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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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.

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.