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Poor Will's Almanack: May 1 - 7, 2018

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Middle Spring cedes to Late Spring, and under the closing canopy and the Eta Aquarid shooting stars: the wild phlox are purple and the swamp ragwort is gold. May apples and spring cress flower.  Wild ginger, meadow rue, bellwort, bluets, Jack-in-the pulpit, nodding trillium, larkspur and thyme-leafed speedwell are still blossoming. The sticky catchweed replaces chickweed. Thyme and horseradish open in the herb garden. Lily-of-the-valley and star of Bethlehem push out from their buds. 

But if a person is restless, stricken with wanderlust by spring, then from this fragile space in the year, one can travel to the whole panoply of early, middle and late spring. For just a few days, all of those seasons lie out totally accessible to anyone who will go to see them.

As May begins, the Lower Midwest lies between the first stirring of color in northern Minnesota and the leafing of all the trees along the Gulf of Mexico. If you travel to the Canadian border now, you will find the first cottonwoods budding there, the first crocus, the first daffodil and tulip foliage pushing out of the ground. It is still the second or third week of March in Ohio River Valley time. The city grass is green, but the plantings along the roadsides are still brown, and the fields are all still dull from the cold.

Gaining on spring at the rate of approximately one day for every thirty miles south, you will the see the grass showing color near St. Cloud, Minnesota. By Minneapolis, it's the first of April in Cincinnati time: A few tulips are in bloom, and forsythia is out. Daffodils are blooming. Maples flower, and willows glow.

Into Wisconsin, down to Madison, the tree line comes alive with golds and pale greens, and dandelions appear in the lawns and fields. Scilla, bluebells and daffodils are in full flower, and the first of the pink magnolias. Willows are starting to green up, and it's April 10th Pittsburgh time.

Into Chicago and northern Indiana, the intensity of coloration grows with each mile, all the winter branches filling in. Redbud and apple tree blossoms announce the middle of middle spring; then Kentucky brings out full yellow garlic mustard by Lexington, and middle May's sweet rockets at the Tennessee border, moving the world quickly toward summer. It's clover time all the way now to the ocean, first the white, then pink, then the tall sweet clovers into South Carolina. The canopy closes in and loses its early brilliance by the time you pass into southern Georgia where redbud and apple blossoms are falling. In Mobile, Alabama, the leaves are full size. Mulleins and thistles and lilies are open. It's June.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will's Almanack. I'll be back again next week with notes for the second week of Late Spring. In the meantime,  if you want to recapture the new days of Early Spring or the vanishing flowers of Middle Spring, travel north. To find the future, travel south.


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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.