POOR WILL’S ALMANACK FOR 2018 AND BILL FELKER’S NEW BOOK OF ESSAYS, HOME IS THE PRIME MERIDIAN, ARE
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HOME IS THE PRIME MERIDIAN: ESSAYS IN SEARCH OF TIME AND PLACE AND SPIRIT is a collection of 42 essays from Bill Felker’s newspaper columns and radio broadcasts. See the Kirkus Rewiew of this book below on this page.
POOR WILL’S ALMANACK FOR 2018 offers a variety of ways with which the reader can approach the natural year:
REFLECTIONS ON THE SEASONS BY BILL FELKER include humorous essays like “Buttercup the Weather Dog,” more serious essays such as “Spring Journal on the Camino de Santiago,” and phenological descriptions like “The Hinge of Early Summer” and “Inventory in Early Autumn.”
NEW NAMES FOR THE MOONS: This year’s moons include the Frolicking Fox Moon, the Ducks-Scouting-for Nests Moon, the Termite Swarming Moon and many more. Each annual version of POOR WILL contains different Moon names that are based on an event that takes place in nature during that monthly period.
ASTRONOMICAL INFORMATION in plain English gives monthly updates about the Sun’s position, the location of major planets, the stars and shooting stars
THE S.A.D. STRESS INDEX measures the natural phenomena which are assumed to be related to Seasonal Affective Disorder: the day’s length, the average percentage of sunlight, the weather and the phase of the moon. In order to create the Index, each of those factors was given a value from zero to 25, and then the four values were combined onto a scale of one to 100. The higher the number, the greater the stress. Lunar phase and the Moon’s proximity to Earth produce the most dramatic swings in the Index. Lunar ratings are based on tidal and sociological information that suggests the Moon is most influential when it is full, second-most influential when it is new and least influential at entry to its second and fourth phases.
METEOROLOGICAL FORECASTS: The weather estimates in this Almanack are based on Bill Felker’s charts of fractal weather patterns made between 1978 and 2017. Readers of his weekly and monthly columns throughout the United States have used these estimates successfully since 1984. Poor Will’s Almanack for 2018 integrates lunar conditions with brief descriptions of expected weather systems in its “Almanack Daybook” section, suggesting how the moon’s phase and proximity to Earth could influence the character of each major shift in barometric pressure.
A CALENDAR OF FEAST DAYS for homesteaders, gardeners and farmers lists the days of the year one might expect the public to have increased interest in livestock or produce. This calendar is also useful when one is planning strategies for marketing to particular ethnic or religious groups.
THE PEAK ACTIVITY TIME FOR CREATURES section is a monthly guide to lunar position and corresponding behavior. Many people find that livestock, children, fish and game are more active (and dieting is more difficult) when the moon is overhead: at midday when the moon is new, in the afternoon and evening when the moon is in its first quarter, at night when the moon is full and in its third quarter, in the morning when the moon is in its fourth quarter. Second-best lunar times occur when the moon is below your location, 12 hours before or after those times noted above. The approach of weather systems (high-pressure systems typically preceded by low-pressure systems) also influences fish and animal activity.
THE ALMANACK DAYBOOK SECTION consists of daily gardening and farming notes, phenological information about changes in foliage, flowering and migratory activity throughout the year as well as commentary about lunar influence on predicted weather systems and seasonal stress.
READER STORIES: Readers have been contributing to POOR WILL’S ALMANACK’S weekly and monthly columns since 1985. People have submitted memory stories, outhouse tales, narratives about unusual occurrences and special animals. Each annual version of the ALMANACK features the best submissions from recent years, and the 2018 edition includes several fine outhouse tales, such as “A Terrible Outhouse Afternoon” by Willy O’Halleran and “Surprise in the Outhouse” by Aldon Cisco.
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Home is the Prime Meridian: Almanac Essays of Time and Place and Spirit
The essays that focus on seasonal time blend the author’s observations of events in nature with his reflections on change and passage. For example, in “Checking for Spring,” he counts the kinds of buds on the trees and bushes that surround his yard, feeling reassured by their number and promise. In “The Archipelago of Early Spring,” he describes the landscape of early spring in and around his village, finding a topography of flowers that embodies the advance of the year. He uses synecdoche in “Strawberry Summer” to link parallel seasons of blossoms to the strawberries of June. In “Autumn Samadhi,” he names an accumulation of loss, “counting what no longer holds,” and making “an inventory of emptiness, cued only by memory and the more durable, woody scaffolding that binds the seasons.”
Felker’s selections about his sense of place explore his relationship with the local seasons, with his house, with his town and its surrounding parkland. “My home in Yellow Springs is a private observatory,” he says in “Homely Gnomons.” And tracking and marking the movement of the Sun on the walls of his rooms, he makes a map of his personal history, “with souvenirs following the shadows.” In “Merak and Dubhe,”he describes how he uses the flora of his neighborhood to track the progress of the year in other locations. “The Pond” is a meditation on aging and dreams of youth. In the pond near his house, Felker says, “the horizon was not the globe’s round, aloof, ever receding promise. This world was flat. This horizon was accessible, touchable. My reach for once did not exceed its grasp. I gave in to the attainable sea, its borders as fixed and finite as my own.” The final essay of the collection explains how his home is the point from which his entire life is measured. Home, like a spiritual Greenwich point, is the Prime Meridian.
The seasons, the fauna and flora are all parts of Felker’s personal odyssey. In “Camel Crickets in the Tub,” he compares the crickets’ apparent lack of common sense with his own. In “Watching Romuald,” a frog helps him to understand meditation. In “The Visitor,” a yellow-bellied sapsucker teaches him how to fight depression. He goes to confession to rodents in “Mice in a Mug.” He relives a humiliation in his childhood and learns its meaning in “Talking Mosquito.” He thinks about free will in the context of spring in “The Sweetest Way.” He longs for a benign God in “A Community of Koi in Winter.” He muses about mortality and the rebirth of nature in spring with the essay, “In Suspense.” He writes: “I wonder about the seasons and the meaning of the seasons of the landscape because I am wondering about my own seasons and what they mean. I watch them, and I am in suspense because I don’t know exactly how they will turn out.”
Throughout this collection, Felker explores place in nature within a context of observation and spiritual reflection. In HOME IS THE PRIME MERIDIAN, the sky, the land, plants and animals are touchstones for identity and meaning.
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A REVIEW OF HOME IS THE PRIME MERIDIAN BY THE KIRKUS REVIEW
“A brief, intense, and entirely enjoyable tour of nature.”
“When I go too far out, I need to gather my landmarks of home around me,” writes radio broadcaster and veteran almanac author Felker (Poor Will’s Almanac for 2018, 2017, etc.) in his short, aphoristic new work of reflections on nature. “Distant locations only make sense against my local gauge.” The more he understands where he is, he tells his readers, the more he understands himself. Consequently, he lavishes extraordinary care and attention on his small plot of field and woodland in Yellow Springs in southwestern Ohio, often characterizing the locus of home as the “prime meridian” in even the most far-ranging voyages.
In the long tradition of nature diaries, he anchors dozens of short pieces on explorations of the seasons of the year, the moods of the weather, and, most of all, the characters and behaviors of all the animals he spots, particularly birds. Several of the architects of this kind of writing, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to John Burroughs, are quoted or paraphrased with obvious affection, and Felker’s animal portraits are warmly enhanced by what he freely admits is a liberal amount of anthropomorphizing. His birds and woodland creatures are often as metaphorical as they are material. He’s a careful and meticulous observer who nevertheless seldom falls into the trap reserved for scrupulous spectators: being tedious. He’s saved from this because he commands a light-footed prose style and he keeps his vignettes very brief.
Felker has been crafting these almanac-style entries for many years, and his experience shows not only in the smoothness and economy of his storytelling, but also in the winning combination of humility and poetic insights he’s clearly mastered. He’s delightful company on the page, in everything from his subtle, sensory-heavy evocations of the seasons (winter being a specialty) to his accounts of the stars and his lush descriptions of the natural world’s various inhabitants, captured even in a quick list of the region’s bird life: “The sparrows, like starlings, staying tight to the motions of the flock; the acrobatic chickadees swooping in and out, remaining only seconds to grasp their sunflower seed and fly off; the wary, fluttering titmice; the blue jays, harsh and bullying; the hopping, syncopated nuthatches exploring upside down.” These passages are often layered with musings about the author’s moods—the immediate and sometimes-odd ways his feelings intersect with the flora and fauna he stumbles on (one of the book’s closing scenes, involving a group of pantry-raiding mice, is an especially touching example).
The tone throughout remains highly personal, almost confessional, which often adds to the charm of the work. The author’s knowledge of the plants and animals in his realm is encyclopedic but never comes across as pedantic, and the resulting almanac is a tightly focused and wonderfully executed example of small-bore nature writing.
Since 1984, Poor Will’s Almanack by Bill Felker has provided a guide to living in harmony with the Earth. Bill’s weekly and monthly almanack columns currently appear in more than a dozen regional and national publications. Learn more about Bill Felker and the history of Poor Will’s Almanack »