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Poor Will's Almanack: February 4 - 10, 2014

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A friend of mine sent me the “Hermit Songs” of anonymous Irish monks and scholars who, over a thousand years ago, scribbled their verses in the margins of the manuscripts they were copying. One of those poems, translated by W.H. Auden, expresses the pleasure of sitting in front of the fire beside a white cat named Pangur.

Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are
alone together, scholar and cat,
Each has his own work to do daily….
Thus we live ever
Without tedium or envy.
Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are.

And I linger now at the end of late winter within the monkish, medieval mood of these poems, happy to adopt their spirit and re-enter the isolation of winter with the cat I have, hunkering down into February withdrawal. And I sit and write these notes with the family cat named Monk lying across my forearms; I embrace the contentment of the ancient cleric.

The Irish author, without hymn or litany, found his peace in what I imagine to have been a stark and lonely habitat, warmed only by a fireplace. Within the context of his song, the true cenobitic community is not so much one of fellow monks, is not validated by formal liturgy or by meals of remembrance, but is rather a community of lone workers, watchers and seekers. The cell of winter and the companionship possessed there are rare gifts of seclusion and contemplation, gifts of the silent journeying into reflection, from inside the shelter of shared myopia.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the final week of late winter. In the meantime, sit by the fire or the heater with your cat or dog or plant or human friend.

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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.