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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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.

ephien / Flickr Creative Commons

So here is a little of my daybook history from this day in the third week of late summer:

2011: Cardinals called from about 5:15 this morning for about twenty minutes, hummingirds moved in on the feeders before sunrise, then the sparrow flock arrived, the rhythm of their leader about fifty-five chirps a minute, a little slower than I found in middle summer. No robins for a long time, disappeared a month ago as the rains stopped and heat in the 90s lasted day after day.

Pavlina Jane / Flickr Creative Commons

Songlines, Bruce Chatwin’s book about native customs in Australia, describes how aboriginal peoples made their way through the wilderness using memorized maps of story and song handed down from generation to generation.

Naming all the things in one’s route could assure the ancient travelers’ direction and survival.

luschei / Flickr Creative Commons

Although late summer occurs at different times and at different increments in different places, the first week of that season is almost always ragweed season. In the Deep South ragweed time may occur in July, and in along the Canadian border later in August.

Whenever it blooms ragweed goes with ripe blackberries in the brambles and grapes on arbors. Spicebush Berry Season, Privet Berry Season, Greenbrier Berry Season, and Poison Ivy Berry Season complement the ragweed, too.

colinsd40 / Flickr Creative Commons

Everything in nature continues to converge as middle summer moves to a close, the coincidences becoming almost phenological laws, dictating that when one thing happens, something else is happening too.

When spiders start to increase their building of web, then yellow jacket season begins in the windfall apples and plums.

When honeysuckle berries ripen, and hickory nuts and green acorns and black walnuts drop to the ground, then gardeners dig their potatoes.

Hickory Nut
Laurie Hulsey / Flickr Creative Commons

I watch the history of July unfold, approaching its climax: yellowing locust and buckeye leaves and the browning garlic mustard, reddening Judas maples and Virginia creeper leaves, shiny spicebush, boxwood, greenbrier, and poison ivy berries forming, wild cherries darkening.

David DeHetre / Flickr Creative Commons

One of the basic tenets of phenology, the awareness of what happens when in nature, is that comparisons almost always begin at home.

Since seasonal time depends on a combination of location and climate, natural history in any familiar location provides a kind of central point from which to estimate the advance or retreat of the year toward or from one’s home as well as toward or from other places.

superbatfish / Flickr Creative Commons

It is common in today’s counsel about meditation that one should not focus on any of the ideas or feelings that surface during the session but rather to allow them all to simply pass through the mind. And when the meditator clings to one thought or emotion, that lapse is sometimes called “monkey mind,” a mind that jumps from one image to another, foiling the whole purpose of the meditation.

Henry T. McLin / Flickr Creative Commons

In the time of aphelion, when Earth is farthest from the sun:

When timothy forage is bearded with seeds, when almost all the lilies bloom, and the first rose of Sharon and butterfly bush, bouncing bets and water plantain, woodland ginseng and the gray-headed coneflower and the small-flowered agrimony and the spotted touch-me-not come into flower.

When summer peaches summer apples ripen and elderberries set fruit. When blueberries turn blue.