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

perseid meteor shower
Steve Ryan / Flickr Creative Commons

I stayed up to watch the Perseid meteors, but the moon was too bright for me to see more than a few shooting stars. And now that gibbous moon is setting, the sky is getting light,  and I am still awake. The morning is windless, misty and cool. Crickets are chanting never pausing, cardinals competing with them, blue jays give their bell-like calls, crows caw a few blocks away

Mark Beckemeyer / Flickr Creative Commons

As Late Summer begins, all the katydids sing after sundown.  They call out the close of the Dog Days, and even though heat often lingers, the rhythm of the season has shifted, its tones have been altered, colors and sounds and scents all pointing to fall.

Migration clucking among the robins increases.  Some days, there is a long and steady cardinal song before sunrise, then silence. Hummingbirds, wood ducks, Baltimore orioles and purple martins start to disappear south; their departure marks a quickening in the approach of Early Fall.

summer in Hocking Hills
Brian Wolfe / Flickr Creative Commons

In his book, Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane writes about the role of imagination in a person’s approach to space and place. The mountains that people climb, he writes, must first exist and be conquered in their minds.

When he actually climbed mountains, Macfarlane discovered “that the mountains one gazes at, reads about, dreams of and desires are not the mountains one climbs.” The real mountains are “matters of hard, steep rock and freezing snow…of vertigo…of hypertension, nausea and frostbite.”

ripening summer blackberries
sogni_hal / Flickr Creative Commons

The philosopher and psychologist Carl Jung used the word, “synchronicity” to describe "temporally coincident occurrences" that may be related by their meaning. In the context of nature, the days themselves are formed and defined from “temporally coincident occurrences,” that is, events happening at the same time, events that reveal to the very blossom and tadpole the meaning of space and time. Things happen together: that is what makes the world make sense.

Vicki DeLoach / Flickr Creative Commons

There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things, writes George Borrow in a passage from his novel, Lavengro. There’s sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things…. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die? 

In my notes for this week of the year, I find myself in the middle of butterflies, days of color and nectar, drifting and soaring.  These days, I can see were the sweetest.

Lake Erie beach
Ohio Sea Grant / Flickr Creative Commons

Now if we let ourselves believe, it might seem that summer will never end. Even in the face of the changes taking place around us, we might to choose to remain here in the center of the year where the heat and humidity create a backwater of time.

This is the season in which anticipation cedes to acceptance. It is a time of self-deception. In the same way that the depths of winter seem to erase the possibility that the cold and gray can ever end, Deep Summer seems to promise only green leaves and flowers and warmth.

buckeye fruit
Puddin Tain / Flickr Creative Commons

I walk into the woods and pastures to touch Deep Summer, finding August’s white snakeroot with huge buds, stinging wood nettle with its Late Summer petals, wingstem ready to open, parsnips half to seed but still flowering enough to make part of the field yellow, while the other part is white with daisy fleabane. Wild onions are blooming. Virginia roses still bright pink.  Prickly buckeye fruits, an inch in diameter, are hanging from the trees.  Canadian thistles are gray, some thistle down loosed by the finches  and drifting with the afternoon wind.

Jeff-o-Matic / Flickr Creative Commons

The Milkweed Bug Mating Moon was new and dark, just a shadow high in the east before dawn. The the rain had finally ended, and the barometer was rising.

By the time the grackles woke up at 6:00, the chorus of cardinals and doves and sparrows was loud and raucous. Then a breeze passed through the trees, and the grackles became louder, their calls drowning out the other singers as the sun came up.

summer stream
Nicholas A. Tonelli / Flickr Creative Commons

The dream of my life,” writes poet Mary Oliver, “Is to lie down by a slow river/and stare at the light in the trees -/ to learn something by being nothing/ A little while but the rich lens of attention.”

Now these are the longest days of all, and if ever one might lie down by a slow river and stare at the light of the trees, these might be the days to do just that, and to learn something by being nothing.

soybean flower
Aerna's Mom / Flickr Creative Commons

So much is going on outside that it’s hard to know what else is going on. And to make matters worse, when one thing happens, something else is happening, too.

When great mullein blooms in the fields, then mock orange petals have all fallen and water willows are blossoming beside the streams.

When elderberry bushes come into full flower and cottonwood cotton floats in the wind, then the first chiggers bite in the woods and garden.

When the tall spikes of the yucca are in bloom, then Japanese beetles invade the soybeans.