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Poor Will's Almanack: December 27, 2011 - January 2, 2012

Flickr Creative Commons user MGShelton
Oak Leaf Hydrangea in January

Poor Will's Almanack for the Transition Week to Deep Winter.

It is New Year's week, and before January begins, I always take an inventory of what is happening around the yard and in my life.

I check the oak leaf hydrangea by the back porch. It often keeps half its leaves, even when the days stay below freezing. I stand and look at the wood pile for a while, trying to estimate how much wood is left.

I look in the front garden to see if the snowdrops have come up; usually they have, at least a little, their white tips an easy gauge of earliest spring - that is unless they are covered with snow.

I check the pussy willows, sometimes I count how many are opening. That's another way to measure the progress of the year. I take a look at the honeysuckle bushes, note whether any of their berries are left. I finger the seed heads of the New England asters to see if all the seeds are gone. I kick the fat Osage fruits to understand how they are doing: they are chartreuse green when they tumble down in October and November, turn yellower and yellower through the fall, start to get mushy in the middle of winter, fall apart in spring.

I find the plants that keep their green through the coldest times: the hellebores, the creeping charley, the chickweed and pachysandra, garlic mustard, mullein, sweet rocket, and sweet William, and I am reassured by their deep color and hardiness. I look under the mulch to see if the peony stalks have started to come up. I bend down and scratch the dirt in the rhubarb patch; sometime the first red knuckles of next year's pies are visible.

All this inventory of the yard and garden gives me a sense of place and control. On the other hand, inventory of my life at the end of the year is a little complicated.

Next week on Poor Will's Almanack: notes for the first full week of the new year and the first week of Deep Winter. In the meantime, look around. Take inventory. It's almost the New Year.

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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.