Nature
8:45 am
Tue June 12, 2012

Poor Will's Almanack: June 12 - 18, 2012

Poor Will’s Almanack for the fourth week of early summer.

A few days ago, I received a letter from Jeffery Goss, a correspondent of mine who lives in Missouri.

"This spring has rattled everything I thought I knew about phenological time measurements," wrote Jeffery. "For example, in March, zeitgebers came three to four weeks early and not even in the right order. Maybe it's climate change."

Jeffery's experience was similar to mine. I have spent years trying to define the seasons, dividing them up, connecting them to one another, looking for signs and footprints. I have found that location usually dictates the progress of the year, as measured by the blooming of plants, and that usually certain dates on the Gregorian calendar can serve as markers for the seasons. In February, I have enjoyed driving south into spring, discovering the gradual unraveling of winter through the Border States, finally arriving at Midwestern May by the time I reach the Gulf.

Warmer than the pair of record Marches in 1945 and 1946, this past March pushed Ohio Valley into the patterns I have charted for Columbia, South Carolina. If similar two or three similar early springs occur within the decade to come, then the paradigm will have definitely shifted.

And if seasonal markers become moveable feasts, then clusters of phenological events become more significant for defining the progress of the year. In a shifting climate scenario, the seasonal clusters become floating, almost existential, calendars, replacing an older fixed system tied to more stable weather cycles of the past century in which events took place more consistently and reflected geographical as well as temporal dimensions.

Such an existential system might liberate events from both geographical preconceptions and ties to the traditional months, bringing focus on events themselves and their relationship to one another. The result would be to define time more by what occurs instead of what has always occurred or what is expected to occur. Freed from expectations of place and dates, the local observer would hover within the spin of this new phase of Earth's history, lightly riding its waves, fully aware, without expectations.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with the final week of early summer.  In the meantime, look around to see what is happening. Each flower, each storm is a moveable feast.

Related program: