Poor Will's Miami Valley Almanack

Poor Will's Miami Valley Almanack


Bill Felker's almanack for the WYSO listening area, Southwest Ohio and beyond.More from Poor Will's Miami Valley Almanack »

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Poor Will's Almanack: February 21 -27, 2017

My home is my observatory. Near winter solstice, the sun comes up just on the other side of the Danielsons' house across the street (as far south as it ever rises) and it shines in to the north wall of my home office, lies across the bed in the green bedroom. At spring and autumn equinox, the sun rises directly over Lil's house, through my east windows all the way through my office to the west wall of the hall and the living room and the green bedroom. And at summer solstice, the sunrise over Jerry and Lee's house (as far north as it ever rises) lights the south wall of my office, and the south wall of the green bedroom and the living room. Sometimes I make pencil marks on the walls, with dates of the different intrusions of light. On December 20, I check the mark I made years ago, the winter solstice mark that shows how far the noonday sun reaches through my south windows. All of this solar history and its occasional penciling create the scaffolding for my personal astronomy. Here,

Poor Will's Almanack: February 14 - 20, 2017

Today, February 14, is the first day of early spring throughout the Lower Midwest. Although temperatures can be in the 30s almost half the time or even in the 20s, February 14th suddenly offers a 50 percent chance of highs above 40 degrees. And tomorrow, the 15th has the highest incidence of highs in the 50s and 60s of any time so far in February - a full 40 percent of the afternoons reach those levels. That's the first time since December 15th that the likelihood of mild temperatures has been so great. And like these statistics provide a clear border to winter: December 15th is the pivot date for the arrival of really severe weather all across the Great Lakes region; February 15th is clearly the spring pivot date. Depending on the year, growth now occurs on ragwort, dock, sweet rocket, asters, winter cress, poison hemlock, sedum, mint, celandine, plantain, poppies, pansies, daffodils, tulips, crocus, aconite, hyacinth, strawberries. All their hardy leaves are expanding a centimeter

Poor Will's Almanack: February 7 - 13, 2017

Since I came to southwestern Ohio in the late 1970s, I have recorded the dates for many of the earliest snows. There is no scientific method here, but rather a shaping of personal context. The earliest flurries fell on October 5 of 2014. The first snow of almost half a foot came on October 30 of 1993. On November 11, 1984, I made the first snowball of the winter. This year the first snow, about four inches, arrived on December 13. The latest first snow came on December 31, 1998. People sometimes ask me if I see patterns that reveal the advance of global warming in these kind of notes. I think that maybe there were more "earliest snow" occurrences in the 1980s and 1990s than in the past few years, but inconsistency seems to be the norm – at least the norm for my casual observations. Like any diary, a weather or nature diary, can be a collection of souvenirs that, rather than plotting the future or the past, places the writer inside a safe context of memory, allows time for sequencing

Poor Will's Almanack: January 31 - February 6, 2017

I walk toward the wetlands near my house, cardinals keeping me company. I reach the swamp that is still frozen over in some places, and I am to free to walk where I want, right up to the clusters of sleek, plump skunk cabbage, red and orange speckled, in the open rivulets, nestled in the cress. More cardinals sing up the ridge and farther down along the river. I hear a blue jay, and the call of a pileated woodpecker. Here in the swamp, in spite of the cold wind and the gray sky and ice, I feel untouched by winter. There is something healing about the way the land lies open all around me. The shallow streams are running, in spite of last week's deep cold. The cress, garlic mustard, and ragwort foliage remain green and supple. They all defy the brown land around them, and stolidly stand up to February. Then when I get home in the afternoon, I hear the first dove of spring calling. And when I go out to the back yard to get wood for the stove, a grackle – the first I've seen in the yard

Poor Wills Almanack: January 24 - 30, 2017

Winter's third phase, late winter, is the vestibule to early spring, rousing small mammals to courtship and growing the cardinal mating songs. As the birds call out the end of deepest winter, Lenten roses (hellebores) bloom in the most sheltered microclimates. Among the earliest flowers to blossom, the Lenten rose prophesies precocious aconites and snowdrops, snow crocus and soft violet henbit. Maple sap runs when hellebores bloom, and most of the nation's lambs and kids are born. When you hear the cardinals sing before dawn and see the petals of the Lenten rose, you will know that frogs are mating in the Deep South and that salamanders will soon be breeding in the slime of southern wetlands. From the Carolinas west, crocus, daffodil and tulip foliage emerges in the garden, budding for Chinese New Year. Juncos heed the late winter calls, readying for migration north. Robins and bluebirds often come north across the Ohio River. Pussy willows crack and stretch when the January thaw

Poor Will's Almanack: January 17 - 23, 2017

The Sun enters its sign of Aquarius on the 20th, bringing in the last days of deepest winter. Even though the mornings are still so dark, the days are more than a quarter hour longer than they were at Christmas time! And under the frozen coverlet of deep winter, the natural year quickens. As the sun moves into Aquarius, crows start migration. The first flies of the year hatch in the sun. Nighttime excursions of skunks and opossums and raccoons, the prophetic calls of overwintering robins, the occasional passage of bluebirds, the mating of owls and the disappearance of autumn seeds all offer counterpoint to the subdued winter silence and chill. Orion, winter's most ominous constellation, shifts into the western sky before dawn, losing its chilling power with each sunrise. The Tufted Titmouse Moon enters its weak final quarter on January 19, loosening the winter even more, promising a January thaw. And on the 22nd, it reaches apogee, its least influential position, farthest from Earth

Poor Will's Almanack: January 10 -16, 2017

I am tired and the sky is dark and the wind cold against my windows. The powerful perigee moon is turning full, and sundowning closes around me. I mix myself a drink, take a small bowl of Spanish peanuts and settle in by the wood stove. Tonight the fire evokes feelings of closeness and affection, estrangement and sadness, creates a distillation of autumn bonfires from my childhood, the smell of burning leaves, smoke and dusk together; family campfires at the beaches, and then over and over the home fires, the banking of the logs before bed, the stirring of the fire before sunrise, the all-day fires that dispelled clouds and snow and storms. The sense of the fire also has something to do with the ancestors, is the stuff of collective knowing, burrowing through the mazy synapses of my cells, embodied here as well as in ages far away. And so I am aware of an impending and looming terror of the fire's absence, an ancient embodied knowledge of its importance for survival. I pull my feelings

Poor Will's Almanack: January 3 - 9, 2017

Although winter may seem long and gray, its progress slowly unravels spring. A natural calendar offers reassurance that the coldest days of the year will really and truly lead to warmth. Next week, on January 11, the sun rises earlier for the first time since the middle of June. January 23 is the average date of the midwinter thaw. On January 26: Cardinals begin their spring mating songs, and deep winter ends. On the 28th Average temperatures start to rise one degree per week. On February 1: Doves start to call after sunrise. On February 14: Red-winged blackbirds arrive in wetlands. And then February 17 is winter's Cross Quarter Day: The sun is halfway to equinox. marking the start of early spring, a six-week period that gradually brings the landscape to life. Ten days later, Snowdrops, aconites and snow crocus often bloom. On March 4: Pussy willows are usually completely open. On March 8: Earliest daffodils flower. On March 10: Robins begin their predawn chorus And then March 20 is

Poor Will's Almanack: December 27, 2016 - January 2, 2017

This winter I have been reading poems attributed to the fourth-century writer, Ambrose of Milan. His verses, sometimes sung as hymns, combine traditional cosmology with petition. Amborse addresses the power that has created and orders the universe, the one who shapes the seasons of all things. He asks this giver of order to help us have the proper stability and natural balance in our spiritual life. He requests that the author of the days might also give meaning to our days, that our lives may reflect universal order and that our deaths, like night moving into day, might fulfill the parallel promise of rebirth. The prayer of Ambrose is like my own prayer to a figment of my imagination, a God I would create if it did not already exist. And sometimes, I wonder if I just visualize a Maker who hears my quiet inquiries, does that Maker only exist in my head? Does my silent prayer return to me like an echo, my own voice reassuring me I am not alone? As it turns out, winter lethargy keeps me

Poor Will's Almanack: December 20 - 26, 2016

A recent visit to Serpent Mound in southern Ohio reminded me about the astronomical skills of ancient peoples. At intervals throughout the serpent-shaped structure, the mound builders had constructed sites from which they apparently observed the spring and autumn equinoxes, the winter and summer solstices, the farthest distance of sunrise and moonrise north in the summer, south in the winter. The simple genius of Serpent Mound is its demonstration that an immobile watchtower is what establishes the borders of time. The observatory tames the universe and gives it order. With a fixed locus of perspective, what occurs in the sky is reflected and seen below. And within that ordered structure, any number of events in nature and society might be placed and recorded, creating history within carefully crafted space. A private observatory of one's own living space might affirm some astronomical lessons of the mound builders. Paying attention – even casually – to the position of the sun and moon

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