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Poor Will's Almanack: December 5 - 12, 2023

close up of embers in a bonfire
Jens-Chr. Strandos
Flickr Creative Commons

Poor Will’s Almanack in the time of early winter in the time of the Mistletoe Moon and the time of the sun in Sagittarius.

I used to know a local woodsman by the name of Vern Hogans, a hunter and fisherman. One autumm, we were talking about the weather, and I was wondering what the winter ahead would bring. Vern told me right away he'd noticed that the groundhog's fur was getting rich and heavy. 

"Oh, it's going to be a cold winter!" he predicted. 

A few weeks later, he took me out to a woodlot north of town.

"I'll show you the bark on the trees," he said. "They'll tell 'ya somethin' too."

He brought me to a hickory tree. 

"Now you see how tight that bark is?" He put his hand to the trunk and stroked it. "See, it's air tight. You can't pull off one piece."

He told me how the trees "loosen up" and shed in the spring, "just like a snake sheds its skin." 

"If winter's gonna be cold," he said, "the trees drop the old bark early and it comes back strong. And if the winter's gonna be warm, the bark comes loose late, and it stays loose."

We went a little further, and then Vern stopped and checked a green ash. 

"Boy, he's tight, ain't he! He's really ready for winter." And then he felt a cottonwood. "You see now, he's well sealed and thick. He's ready, too. The trees, they put on deep coats for winter just like animals."

And Indeed, that winter was a bitter one. 

Now Vern has been gone for quite a while, and I'm still trying to get the hang of the tree bark meteorology. Sometimes I get it right, usually I don't.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with more notes on the seasons. In the meantime, check the bark on your backyard trees. It's got to be telling you something.

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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.