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Poor Will's Almanack: January 30 - February 5, 2018

Paul Reynolds
Flickr Creative Commons

Despite the cold veneer of Late Winter and the power of tomorrow’s Supermoon, the natural year quickens. Nighttime excursions of skunks, the occasional appearance of flies, an increase in opossum activity, the prophetic calls of overwintering robins, and the disappearance of autumn seeds all offer counterpoint to winter silence and days of snow.

No matter the cold, beavers strip bark for food along the rivers. The tufted titmouse has begun its spiral mating flights. Blue jays give their bell-like calls. Male cardinals have started to sing before dawn.

Autumn’s fruits are giving way to the weather, measuring the advance of the Northern Hemisphere back toward the sun. The seed pods of last June’s sweet rockets and August’s wild cucumbers are  brittle and delicate like shed snakeskin. Milkweed pods are stained and empty.

The dried flower clusters of purple coneflowers and zinnias, tough and unyielding a month ago, crumble between my fingers. Winterberry berries still hang to their branches, but their firmness is gone. Osage fruit has darkened, is breaking down, some fruits chewed, torn and scattered by squirrels or raccoons. Sweet gum seed balls fall to the snow and wind.  Each change is transformation - measuring the progress of Earth toward equinox

In the warmer winters or habitats, snowdrops push up through mulch and frost.  Moss lengthens a fraction of an inch in each thaw.  The fresh foliage of poppies and lemon verbena show in the garden. A few more pussy willow catkins open.  The buds of motherwort and multiflora roses become longer, some unraveling. Henbit blooms any time an afternoon gets into the 50s.

On the mildest late winter days of all, small pale moths venture out into the undergrowth. Crayfish wander the swamps in search of precocious prey, and thunderstorms forecast May.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the third week of Late Winter. In the meantime, sit by the warmth of a fire or in your favorite chair; imagine the cold season coming apart outside, all the signs of early spring multiplying and lying before you.

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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.