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Poor Will's Almanack: November 8 - 14, 2016

John Flannery
Flickr Creative Commons

The first butterflies of the spring are easy to notice. They emerge out of April and May to seek the flowers of middle and late spring, and they are full of prophetic meaning.

The disappearance of butterflies in the autumn is also prophetic, but it may seem less welcome. On the other hand, a horoscope – time watch – for the sun’s passage from middle autumn’s Libra into late autumn’s Scorpio, is able to provide some consolation. Informal records of seasonal zeitgebers, like butterflies, complement the new undergrowth of second spring, and can make the end of summer less mysterious and perhaps less ominous.

A few such observations: My latest swallowtail sighting: October 18, 1993; the latest checkerspot on October 18 of 1994; the latest monarch passed through my garden on November 7, 2004; the latest red admiral on October 21, 2011; the latest painted lady sighted on November 2, 2003; the last cabbage white and the last skipper seen on November 11, 2006.

Even though the frequency and timing of butterfly activity may depend on weather, habitat and broods, such notes create a scaffolding something like one might make for moveable feasts. And even as arbitrary as they are, dates of the latest butterflies, like dates for the latest falling leaves in a particular neighborhood, set parameters for locality. Butterflies, like trees or flowers or birds, reveal the state of the land and the position of Earth in relation to the Sun. Most important, perhaps, they connect the individual observer to his or her own identity within the ecology of a specific place and time.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the third week of late fall. In the meantime, be on the lookout: Maybe you’ll see the last butterfly of the year, forerunner of the first butterfly of 2017.

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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.