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.

Ways to Connect

Ricardo Camacho / Flickr Creative Commons

The essayist Rebecca Solnit says that The very notion of giving meaning to something is premised on a cosmology in which things don’t have it yet.

So, for example, when I talk about the meaning of spring, I am entering a verbal landscape in which the different elements of that season make no sense – possess no meaning – in and of or by themselves.

Spring, then, and the meaning of spring are not self-evident. They depend on our construction of them.

inger maaike / Flickr Creative Commons

It's time to be paying attention, time to be getting ready.

When you hear mourning doves singing before dawn, then organize all your buckets for tapping maple syrup.

When you hear red-winged blackbirds, then the maple sap should already be running.

When yellow aconites bloom, then spread fertilizer in the field and garden so that it can work its way into the ground before you start planting.

When the first daffodil foliage is two inches tall, then go to the wetlands to find skunk cabbage in bloom.

Lorianne DiSabato / Flickr Creative Commons

By this point in the year, my daybook of events in nature reveals many of the pieces of the fabric which forms, for me, early spring.

On February 16,1983, I noted that cardinals were singing at 7:00 a.m. sharp, something that couldn't have happened two weeks earlier.

On February 16, 1990, I wrote: "Some pussy willows in front of the house have emerged completely. Maple buds are swelling. Tulips are up three inches, daffodils, four, garlic four to six inches, so many things pushing out."

Rebecca Siegel / Flickr Creative Commons

In his essay, “The Landscape of Home,” David Sopher writes how a person  “becomes … a geographer of the micro-region… putting together...a mental composite of features that tell of home: a profile of hillside, the hue and texture of houses, the pitch of church steeples, the color of cattle.”

lblkytn / Flickr Creative Commons

As February begins, natural history shows the growing power of the spring. The year is gathering a momentum in which every sound and movement carries meaning.

During the soft nights of the Groundhog Day Thaw, skunks venture out to feed. Salamanders court and breed in warmer microclimates. Deer gather together throughout the month to feed in herds.

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.