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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Danny Plas / Flickr Creative Commons

The sun is bright. I shut the blinds against the day, pulling in, keeping myself from being taken outside by the clear sky, by the relentless turning and shedding of the maples.

I pull back to watch myself, to see how my body remains here, momentarily invulnerable in this room. I pull back to watch my feelings before I let autumn in, to see myself the way I was in summer.

Mark Kramer / Flickr Creative Commons

The vigil for spring begins with middle fall, and the Big Dipper at midnight is one of the easier markers for judging the progress of the year.

When its pointers, named Merak and Dubhe, point north-south, and the Dipper lies tight against the northern horizon, most of the country has entered autumn. Leaves are turning, birds migrating, wildflower time closing.

When, Merak and Dubhe, (over in the eastern half of the sky) point east-west (as well as to Polaris, the north star), the harvest is complete, all the leaves are down, and winter solstice approaches.

arcturus15 / Flickr Creative Commons

Not long ago, I made a trip to a monastery in Kentucky. I spent a weekend walking in the fields and woods, reflecting on the close of summer and the approach of winter.

The weather was warm and comforting. The surrounding hills were covered with the dusky glow of middle fall. In my wanderings, I entered a grove of oaks and maples that I hadn’t seen before, and as I walked down a gentle slope, I began to come upon statues that had been placed along the way. A weathered cherub held a message from Exodus 23: “Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way…..”

Jen Goellnitz / Flickr Creative Commons

Notes that cover decades of observations for the same day offer the writer and reader a radial time lapse in which any given 24-hour period is magnified and enhanced by an accumulation of related events from that day in different years.

The images and impressions from each year overlap, some almost the same, others seeming out of focus, but all together creating one time-lapse day across decades.

Juanita Demchak / Flickr Creative Commons

These last days of early autumn, I hear starlings chattering and whistling in the trees every morning. I watch the drying of goldenrod until it blends with the Bermuda grass, foxtail, smooth brome, orchard grass and timothy all gone to seed. The black walnut and cottonwood trees along my block are bare.

Richard Cook / Flickr Creative Commons

I have always been partial toward spiders. My mother, a stay-at-home mom who spent a lot of time in the basement washing clothes (refusing to use an automatic washer), always talked fondly of them. They were her friends, she sometimes told me.

I believed her, and so I have lived my life in harmony with spiders, protecting them when I can, only intervening in their activities occasionally to save a moth or butterfly. And I usually encounter my favorite spiders, the Microcenthas and the Orb Weavers, at the end of late summer and the beginning of autumn.

Julie Falk / Flickr Creative Commons

Today has brought me where I’ve been before: just past the edge of summer, maybe just a handful of days past, but the subtle decays of late August and the past few weeks have built up until the change seems sudden to me now.

Yesterday, I saw another long flock of grackles on my way north of town. In the garden, swallowtails and monarchs have disappeared. Asters are still at their peak, but the first beggarticks are brown now near the river: white snakeroot is finally breaking down in the woods.

pontla / Flickr Creative Commons

This week the asters bloom in the garden and field, the small-petaled white ones and the purple New England asters. Tall goldenrod, great blue lobelia, orange touch-me-not, white snakeroot and pink smartweed still hold their blossoms in the woods and waysides.

Darron Birgenheier / Flickr Creative Commons

Poor Will’s Almanack for the final week of late summer, in the final week of the Windfall Apple Moon, the second week of the sun in Virgo, the forty-first week of the year in nature.....

when more and more cornfields become dusky brown;

when patches of gold show on the Osage and cottonwoods and poplars and maples and white mulberry trees,

when buckeye and black walnut trees are shedding.

when kisses of scarlet appear on creeper and poison ivy;

when panicled dogwood has its first white berries; when dogbane pods turn red;

Jerry Edmundson / Flickr Creative Commons

This morning, I want to talk about giant moths. Here’s what happened:

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine found a giant Luna moth while he was mowing lawn.

Amazing, he said.

A Luna’s pale green wings can cover five inches, and their second generation often emerges in late summer.

I have a few other sightings of big moths listed in my daybook of over 30 years.

My favorites are the cecropias. They are giant moths, too. Orange and tan with a six-inch wingspan, they surpass the Lunas in grandeur.