The Weeks of February 2014

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Poor Will's  Almanack

February 2 – 8, 2014

In February, if the days be clear,

The waking bee, still drowsy on the wing,

Will guess the opening of another year

And blunder out to seek another spring.

 

Vita Sackville-West

 

The Second Week of Late Winter

The Week that Doves Call

Lunar Phase And Lore

The Snowdrop Moon, new on January 30, waxes throughout the period, entering its second quarter on February 6 at 2:22 p.m. Rising in the morning and setting at night, this moon is overhead in the afternoon. Lunar position before sundown is expected to make late afternoon the best time for fishing this week, especially before a cold wave arrives around February 7. As the moon passes through Taurus between February 5 and 7, it favors the seeding of bedding plants for spring.  

Weather Trends

The second barometric high of February arrives near the 6th and generally reinforces the cold.  The following three days frequently bring dangerous weather to the nation’s midsection and produce some of the most frigid mornings of the entire year.  The third cold wave of the month, ordinarily the last severe system of late winter, arrives near February 11, bearing a high chance for precipitation and sunless skies. And as this system moves east, the odds for milder weather become substantial.

The Natural Calendar

February 2: When your nose identifies the night-time wanderings of skunks, you know that spring is only six to eight weeks away.

February 3: The first major waves of robins and bluebirds now cross the Ohio River. Along the backroads, roadkills attest to the increasing night-time activities of opossums. 

February 4: Mardi Gras Season begins around this time, lasting until the big celebration on March 4. Consider marketing lambs and kids (and plenty of beads) to those who observe this season.

 

February 5: When you hear mourning doves singing before dawn, then organize all your buckets for tapping maple syrup. 

February 6: When you see sparrows courting, then cut branches of forsythia and pussy willows for forcing indoors. When the first daffodil foliage is two inches tall, then monarch butterflies are beginning to migrate north from Mexico.

 

February 7 When the red tips of peonies push out just a little from the ground, then listen for blue jays courting and watch for wild turkeys to be gathering in flocks. 

February 8: By ten o'clock in the evening in the first week in February, giant Orion begins to move west from its dominating January position in the center of the southern sky. 

 

Countdown to Spring (in the Lower Midwest)

  • Just a week until the first red-winged blackbirds arrive, and skunks prowl the nights
  • A week and a half to the first snowdrop bloom and the official start of early spring – a time when maple sap season can begin at any moment
  • Two weeks to major pussy willow emerging season and the time during which salamanders mate in the warm rains
  • Three weeks to crocus season and owl hatching time and woodcock mating time
  • Four and a half weeks to the beginning of the morning robin chorus before sunrise. At the same time, sandhill cranes assemble for migration in Nebraska
  • Five weeks to daffodil season and silver maple blooming season and the first golden goldfinches
  • Eight weeks to tulip season and the first wave of blooming woodland wildflowers and the first butterflies
  • Nine weeks until golden forsythia blooms and skunk cabbage sends out its first leaves

In the Field and Garden

When the first knuckles of rhubarb emerge from the ground, then it’s time to plant your onion sets and seed your cold frames with spinach, radishes and lettuce.

When the first snowdrops emerge from their foliage (but are still not open), then be sure your cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts and collards are sprouting under lights.

 

Journal

In 1982, I started keeping track of the time the leaves turned on Mary’s maple tree next door, and I continued for over two decades to note when its leaves turned and fell.  Mary died some time late in the last century, and the maple declined quickly as the millennium approached. My notations from 2004 were the last I made of its leafturn and shedding trajectory.

It may seem trivial enough to keep track of when Lil’s tree across the street turns color, and when the Danielsons’ maple comes down. Lil is dead now, as are the Danielsons, but at least their trees remain, and I watch them because it seems important in some way or other to me. And the history of Mary’s absent maple remains as vivid in my mind as the other histories in my daybook. 

In defense of such frivolity, I appeal to the theories of R.G. Collingwood in  The Idea of History (1946). Collingwood posits that historical events have both an outside – a visible or observable side - and an inside – an interior dimension related to the forces that might have caused the events. And he considers that since the outside can no longer be observed, it must be imagined and reconstructed in order to be studied and understood. From such a perspective, it is clearly not important whether a tree is dead or alive. It is the recreation of the tree in the imagination that matters – and that gives it a more lasting existence.

Only when the past is born again does it provide context and connection for the present, while shaping and directing the one who reinvents it.

 

Listen to Poor Will's radio almanack on podcast any time at www.wyso.org.

 

Copyright 2014, W. L. Felker

 

 

 Poor Will's  Almanack

February 9 – 15, 2014

Signs are accumulating, spring a matter of quantity, numbers of sprouts, numbers of leaves and birds, landmark after landmark. When one of the signs is present, the others are there, too. Each sign becomes a gauge for the rest of the cycle, standing for the gathering of signs.

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The Third Week of Late Winter

The Week Red-Winged Blackbirds Arrive

Lunar Phase And Lore

The Snowdrop Moon waxes gibbous throughout the first part of the period, becoming completely full on Valentine’s Day at 6:53 p.m. Rising in the afternoon and setting before dawn, this fat moon moves overhead (its most influential position) in the middle of the night. The moon’s passage through fertile Cancer between February 10 and 12 is the last best lunar time for putting in bedding plant and hardy vegetable seeds under lights before dark moon time at the end of the month. As the barometer drops in advance of the February 11 and 15 cold fronts, seeds will be more eager to sprout and fish to bite.

 

Weather Trends

February 15 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 (with a 15 percent chance for 60s, and 25 percent for 50s). That’s the first time since December 15 that the likelihood of mild temperatures has been so great. And those statistics provide a neat numerical parenthesis to winter:  December 15 is the pivot date for the arrival of really severe weather in the region; February 15 is obviously the spring pivot date.

 

The Natural Calendar

February 9: Depending on the year, growth occurs on ragwort, dock, sweet rocket, asters, winter cress, poison hemlock, sedum, mint, celandine, plantain, poppies, pansies, daffodils, tulips, crocus, aconite, hyacinth, strawberries. 

 

February 10:  As the February thaws bring moisture and warmth from the Gulf of Mexico, they also bring the pollen from southern flowers to the North. 

February 11: More than half of the pussy willows have opened in a typical year. And all along the 40th Parallel, people are getting ready to tap maples for sap.  

February 12: The day’s length is a full hour longer than it was on December 26.

Azaleas are blooming in Alabama.  In the lowlands of Mississippi, swamp buttercups, violets and black medic are open. 

 

February 13: Owlets and young bald eagles grow inside their eggs. Riding the southwest winds, red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, starlings, and ducks of all kinds migrate, accelerating the appearance of spring. 

February 14: Today’s full moon is likely to delay the arrival of the mild, mid-February weather that often ushers in the season of early spring.

February 15: Sometimes the weather doesn't change for the better in the middle of the year’s second month; sometimes the cold is worse than in the middle of January. But it's the sound that changes and fills the silence of dormancy, songs accumulating like spring leaves.

Countdown to Spring

  • Just one week to the first significant snowdrop bloom 
  • A week and a half to major pussy willow emerging season and the season of salamanders mating in the warm rains
  • Two weeks to crocus season and owl hatching time and woodcock mating time
  • Four weeks to the beginning of the morning robin chorus before sunrise. At the same time, sandhill cranes assemble for migration in Nebraska
  • Four and a half weeks to daffodil season and silver maple blooming season and the first golden goldfinches.
  • Seven weeks to tulip season and the first wave of blooming woodland wildflowers and the first butterflies
  • Eight weeks until golden forsythia blooms and skunk cabbage sends out its first leaves

In the Field and Garden

As the moon wanes, tuck a few radish, beet, and turnip seeds into the garden. The waning moon is good for root crops, and when the weather warms up a few weeks from now, you may have the first sprouts in the county.

 

Journal

Shyly, Carol admitted her anguish about the moon.

" I'm so embarrassed," she said. "You know I always thought the moon made its own light, and that, well, it shone from inside."

Then she told me how she had just read that the lunar surface actually reflected light from the sun. We talked for only a few minutes, but I was struck by her emotion and by her need to share her very real disillusion.

Her disappointment was especially interesting to me because I had been thinking about how the authority of astronomers and physicists and naturalists is often intimidating, and how most of what we believe about the universe is based on complex technology and mathematics, and is quite understandably taken on faith. 

The result, it seems to me, is that people are becoming more hesitant to think for themselves about what they see around them. They defer to specialists (like peasants to priests) and lose their wonder and curiosity. 

And I wanted to reassure Carol and to reassure myself. 

There are too many lessons to be learned from the concept of a moon that produces its own light. 

Natural science is only an adjunct to our imagination. The fruit of knowledge does not dangle from a quantifiable tree but rather hides in our imperfect vision. We will not see God another way. We live as you assumed, Carol, in the glow of a benign, accessible, self-sufficient moon.

Listen to Poor Will's radio almanack on podcast any time at www.wyso.org.

 

Copyright 2014, W. L. Felker

 

 

 

 Poor Will's Almanack

February 16 – 22, 2014

The end of winter always appears in the eye of the beholder. Critical mass for the arrival of spring rests less on the total quantity of observations than on one crucial scent or sight or sound that tips the scales of private time. Each person encounters that pivotal event at a different moment and in a different way. And whenever that one event occurs, then the entire scaffolding of the old year collapses and all the pieces of the new year take on meaning as they fall into place.

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The First Week of Early Spring

The Week of Cross-Quarter Day

Lunar Phase And Lore

The Snowdrop Moon, pulling the snowdrops through the cold and snow, wanes into its final phase at 12:15 p.m. on February 22. Rising in the night and setting in the late morning, this moon comes overhead before dawn, making sunrise the best lunar time of this week for angling. As the cold fronts of February 20 and 24 approach, the falling barometer will encourage morning fish to bite even more. Lunar passage through Capricorn between February 24 and 26 will favor the planting of all root crops directly in the garden. Put in shrubs and trees, as well. Capricorn and the dark moon will encourage root development (if you keep the plantings watered).

 

Weather Trends

Although high pressure sweeps across the nation around February 20, the low that precedes that front often brings some of the warmest temperatures of the month.  Even when it passes through, the system rarely brings major difficulties to travellers or farmers.  And as the barometer drops before the next front, it sometimes makes the 22nd and 23rd some of the most gentle days since early December.

The Natural Calendar

February 16: Fields of daffodils open in southern Georgia, and throughout the South, honeybees and carpenter bees collect pollen from yellow dandelions, silver and red maples, and mouse-eared chickweed.  

 

February 17: When wild multiflora roses sprout their first leaves in the Ohio Valley, then wildflower season has begun in the Southwest and bald eagles are laying their eggs in Yellowstone.

February 18: Today is Cross-Quarter Day, the date on which the sun reaches half of the distance to spring equinox, entering the early spring sign of Pisces at the same time.

February 19: When you see small brown moths on warmer afternoons, then you that striped bass are often biting in lakes as the sun warms the shallows. 

February 20: The cold front that arrives near February 20 marks the end of the snowiest part of the year throughout the region. 

 

February 21: The violet and golden flowers of the snow crocus, the white blooms of snowdrops and the bright yellow blossoms of aconites often begin their seasons during the last week of February. 

February 22: The Delta Leonid meteor shower reaches its peak directly overhead in the early morning hours

 

Countdown to Spring

  • Just a few days to major pussy willow emerging season and the season of salamanders mating in the warm rains
  • A week and a half  to crocus season and owl hatching time and woodcock mating time
  • Three weeks to the beginning of the morning robin chorus before sunrise. At the same time, sandhill cranes assemble for migration in Nebraska.
  • Three and a half 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

In the Field and Garden

Broadcast clover in the pastures, and spread grass seed in the lawn after snow has melted and the moon becomes completely dark. Spread phosphate and potash as needed in your pastures. Pull back some garden mulch to allow soil to dry out and warm up. 

As the new moon approaches, plant rows of peas, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, asparagus crowns, spinach, turnips and carrots on milder afternoons. Then take cuttings to propagate shrubs, trees, and houseplants; experiment with forsythia, pussy willow, hydrangea and spirea. 

Journal: Making Notes

As late winter wanes into middle February, my notebooks gather events from across the years, accumulating pieces of early spring.

On February 15, 1999, I found the first hepatica flowering in the woods. 

On the 17th of February of 1983, I found the first bee of the year in the swampland a mile or so from my house. 

On February 17, 1985, I saw the first fly of the year sitting on the snow."

On that date in 2005, I noticed that two sparrows were building a nest in my

 birdhouse.

In 2004, Margaret Lacy, a reader from Richmond, Indiana wrote,  “I saw a pair of doves courting on February 11, but I never heard a call till February 18.” 

On February 19, 1992, the first worm crossed my front sidewalk in the rain. On February 21, 1984, Fern Albertson called to say her first crocus had 

bloomed.

On the 18th of February in 1990, a few honeysuckle bushes leafed out, The first rhubarb had a red stalk four inches long. 

On February 19, 1982, I saw one earthworm crossing the sidewalk in the rain.

And it doesn’t matter that these events occurred in different years instead of this year. Every early event in any year sets precedent and promise. Signs create momentum that soon create the season that they signify. Spring is the sum of all of its parts.

 

Listen to Poor Will's radio almanack on podcast any time at www.wyso.org.

 

Copyright 2014, W. L. Felker

 

 

Poor Will's Almanack

February 23 – March 1, 2014

 

The end of winter always appears in the eye of the beholder. Spring is as much a state of mind as a state of nature. Critical mass for the arrival of spring rests less on the total quantity of observations than on one crucial scent or sight or sound that tips the scales of private time. Each person encounters that pivotal event at a different moment and in a different way. Whenever that realization does occur, then the entire scaffolding of the old year collapses and all the pieces of the new year take on meaning as they fall into place.

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The Second Week of Early Spring

Lunar Phase And Lore

Waning throughout the end of February, the Snowdrop Moon becomes the new Robin Chorus Moon on March 1 at 3:00 a.m. The number of robins increases throughout the month, and by full moon time, their chorus fills out the calls of the cardinals before sunrise. Rising before dawn and setting near sundown, this new moon comes overhead at midday. The best lunar time for fishing (and the worst for dieting) occurs around noon as the barometer falls in advance of the first cold front of March. Lunar passage through fertile Pisces between February 28 and March 1 announces the very best early spring planting period.

 

Weather Trends

The cold front that ends the month of February is almost always more gentle than the February 24 front, and its transit signals the end of Snowdrop Winter.  Clear skies are a hallmark of this front’s arrival, and bright conditions usually follow on the 28th.

 

The Natural Calendar 

February 23: Today marks the beginning of the end of winter's gray skies. Although February and March still have plenty of clouds in store, the frequency of brighter days now shows a slow but steady advance.

February 24: After Snowdrop Winter (between February 23 and 27), geese follow the lead of the blackbirds, marking ownership of the more favorable river and lake sites for nesting. 

 

February 25: Sap is running in the maples, a sign that migraine headache season is at its peak throughout the country. 

February 26: Great flocks of starlings and grackles move across the nation as February comes to an end. 

 

February 27: The very earliest bulbs, the snowdrops, the snow crocus and the aconites, have already bloomed in the sunniest microclimates. Now it is time for the larger, brighter standard crocus and the small spring iris, the iris reticulata to flower. 

 

February 28: The blossoming of the standard crocus bears witness to the blossoming of silver maples and the red maples.

March 1: Woodchucks are digging up the hillsides, making new dens. Day lily spears are strong. 

Countdown to Spring

  • A day or two to crocus season and owl hatching time and woodcock mating time
  • Two weeks to the beginning of the morning robin chorus before sunrise. At the same time, sandhill cranes assemble for migration in Nebraska
  • Two and a half weeks to daffodil season and silver maple blooming season and the first golden goldfinches.
  • Three and a half weeks to tulip season and the first butterflies, and first wave of blooming woodland wildflowers 
  • Five weeks until golden forsythia blooms and skunk cabbage sends out its first leaves
  • Six weeks until the Great Dandelion Bloom begins and lawns are long enough to cut
  • Seven weeks until all the fruit trees start to flower
  • Eight weeks until the first rhubarb pie

In the Field and Garden

Continue to seed flowers and vegetables that will bear their fruit above the ground as the moon waxes. Flats under a warm shop light should produce strong sprouts by the time April brings milder temperatures.

It’s not too early to feed your bulbs with liquid fertilizer before major blooming time begins.

Journal

I am up at six thirty in the morning sitting in the greenhouse. The sky half dawn, light and dark equal through the fast gray nimbostratus clouds and the storm. The wind is hard from the southeast. The pattern of the gusts and rain and sleet creates a shape of its own, harsh like pebbles or hail, then soft, sweeping and blending, retreating.

After a few minutes, quiet. Then more squalls come pelting the house, surging at me passionately, pushing towards my chair, the sound measuring the speed, the size and quantity of the force. The most savage attacks shatter the raindrops against the window. My excitement increases with the intensity of the pounding which almost becomes too fervent, and I am growing restless kept at this high climactic plateau. 

Then the pressure suddenly eases, the cloudburst ends. I can see the tall poplars swaying a block away, and instead of the wind given voice and revealed by the rain, instead of its insistent drumming and clattering, I hear it rushing in the bare branches and singing in the crevices and corners of the buildings and the fences around me. A few feet from where I sit, chickadees dive and hang at the feeders, glide with the rhythm of the air, at ease in the swells of the wind.

A small leak in the roof lets an intermittent drip of water fall on the indoor plants. The intrusion keeps a different time than that of the wind and rain outside, measuring how warm and dry and still I am here, with fire in the wood stove, and red and lavender geraniums and impatiens, all the silent warmth of summer collected and protected, safe. 

Listen to Poor Will's radio almanack on podcast any time at www.wyso.org.

 

Copyright 2014, W. L. Felker