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Poor Will's Almanack: December 3 - 9, 2019

winter sunset
Magdalen_A_T
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Flickr Creative Commons

Yesterday, the sun reached its earliest setting time throughout much of the country. When sunset reaches its earliest time of the year, the second bloom of forsythia flowers typically ends, witch hazel blossoms wither, and the last foliage of the beeches, the willows, pears, cypresses and oaks comes down.

Now the asters, milkweed and boneset, virgin’s bower, winterberry, honeysuckle and bittersweet set their seeds more quickly. Gauges of passage appear across the ground, the Osage fruits decaying, sometimes opened and scattered by squirrels, the hulls of black walnuts pocked and stained, heaps of leaves darkening, settling, contracting, dissolving.

In the darkest evenings of the year, Lenten roses gradually show their buds as crocus and snowdrops pierce the soft mulch and hold immune to cold beneath the snow. Sap quivers in the maples every thaw. Migrations overlap, the last sandhill cranes high over the first new bluebirds. The long nights urge the foxes to mate. Owls lay out their nests.

Gauges of a local season are always gauges of a distant season. Knowing home, a watcher measures faraway time. A parochial thermometer not only displays alternating waves of mild or bitter weather but also counts out the days of the finite winter road that begins in the snow and ends on the warm beaches of the South.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the first full week of Early Winter. In the meantime, be of good cheer. Night comes at its earliest time of all for almost two weeks. Then, even though the sun continues to rise later, sunset starts to occur later, as well. Even before solstice, spring is on its way.

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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.