Poor Will's Almanack

Tuesdays during Morning Edition

Bill Felker’s Poor Will’s Almanack currently appears in fifteen regional and national publications including the Yellow Springs News.

Bill Felker on how the almanack began:

The Author of the following Letters takes the liberty, with all proper deference, of laying before the public his idea of ”parochial history”....
Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne

Poor Will’s Almanack, which I feel is something akin to what Gilbert White would consider “parochial history,” began in 1972 with the gift of a barometer. My wife, Jean, gave the instrument to me when I was succumbing
to graduate school stress in Knoxville, Tennessee, and it became not only an escape from intense academic work, but the first step on the road to a different kind of awareness about the world.

From the start, I was never content just to watch the barometric needle; I had to record its movement, then graph it. I was fascinated by the alchemy of the charts that turned rain and sun into visible patterns, symbols like notes on a sheet of music, or words on a page.

From my graphs of barometric pressure, I discovered that the number of cold fronts each month is more or less consistent, and that the earth breathes at an average rate of about once every three to five days in the winter, and once each six to eight days at the peak of summer.

A short apprenticeship told me when important changes would occur and what kind of weather would take place on most any day. That information was expressed in the language of odds and percentages, and it was surprisingly accurate. Taking into consideration the consistency of certain patterns in the past, I could make fairly successful predictions about the likelihood of the repetition of such paradigms in the future. As Yeats says, the seasons "have their fixed returns,” and I found points all along the course of the year which appeared
to be fixed moments for change. The pulse of the world was steadier than I had ever imagined.

My graphs also allowed me to see the special properties of each season.  August's barometric configurations, for example, are slow and gentle like low, rolling hills. Heat waves show up as plateaus. Thunderstorms are sharp, shallow troughs in the gentle waves of the atmospheric landscape. Autumn arrives like the sudden appearance of a pyramid on a broad plain. By the end of September, the fronts are stronger; the high-pressure peaks become taller; the lows are deeper, with almost every valley bringing rain. By December, the systems loom on the horizon of the graph like a range of mountains with violent extremes of altitude, sometimes snowcapped, almost always imposing and sliced by canyons of wind.

From watching the weather, it was an easy step to watching wildflowers.  Identifying plants, I saw that flowers were natural allies of my graphs, and that they were parallel measures of the seasons and the passage of time. I kept a list of when each wildflower blossomed and saw how each one consistently opened around a specific day, and that even though a cold year could set blooming back up to two weeks, and unusual warmth accelerate it, average dates were quite useful in establishing sequence of bloom which always showed me exactly where  I was in the progress of the year.

In the summer of 1978, Jean and I took the family to Yellow Springs, Ohio, a small town just beyond the eastern edge of the Dayton suburbs. We bought a house and planned to stay. I began to write a nature almanac for the local newspaper. To my weather and wildflower notes I added daily sunrise and sunset times, moonrise and moonset, average and record temperatures, comments on foliage changes, bird migration dates, farm and gardening cycles, and the rotation of the stars.

The more I learned around Yellow Springs, the more I found applicable to the world beyond the village limits. The microclimate in which I immersed myself gradually became a key to the extended environment; the part unlocked the whole. My Yellow Springs gnomon that measured the movement of the sun along the ecliptic also measured my relationship to every other place on earth.  My occasional trips turned into exercises in the measurement of variations in the landscape. When I drove 500 miles northwest, I not only entered a different space, but often a separate season, and I could mark the differences in degrees of flowers, insects, trees, and the development of the field crops. The most exciting trips were taken south in March; I could travel from early spring into middle spring and finally into late spring and summer along the Gulf Coast.

My engagement with the natural world, which began as an escape from academia, finally turned into a way of getting private bearings, and of finding a sense of values. It was a process of spiritual as well as physical reorientation.  The extremes of that process often puzzled me as well as my family and my newspaper readers. Why I felt compelled to go well beyond a barometric notebook and end up describing the average weather and the state of nature on each day of the Yellow Springs year I have not the slightest idea. My existential search for home must have required it of me, and so, in that sense, all the historical statements in this collection of notes are the fruit of a strong need to define, in maybe excessive detail, where I am and what happens around me.

Poor Will's Almanack is also available as a podcast.
 

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Nature
8:45 am
Tue January 24, 2012

Poor Will's Almanack: January 24 - 30, 2012

Flickr creative commons user MIicala

Poor Will’s Almanack for the First Week of Late Winter.

The weather may or may not shift toward April during this week of the year, but my daybook of events in nature from the past decades tells a clear story of the season's motion.

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Nature
8:35 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Poor Will's Almanack: January 17 - 23, 2012

The Moon in January
Flick Creative Commons user MGShelton

Poor Will’s Almanack for the Third Week of January, the Third Week of Deep Winter.

On January 23, just a few days away, the Singing Cardinal Moon, the first complete moon of 2012, will become new, initiating a whole series of moons that map out the year before us. This Singing Cardinal Moon, of course, brings cardinals into song all across the country.

And by the time those birds are fully engaged in marking their territories, it will be time for the Red-Winged Blackbird Moon, the first moon of Early Spring.

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Nature
8:35 am
Tue January 10, 2012

Poor Will's Almanack: January 10 - 16, 2011

Flickr Creative Commons user lsk208

Poor Will’s Almanack for the Second Week of January, the Second Week of Deep Winter.

All along the 40th Parallel, the sun starts to rise a little earlier this week of the year, marking a significant milestone in the progress of spring. The foxes know the days are lengthening. Watch for them playing and courting in the fields.

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Nature
8:30 am
Tue January 3, 2012

Poor Will's Almanack: January 3 - 9, 2012

Orion
Flickr Creative Commons user Eduardo Marino

Poor Will’s Almanack for the First Week of January, the First Week of Deep Winter

The progress of deep winter can be gauged by whatever milestones you select. You can track storms and snow or the frequency of birdsong, the state of last year’s plants, or the steady shifting of the sun and stars. The motions are slow and easily measured. This is a simple place to begin to follow the year.

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Nature
10:44 am
Tue December 27, 2011

Poor Will's Almanack: December 27, 2011 - January 2, 2012

Oak Leaf Hydrangea in January
Flickr Creative Commons user MGShelton

Poor Will's Almanack for the Transition Week to Deep Winter.

It is New Year's week, and before January begins, I always take an inventory of what is happening around the yard and in my life.

I check the oak leaf hydrangea by the back porch. It often keeps half its leaves, even when the days stay below freezing. I stand and look at the wood pile for a while, trying to estimate how much wood is left.

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