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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All of natural history is in my favor today, March 18. If I compress my daybook notes from that day, going back to 1983, I can fabricate a quilt of events, webs of color and sound and warming winds to weave into the frame of a twenty-four hour span.

Then, a circadian shape appears, a four-dimensional psychic set, the radius of casual observation cutting through thirty years, cross-sectioning time – albeit with bias against winter – and I fill in the empty spaces of my imaginary structure of backyard natural history, requiring only this one day to make spring arrive.

jackub303 / Flickr Creative Commons

At one point in the middle of February, the big ficus tree I bought last year for the greenhouse started losing its leaves, and the shedding was steady, and it unnerved me.

No matter what I did, the leaf fall continued, and every morning the tree’s branches looked emptier and emptier. There was nothing I could do to halt the sudden collapse of its foliage.

Part of my unease was that the indoor plants I keep protected in a greenhouse are allies of a sort, a landscape apart, and for me, they are defenses against something I cannot really name.

TonySutton410 / Flickr Creative Commons

Robins start chirping before dawn this week. Here are a few of my daybook entries about that milestone in the progress of the year:

Doug88888 / Flickr Creative Commons

In the late 1970s, an IBM research scientist named Mandelbrot looked at fluctuations in all kinds of phenomena, from the stock market to cloud formations. He came to the conclusion that these very different occurrences were related to one another, and that they revealed an underlying force that pervaded every aspect of life on earth.

Anita363 / Flickr Creative Commons

Today, the 18th day of the year’s second month, the sun reaches a declination of almost 12 degrees, the halfway point to equinox. Now, the sun, which took 60 days to travel to this point, suddenly doubles its speed, entering wet and fertile Pisces, and initiating the season of early spring, a six-week period of changeable conditions infiltrated ever so slowly by warmer and warmer temperatures that finally bring the maple trees and early bulbs to bloom.

jlodder / Flickr Creative Commons

This is the week along the 40th Parallel that the day’s length becomes a full hour longer than it was on December 26th. Sunset now occurs near 6:00 p.m. for the first time since the middle of October, and the brighter afternoons tell the groundhogs and opossums that it’s mating time; raccoons and beavers seek partners, too.

arsheffield / Flickr Creative Commons

A friend of mine sent me the “Hermit Songs” of anonymous Irish monks and scholars who, over a thousand years ago, scribbled their verses in the margins of the manuscripts they were copying. One of those poems, translated by W.H. Auden, expresses the pleasure of sitting in front of the fire beside a white cat named Pangur.

Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are
alone together, scholar and cat,
Each has his own work to do daily….
Thus we live ever
Without tedium or envy.
Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are.

krish49 / Flickr Creative Commons

On January 30, just a few days away, the Tufted Titmouse Moon, the first complete moon of 2014, will become the new Snowdrop Moon, continuing a lunar trajectory that travels inexorably across the span of the year.

With February’s Snowdrop Moon, the time of blooming plants gets underway. When white snowdrops and yellow aconites come into flower, they tell the maple sap to run, and they push back late winter to leave room for early spring.

March's moon is the Bumblebee Moon, the moon that encourages the emergence of spring insects, and the early morning robin chorus.

Tuchodi / 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. By the end of the month, normal averages break their stagnation, edging up a full degree almost everywhere above the Tropic of Cancer. Local thermometers not only see the progress within their own microclimate, but across the entire continent.

abiodork / Flickr Creative Commons

The recent storm got me thinking about a fierce Christmas rain and wind storm just a few years ago. After the turbulence passed, I went outside on the back porch and hen I noticed a butterfly, a polygonia comma, perched on the head of the small stone crucifix one of my sisters had given the family some years ago.

Now I am a wavering and superstitious Christian, easily swayed by signs and sacraments, and so the appearance of the polygonia on a crucifix in the wake of a freak rainstorm on Christmas morning was bound to trigger some uneasiness of spirit.