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

virginia bluebells
epenland / Flickr Creative Commons

Now at the beginning of Middle Spring, when pollen covers the pussy willows, then honeysuckle, mock orange, privet, wild multiflora roses, lilac, black raspberry and coralberry leaves break out from their buds, and that is a signal for cornus mas and lungwort to flower and for mourning cloak butterflies and cabbage moths to navigate the warming days past equinox. A little later come the question-mark and tortoise-shell butterflies and then the white-spotted skippers.

Cabbage butterfly
Jamie Davies / Flickr Creative Commons

As Early Spring comes to a close, then mourning cloak butterflies, the question marks, the tortoise shells and the cabbage butterflies come out, and when that happens, catfish are getting ready to feed in the  rivers, and goldfinches are turning gold.  The predawn chorus of birds begins near 6:00 a.m. 

Tejvan Pettinger / Flickr Creative Commons

So much has happened to prepare for equinox.

Red-winged blackbirds have joined the starlings and grackles. Killdeer and mockingbirds are calling, bluebirds singing. Robins begin their predawn chorus just after 7:00 a.m. Cardinals and doves are calling around 7:15. Later in the day, flickers and pileated woodpeckers call.  Honeybees will be flying then, and the first green-bottle flies.  Garter snakes will lie out sunning.

When I took inventory around the yard today, I saw verything had changed since my last accounting at the end of February:

Spring window
Ken Mattison / Flickr Creative Commons

I moved my desk to an east window last week. It faces a hedge that once was forsythia but now has been grown over by honeysuckle and Japanese honeysuckle vines. The shrubbery encroaches on the sidewalk, which parallels the street, and it is dense enough to block most traffic from view.

late winter dawn
Christian Collins / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s the third week of early spring, but when it really comes to spring, the number of the week or even the weather doesn’t move you closer to spring so much as what you see and hear. It’s your experience that leads you out of winter.

The land sends up signs of color to guide you, first emerald green of fresh grass to catch the sun, then white of snowdrops and tiny-flowered bittercress and Lenten roses, the yellow of dandelions, the violet and gold of snow crocuses, sometimes deep purple of the larger crocuses and March irises.

Brooding hen with chicks
normanack / Flickr Creative Commons

Now it is possible that some listeners do not know about broody hens, and since this is clearly the month of the Broody Hen Moon, it may be helpful to discuss the subject here in the Almanack.

So anyway, what IS a broody hen. A broody person may be thoughtful and unhappy, moody and melancholy. But in Chicken World, Well, a broody hen is one that doesn’t want to give up her eggs. She wants them to hatch. That would seem reasonable, and if a rooster is about, and if the owner wants chicks, the broody hen can be a blessing.

Rene Rasmussen / Flickr Creative Commons

Instinctively summer is accepted as the normal condition of the earth,  writes naturalist, Edwin Way Teale.

Winter as the abnormal. Summer is ‘the way it should be.’ It is as though our minds subconsciously returned to some tropical beginning, some summer-filled Garden of Eden

I thought of these lines I drove back to Ohio from a brief trip to the Florida Keys this past month.

Cardinal in tree
Thomas Dwyer / Flickr Creative Commons

I write this from Sarasota, Florida: Complete semi-tropical habitat, no sign of winter. Looking back over today’s daybook from home in Ohio, I see how all the notes reach south, look forward.

sprouting peonies
Lorianne DiSabato / Flickr Creative Commons

Even as the cold breaks the Groundhog Day thaw, many signs appear of the broader scope of the season, reminders of what to watch for and what to do.

When the first fly gets in your house on a warm Late Winter day, then opossums  and skunks wander the back roads at night.

When the red tips of peonies push out just a little from the ground, then blue jays are courting and wild turkeys to are gathering in flocks.

When red-winged blackbirds come to build their nests, then the maple sap should already be running.

pussywillows in February
Eve Fraser-Corp / Flickr Creative Commons

Once the leaves are down in the fall, I avoid looking at winter. I am always looking for spring, for the moment at which all the best of the year still lies ahead.

Sometimes I think anticipation is better than fulfillment. Promises are better than what is promised. Hope is better than than what is hoped for. When dreams come true, they are over. Happily ever after is often better as a wish.