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Poor Will's Almanack: January 3 - 9, 2012

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Flickr Creative Commons user Eduardo Marino
Orion

Poor Will’s Almanack for the First Week of January, the First Week of Deep Winter

The progress of deep winter can be gauged by whatever milestones you select. You can track storms and snow or the frequency of birdsong, the state of last year’s plants, or the steady shifting of the sun and stars. The motions are slow and easily measured. This is a simple place to begin to follow the year.In the early evening sky, Orion now dominates the southeast. Sirius, the Dog Star, is at his heels. The Pleiades are overhead. Perseus follows Andromeda and the Great Square into the west. The Big Dipper begins to circle back out of the northeast. When its pointers to the North Star are positioned directly north and south at 9:00 p.m., it will be Middle Spring.

Six major cold fronts came across the country in December. January will have about half a dozen more, and then February will bring three or four, and then Early Spring will start to set the snowdrops and the aconites and crocus in motion, cracking pussy willows, too.

Crows often call before dawn in January. They are joined by the tufted titmice as winter deepens. By the end of the month, cardinals begin their mating calls, then doves, then blue jays. Red-winged blackbirds arrive with maple syrup time, and then the coldest time of year is almost gone.

Next week on Poor Will’s Almanack: notes for the second week of January, the second week of Deep Winter. In the meantime, watch for moss lengthening on a sheltered log, measuring the approach of April.

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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.