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

honeybee on flower
kuhnmi / Flickr Creative Commons

A season is always the sum of its parts. The pieces of Early Spring are few and subtle, but Middle Spring, reaching its zenith this week, leaves little to the imagination. The meager inventories of change that characterized equinox quickly fill with new details. Trees leaf and flowers bloom, unmistakable, their numbers catching the eye of almost everyone.

ant on flower
vivek raj / Flickr Creative Commons

According to some recent studies, an insect Armageddon is taking place throughout the United States and Europe. Some scientists project that over half of all insect species could disappear by the end of the 21st century.

The insect population around my yard has diminished markedly in just two years. I used to be able to find angleworms under the mulch near my sidewalk. Last year, no worms. Ants used to build entrances to their nests in the cracks of the sidewalk. No more ants.  Scorpion flies, aphids and beeflies were once plentiful in my garden, but no longer.

cows and horses in pasture
Till Westermayer / Flickr Creative Commons

Back in 2005, my friend Ruby (who was 95 at the time), had seen cows standing knee deep in mud, and she saw one of them switch its tail, and that, she declared, was a sign of spring.

Indeed, under the Cows Switching Their Tails Moon, the signs are all about. Toads and green frogs sing, ducklings and goslings hatch. Flowering pears and plums and apples and cherries bloom and set their fruit.

slgckgc / Flickr Creative Commons

No matter the weather, April almost always means middle spring right around the corner, and, especially if the early spring has been cold, it could be a good time to count the weeks until summer.

Lukasz Rawa / Flickr Creative Commons

Often, the landscape still seems to lie in winter even when the sun says spring. But the season takes on its character from many cues and signs, or what anthropologist Keith Basso calls “mnemonic pegs.” A person might use such pegs, formed by objects or events, like blooming daffodils or singing birds, to formulate what anthropologists call a “topogeny,” a listing of phenomena that creates maps or paths.

tanakawho / Flickr Creative Commons

This week of the year, as Early Spring deepens and the Sun moves from Pisces toward warming Aries,  I keep looking for the colors and sounds that mark the path away from winter.

When I look back at my daybook, I see that tulips form one of the borders of time that appear between yellow daffodils and the gold of forsythia. After all, without such borders and markers there is no time or spring at all. And markers like tulips are like themes in songs that weave great music.

cabbage butterfly
Brad Smith / Flickr Creative Commons

On the 6th of March The Cabbage White Butterfly Moon is new.

And white cabbage butterflies are the surest sign of the full sweep of Early Spring. Once you notice those butterflies, then you know the more elusive mourning cloak butterflies and the question mark butterflies and the tortoise shell butterflies and the tiny blues are flying too.

CameliaTWU / Flickr Creative Commons

Yes, it is the second week of Early Spring. But it doesn’t really look like spring. So it could be time to start counting the weeks until it really does look like spring. Here is one way to count:

Blue Jay
Mark Moschell / Flickr Creative Commons

The shift in weather that multiplies the signs of spring takes place within a week of Cross Quarter Day, the day on which the sun reaches halfway to spring equinox, February 18th.

Three or four good thaws, sometimes lasting a week apiece, have already come up from the south before then. Bulbs made progress during each of them, foliage rising ever so slowly though the soft ground.

cardinal sitting on a branch
Jennifer Boyer / Flickr Creative Commons

It's almost Early Spring. Time to be getting ready.

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

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

When titmice and cardinals sing throughout the morning, then check your chicken flock for mites.

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