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Poor Will's Almanack: December 4 - 10, 2012

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Flickr Creative Commons user K.W. Sanders

Poor Will's Almanack for the First Week of Early Winter.

When I read the journals of the naturalist Henry David Thoreau for the first time, I wanted him to tell me more about himself. I thought that all his notes on the thickness of ice at Walden Pond or about the dates the asters bloomed were frivolous.

I wanted him to talk, just once, about his most secret passions. I wanted him to stop hiding behind nature.

Then I started keeping my own notebook and found that my personal history of the year was much more important to me than the other kinds of history I'd encountered.

Starting from an old assumption that the course of the seasons can be a metaphor for the span of human life, I saw that closer observation of that metaphor revealed parallels I hadn't thought about before.

Each entry in my notebook, the times of cardinal song, the measurements of leaves, the dates of blossom and petal fall, not only contributed to my understanding of a grand design, but gave me insights into all the minor, isolated actions, which I used to feel were meaningless, in the cycle of my life.

The more closely I looked at what was happening in the woods near my house, the more detailed and myopic the notes became, the more I understood the extent of the metaphor, and the better I started to understand myself, my own most secret passions, and Thoreau’s passions, too.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the second week of early winter. In the meantime, if you watch what’s going on around you, you may see yourself.

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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.