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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Charles D P Miller / Flickr Creative Commons

Late winter begins today throughout the United States. In the South, the early wildflowers start to bloom; in the North, the January thaw forecasts spring.

Along the 40th Parallel, about halfway between the Gulf of Mexico and the Canadian Border, cardinals and doves begin to sing before sunrise.

In just a couple of weeks, the first red-winged blackbirds arrive in the Ohio Valley. Not long afterwards, the first snowdrops flower and the maple sap runs.

Moniek van Rijbroek / Flickr Creative Commons

The Sun enters its sign of Aquarius tomorrow, the 20th, foreshadowing late winter. I look around to see what that means here around me:

Starlings whistle in the distance, and a robin is chirping near the north garden. I heard a cardinal off and on between 8:00 and 9:00; soon they will be singing every morning.

Around the yard, I find one new wild strawberry leaf, one new waterleaf sprout. There is fresh growth on the Japanese honeysuckle, leaves dark violet, venturing out from the axils of their woody vines.

-JvL- / Flickr Creative Commons

The moon turned new just a few days ago, and now that moon, the Skunk Mating Moon, encourages skunks and other small mammals to break from their winter dormancy and wander for mates and food when thaws warm the nights

February’s moon is the Desert Wildflower Moon. When the deserts of the Southwestern United States bloom after the year’s early rains, then snowdrops blossom in the Midwest.

vladeb / Flickr Creative Commons

Although the second week of deep winter is often marked by severe weather and a landscape either dull and brown or hidden by snow, its nature can be known with just a little attention.

The name of Skunk Mating Moon suggests that, especially in milder winters, skunks do emerge to dig in your lawn as well as to look for mates. To those in need of hope that spring will eventually arrive, the smell of a skunk on the prowl is sweet and promising. It is, as well, a sign that other small mammals are getting ready to breed, and that owls are building nests in the woods.

marcin ejsmont / Flickr Creative Commons

Each season is the sum of its parts, and deep winter is defined by five major cold waves in much of the country. The first of these weather systems arrives this week, and the second usually by January 5th or 6th. The third and fourth systems, crossing the Mississippi near the 10th and 15th, redouble the cold and bring the lowest temperatures of the year. A fifth system near January 20 is often part of the January thaw, and the sixth and final cold wave of January is statistically the first of late winter, and it gradually leads into the Groundhog Day thaw early in February.

Stephen Little / Flickr Creative Commons

Today is the winter solstice. Well, it actually occurred at 11:48 last night where I live, and so I know the from astronomers the exact minute that the sun stood still and then began to move again toward summer.

Only the astronomers can actually see and measure that shift, of course, and I trust them to tell the truth. I take it on faith that the sun really will rise higher a little each day until daffodils flower and green leaves spread across the trees. Besides that, I have plenty of experience in such matters. I’m old. I know what always happens to winter.

Tom Kelly / Flickr Creative Commons

Not so long ago, I took Bella, my ancient border collie, for a short outing to a pond close by my village. The wind was quiet and the water smooth at the approach of a storm. Bella wandered a little then stopped suddenly and looked over toward a nearby cornfield.

And then I saw the geese. Out of the field they emerged, two or three abreast, solemnly waddling at about the speed of walking meditators, their plumage like monkish habits, gray and white, all the same, forming a long, formal procession.

Shooting Star
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes / Flickr Creative Commons

The sun now reaches slightly more than one degree from its lowest position in the sky. Its declination stays within a degree of solstice until January 8, producing a period of solar stability similar to the one between June 4th and July 8th.

Martin LaBar / Flickr Creative Commons

No one suspects the days to be gods, says Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay Self-Reliance.

Here in the last days of late fall I look for the divine. Each day is only the sum of its parts. The gods are not only triune but plentiful. They lie out before me out as far as I can see. Each object and each event, present or past, literally creates the sacred day in my mind.

Chris Pawluk / Flickr Creative Commons

Sky clear: 55 degrees: Walking slowly through the wetlands, the ground green with chickweed and garlic mustard. You see the squat spears of skunk cabbage a hand high but not open, Moss is long, often gilded with bloom, on stumps and fallen branches. Red berries shine in the barberry. The river is blue from the sky, and sunlight flashes on the water.