Poor Will’s Almanack
By Bill Felker
And it came to me all in a feeling how everything fitted together, the place and ourselves and the animals and the tools, and how the sky held us. I saw how sweetly we were enabled by the land and the animals and our few simple tools. – Wendell Berry
Astronomical Data and Lore
The Snow Flea Moon becomes the Great Groundhog Moon at 2:06 p.m. on Feb. 11 and then it waxes throughout the week. Rising in the morning and setting in the evening, this crescent moon passes overhead in the middle of the day, encouraging creatures (including groundhogs) to be more active at that time, especially as the cold fronts of Feb. 11 and 15 approach.
By 10 p.m. in the first week in February, giant Orion begins to move west from its dominating January position in the center of the southern sky. The star grouping of Canis Major takes its place along the horizon, with Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest light in the whole night sky. Sirius, along with Procyon (the large star to the upper left of Sirius) and Betelgeuse (the reddish left shoulder of Orion) form what appears from our position on Earth to be an equilateral triangle.
On the 18th day of the year’s second month, the Sun reaches Cross-Quarter Day, the halfway point to equinox, entering Pisces at the same time and initiating the season of Early Spring, a six-week period of changeable conditions infiltrated ever so slowly by warmer and warmer temperatures that finally bring the first trees and bulbs to bloom.
The third major cold wave of the month, often arriving on the 10th or 11th, is typically the last severe front of winter. By the 14th, chances for highs in the 20s or below fall to only 10 percent, and by the 15th, chances for spring warmth above 50 degrees jump to 40 percent per day – the highest so far this year. This change is so dramatic on regional weather charts that it can easily be called the beginning of Early Spring – a six-week period of changeable conditions during which milder weather gradually overwhelms the cold.
(Events in Nature that Tell the Time of Year)
In warmer years, groundhogs come out of their dormant stage. You may see them eating the new grass by the side of the road.
Foliage of wild strawberry, celandine, wild onion, hollyhock, sweet William, lamb’s ear, lungwort, dandelion, motherwort and great mullein has remained intact from fall and is waiting for a little more sun.
In the most sheltered southern exposures, yellow aconites are budding. Peonies slowly come up through the mulch, their deep red tips emerging when blue jay calls become more common.
Cardinals not only sing before dawn, but deep into the afternoon. Road kills increase as opossums, skunks and raccoons seek their mates.
Lilac buds are swollen, fat green and gold. Chickweed is spreading quickly along the forest floor. Skunk Cabbage is blooming in the wetlands.
Countdown to Spring
• Just a few days until the first red-winged blackbirds arrive, and skunks prowl the nights and to the first snowdrop bloom and the official start of early spring – a time when maple sap season can begin at any moment.
• One week to the time during which salamanders start to mate in the warm rains.
• Two weeks to crocus season and owl hatching time and woodcock mating time.
• Three weeks to the beginning of the morning robin chorus before sunrise.
• Four weeks to daffodil season and silver maple blooming season and the first golden goldfinches.
• Five weeks to tulip season and the first wave of blooming woodland wildflowers and the first butterflies.
• Six weeks until golden forsythia blooms and skunk cabbage sends out its first leaves and the lawn is long enough to cut.
• Seven weeks until the peak of Middle Spring wildflowers in the woods and crab apples flower.
• Eight weeks until American toads sing their mating songs in the night.
• Nine weeks until early corn planting starts.
• 10 weeks until the Great Dandelion and Violet Bloom begins.
Mind and Body
The S.A.D. Index, which measures seasonal stress on a scale from 1 to 100, swells to a high of 84 by Feb. 11, the last day of readings so high this spring, but then it falls rapidly throughout the period, dipping below 60 for the first time this year by Feb. 16. With the arrival of Early Spring and the increase in favorable zeitgebers, most people should begin to feel some relief from the winter blahs. For full S.A.D. statistics, consult Poor Will’s Almanack for 2021.
In the Field and Garden
Plan to start the cabbages, kale, collards and other greens indoors in flats as soon as possible while the moon is dark. Force branches from flowering trees as the moon waxes.
When the first knuckles of rhubarb emerge from the ground, then it’s time to plant onion sets and seed cold frames with spinach, radishes and lettuce.
Take cuttings to propagate shrubs, trees, and house plants; they should do well as the days lengthen. Most tender vegetables and flowers can be set out the first week of May.
In February, the ground usually approaches 35 degrees below the Great Lakes, the temperature at which earthworms become active again. If you see those worms crossing roads and sidewalks in the lukewarm rains, that will mean the pastures are starting to grow again.
Apply fertilizer to trees and shrubs. Also plan and prepare your container garden for early vegetables and flowers, and check the pH in your lawn.
Plan to take care of animal and pet maintenance after full moon (Feb. 27): trim feet, worm, and treat for external and internal parasites.
Seed cold frames with lettuce, chard and spinach.
A Sudden Snowstorm
By Rick Etter, Delta, Ohio
This story is one of my Dad’s. For years he wrote snippets of things about growing up on the prairies of North Dakota. This one is about the suddenness and strength of a prairie snowstorm. One nearby family lost three boys that got caught out in it and couldn’t find their way home. The fourth survived, but lost a foot and some toes.
Every winter we would get one or more blizzards. These were terrible things to behold unless you were snug in your house. To be caught out on the prairie was almost sure death. It wouldn’t have to snow very much, for the wind would churn what snow there was into fine particles not unlike talcum powder. It would choke you if you faced the wind with no cover over your face.
We would use binder twine to run lines from the house to the various out buildings, so we could find our way back if it got too bad. Most people kept a lighted lamp in the window at night in case anyone lost might see it.
On Saturday March 15, 1941, Dad had taken the horses and the enclosed sled that doubled as a school bus into town to pick up supplies. He learned that a snowplow would be clearing the road from town past our farm that evening. It was scheduled to leave town about 6:30 p.m.
Well, we had a truck with an enclosed box on it that we used as a school bus when the roads were open, but this truck had been buried in a snow drift about two miles north of town since an early December blizzard. So, Dad, Wally and I were going to take the horses and sled to meet the snowplow at the site of our buried truck. We figured the plow would get there around 8 p.m. Since we had no telephone, we had to estimate and hope.
A little before 7 p.m., Wally and I went out to the barn to harness the horses. The weather was a balmy 35 degrees and cloudy. We hung the lantern up on a rafter and we were about to get the harness when there was a sudden crash of wind that we thought was going to take the barn down. The barn shuddered and squealed but remained intact.
We immediately looked out the door we had just entered – which was on the east end of the barn – and saw a mass of churning snow. The wind was from the west to northwest. We later learned the velocity of the wind to be between 85 to 100 mph. We couldn’t see the house or a light in the house window. Wally took the lantern and we started toward where we figured the house must be located.
I tried to hang on to his coat, but the wind and the choking snow was more than I could handle. The storm smothered the lantern, so he dropped it and hung on to me. We missed the house but we bumped against a gatepost. The gate was open, so if we had been a foot to the left we would have passed through the gate and into miles of open country.
We followed the fence back to the garage, so we knew where we were, but we still couldn’t see the house about 20 feet away. We got our bearings and made it to the door where Dad and Mother hauled us in. We had snow under our coats and caps, under our shirts and pants, inside our socks. It was packed between my glasses and my face – no wonder I couldn’t see. We were very lucky, since it was so late in the season, we did not have a line from the barn to the house.
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Poor Will’s Almanack for 2021 is still available. For your autographed copy, send $20 (includes shipping and handling) to Poor Will, P.O. Box 431, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387. You can also see a sample of the Almanack and order online at www.poorwillsalmanack.com.
Copyright 2021 - W. L. Felker