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

Scott W / Flickr Creative Commons

The tracking of leafturn and leaf fall from specific trees throughout the autumn offers a semblance of control to the tracker. And an annual record of the gradual transformation and shedding of those trees, often reveals the character of an entire year.

Like counting fallen leaves, however, the practice of recording the progress of autumn with such landmarks may be simply an exercise in fantasy, a comforting pretense of lay scientific observation, as though the state of Mr. Danielson’s beech or Lil’s maple really mattered.

jasmic / Flickr Creative Commons

When I am restless in the winter, the landscape around me doesn't seem enough. These few acres of woods and homes are just a taste, only a promise of the great world.

But when I go too far away, I gather my landmarks of home around me. Distant locations only make sense against my private gauge.

Time benefits from a master point like Greenwich; from that arbitrary set point, we can know the sun throughout the world, and even plot the instant and the physical place where the past and future blend to a single day, balance in a temporal vacuum.

Blossom Vydrina / Flickr Creative Commons

The seasonal clock has advanced by the span of three moons since the last leaves fell to the ground. The first weeds and wildflowers of 2015 were already rising slowly through November and December: hemlock, lamium, garlic mustard, creeping Charlie, sweet rockets, sweet Cicely, dock, skunk cabbage, wood mint, watercress, mouse-eared chickweed. And now, the tips of snowdrops and snow crocus and daffodils have emerged.

John Kennedy / Flickr Creative Commons

Late winter is the anteroom to early spring, growing the birdsong, rousing small mammals to courtship, drawing the first bulbs from under the snow.

Now comes the close of winter berryfall: the red honeysuckle berries have long ago fallen or been taken by birds. The orange fruit of the evergreen euonymous vines and the bittersweet vines has completed its planting. Overwintering robins eat and seed the crab apples.

Sam Leech / Flickr Creative Commons

By the end of January, deep winter moves to its close, and late winter is carried into the nation by the lengthening days and the relentless south winds that always follow each cold spell.

The sun approaches a declination of 19 degrees on the 25th, putting it at its mid-November noontime height, and marking more than 20 percent of the way to spring equinox.

John Winkelman / Flickr Creative Commons

Now when the nation lies exactly in the middle of its peak snow period and average temperatures are the lowest of the year, then the advance of spring quickens, and the night starts contracting by two to three minutes each day all the way into June. Crows know all about the expanding daylight. Their migration cycle typically starts at the early edge of the night’s retreat. Junco movement begins in mid-January, too, just as the sun comes into Aquarius.

Rebecca Stanek / Flickr Creative Commons

In some ways, nothing seems to change within the center of Deep Winter. Still, what may appear to be the status quo is actually transformation – and its pieces measure the progress of Earth toward equinox.

Last year’s plants, are all giving way to the weather, leading the land back toward the sun. The hulls of last June’s sweet rockets and August’s wild cucumbers are empty, brittle and delicate like shed snakeskin. Asters and boneset seeds are gone. Milkweed pods are stained and empty.

Andrea Marutti / Flickr Creative Commons

One of the easiest ways to get a little control over winter is to count the major cold fronts that reach your house between now and the middle of February (when earliest spring often arrives along the 40th Parallel). See how many of those cold fronts you can record on your calendar. If you have a barometer or thermometer, you can follow them by making graph of ups and downs! Or you can cheat by checking the Internet.

blmiers2 / Flickr Creative Commons

“We live in memory, and our spiritual life is at bottom simply the effort of our memory to persist, to transform itself into hope…into our future,” states the philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno.

Of course, once you have uncovered the span the year's cycle, you can see the past and tell the future. Stasis and passage become inseparable. Awareness of landmarks in the seasons encompasses not only what was but what still may be.

Randi Hausken / Flickr Creative Commons

The shrinking Sandhill Crane Moon wanes throughout the week darkening the longest nights of the year, and continuing to call the cranes to the south, until on the 21st it becomes the Marauding Mouse Moon, the first day of the worst time of rodents in kitchens and basements and attics as those creatures flee from the cold.

That moon becomes new at 8:36 in the evening of the 21st, just 33 minutes later than the official moment of winter solstice, and at the very same time that the sun moves into its deep winter sign of Capricorn.