WYSO

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

flowers in field
Tommy Clark / Flickr Creative Commons

I wrote my recent annual almanack as a horoscope in nature. The word horoscope comes from two Greek words, hora, which means hour or time, and skopos, which means observer. The time observer is a horoscoper, and for the horoscoper  who watches the seasons, an “almanack horoscope in nature” can offer a useful guide to the galaxy as well as to one’s own neighborhood.

In The Emerald Tablet, an ancient text by Hermes Trismegistus, the author attempts to explain the astrological mysteries of the cosmos. The work contains the phrase: “As above, so below.”

fall corn field against a cloudy sky
Michael Patterson / Flickr Creative Commons

Driving south toward the river valley, I head into an autumn thunderstorm. The soybeans are yellow, and the corn is old. Most black walnut trees are bare, fruit exposed and swinging in the rain. Small white asters and goldenrod are in late bloom; chicory is still open.

milkweed pod
qurlyjoe / Flickr Creative Commons

The days continue clear and bright. Two weeks ago, much of the landscape was still deep, late-summer green. Now, a few maples and dogwoods are orange, or red. Cottonwoods and catalpas and sweet gums and shagbark hickories are yellow. Grape vines and nettles are bleached with age. Locust leaves drizzle steadily to the undergrowth. The serviceberries are almost bare. The black walnut trees keep only their last fruit. Purple poison ivy and Virginia creeper outline the changes.

forest in autumn
csm242000 Photography / Flickr Creative Commons

For a number of years, I have marked the position of the Sun on a wall in a certain room of my house, noting how it not only moves throughout the day, but also how it moves with the seasons.

I have followed that practice, sometimes doing it to tell the time of year (although it can do that as well as any calendar), but mostly because of the way it makes me feel.

Paying attention to where and when the sunlight comes through my window helps me to feel cared for. Strangely, it makes me feel like I have been chosen.

jumpseed plant
Fritz Flohr Reynolds / Flickr Creative Commons

Among the many signs of summer’s end, the maturing of the jumpseed plant is one of the more dependable. In full bloom, it attracts clusters of cabbage white butterflies that play and court around it. And when its inconspicuous white flowers have turned to brittle seeds and jump to the ground as you run your thumb and forefinger up their stem, then the first week of Early Fall has arrived.

close up of a bumblebee on a sunflower
portitzer / Flickr Creative Commons

In fields all across the country, the last wildflowers of the year come into bloom: the white and violet asters, orange beggarticks, burr marigolds, tall goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod and Japanese knotweed.

It may all be too much for the bees. They have been working since the end of April, and the other day when I found a bumblebee motionsless on its side in the middle of a red zinnia, I wondered if it were overworked, drunk with nectar, a debauchee of dew or simply sleepy.

A squirrel appears from behind a tree.
Andrew Johnston / Flickr Creative Commons

For me, nostalgia often accompanies the steady transformation of the landscape. Memories proliferate, and my mind travels back and forth through the concentric circles of the years, sifting images and feelings, recent and distant events, sorting and ruminating, nothing making much sense.

This morning, I went outside into fog and dew.  I saw that a big fat orb-weaver spider had made its web across the shed door overnight. I remember this time last year, I wasn’t paying attention and walked into the same kind of web in front of the same door.

Tiger Swallowtail on Orange Flower
Vicki DeLoach / Flickr Creative Commons

When I look back and try to understand what happened the other day, I reach for impressions and feelings that, in recollection, become the story. Although I had a number of appointments and other things I had to do, I only remember now that the breeze was cool and the sun was hot throughout the afternoon.

And that I saw so many butterflies, many cabbage white butterflies, spinning in love randori above the red and orange and yellow zinnias. Tiny blue butterflies, azures, fluttered down into the faded bee balm.

rolls of hay in a late summer field
Let Ideas Compete / Flickr Creative Commons

Even though the summer may be hot and humid and  seemingly endless, its stability is deceptive. Sometimes a cold front around August 10th is especially chilly, breaking the stagnation of the Dog Days.

Sometimes leaf miners lace the locust trees, creating patches of gray and brown in the tree line. Sometimes a few maples turn red and stand out like the hand of October from all the other trees of August.

Bird calls have changed during the past month, and the crickets and katydids are louder.

blackberries in buckets
henrybloomfield / Flickr Creative Commons

When Deep Summer’s wildflowers start to pale, then blackberries redden and turn sweet and black, perfect for cobblers and jam. And then, fittingly enough, the Black-Eyed Susan Moon, reaching perigee (its position closest to Earth) on August 10, becomes the Blackberry Jam Moon the very next day.

Pages