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Poor Will's Almanack: January 13 - 19, 2015

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John Winkelman
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Flickr Creative Commons

Now when the nation lies exactly in the middle of its peak snow period and average temperatures are the lowest of the year, then the advance of spring quickens, and the night starts contracting by two to three minutes each day all the way into June. Crows know all about the expanding daylight. Their migration cycle typically starts at the early edge of the night’s retreat. Junco movement begins in mid-January, too, just as the sun comes into Aquarius.

This is also the week skunks, opossums and raccoons become more active, and they appear at night along the backroads. Once you sight these small mammals, then you know for sure late winter is on the way.

Frost seeding typically begins at this time of the year: red clover is broadcast in the fields, and grass seed is scattered over bare spots on the lawn. Gardeners start bedding plants such as geraniums, coleus, carnations, petunias, and snapdragons under lights in flats. Cold-weather broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage and celery have sprouted in the greenhouse for setting out eight to twelve weeks from now.

Skunk cabbage is up in the swamps, blackened by the cold but still strong. Watercress holds in the streams. Where the ground is not frozen, new mint grows under the protection of a southern hedge or wall. In the pastures, basal leaves of thistles and mullein are deep green beneath the snow. In town, winter-blooming hellebores and Chinese witch hazels blossom in the warmest microclimates.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the last week of Deep Winter. In the meantime, listen for cardinals to start singing around a quarter to eight in the morning – the first sign of the arrival of late winter.

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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.