frogs have begun migration. You may see them hopping through your grass or across your walkway. Showers of apple leaves, locust leaves, black walnut, hackberry leaves come down in the windier afternoons. All the peaches are ripe. Yellow jackets seek the windfalls.

The chiggers have gone for the year, so have the fireflies. Goldenrod is turning. Once in a while a monarch butterfly defies the environmental odds, flies past you south. Streaks of gold appear on the silver olives.

nicholas_gent / Flickr Creative Commons

Caring for the zinnias in late summer, I cultivate next to their roots, gently cut the bindweed that has curled around their stems. As I work, I think about my mother’s petunias and the rhubarb in my back yard in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and the raspberry patch where I gathered gallons of berries. I think about Jeanie’s rose garden of twenty years ago and her collection of lilies (they’re all done blooming for year..)

Nick Ares / Flickr Creative Commons

Last week’s Perseid meteor shower paralleled the onset of late summer. At this point in August, the pause between robinsong and insect calls is ending. July’s Dog Days never really materialized this year, and now the nights are dense with the ebb-tide chanting of crickets and katydids.

westpark / Flickr Creative Commons

Middle August brings the sun almost halfway between summer solstice and autumn equinox. It is a time that lies halfway between the chorus of birdsong that characterizes the first part of the year and the chanting of insects that marks transition to the second part.

eyeweed / Flickr Creative Commons

In my capacity as Poor Will, I was once called to the house of a woman who had probably grown the fattest tomato of the season in all of my village. Unfortunately, my visit was delayed several days, and when I arrived, the prize had decayed to a wad of mush.

But the lady had preserved it for me anyway in a plastic bag. She pulled it from the refrigerator, and held it up for me to see.

Brad Smith / Flickr Creative Commons

Markers for the transition week to August along the 40th Parallel include the blooming of purple ironweed, the ripening of the first blackberries, the beginning of the passage of monarch butterflies, the start of late-summer’s night cricket song, the flocking of starlings, the loud calls of the katydids at night, and elderberries darkening for wine.

palomelca / Flickr Creative Commons

Since I started my record of the weather and natural history, I have kept all my notes daily notes together - for example, all the July 20ths from 1979 through 2014 in one place. With that organization, I've been able to see how, in spite of the separate character of each 12-month cycle, the progress of the seasons remains nearly identical from one year to the next.