Poor Will’s Almanack
By Bill Felker
Fields laid bare after plowing, await a new crop yet unseen,
Prepared by the hands of the farmer to become his reality of green.
A train whistle calls in the distance from a neighboring town,
Reminding me of the days of my childhood as I listen to its welcoming sound. – From “A Morning Walk” by Beverly Bouman, Willard, Ohio
Astronomical Information and Lore
The Snow Flea Moon wanes throughout the period, reaching perigee (its position closest to Earth) at 2 p.m. on Feb. 3 and then entering its final phase on Feb. 5 at 12:37 p.m. On Feb. 11, it becomes the new Great Groundhog Moon. As Late Winter progresses, groundhogs often emerge from hibernation to forecast the weather. The “Great Groundhog” is a legendary creature that rewards kindly people with good fortune.
Rising after midnight and setting after lunch, this moon passes overhead in the morning, encouraging creatures to be more active at that time, especially as the cold fronts of Feb. 3, 6 and 11 approach.
Venus moves retrograde this month, joining Jupiter and Saturn in Capricorn, creating a triune cluster of Morning Stars. Of the three planets, Venus is always the brightest. Look for all these major planets close to the rising dark moon the morning of Feb. 10 and 11. Mars continues its residence in Aries as the Evening Star. Look for it close to the moon just after dark on the 18th.
High-pressure systems are due to cross the country on or around the following dates: Feb. 3, 6, 11, 15, 20, 24 and 27.
February weather is typically divided between late winter and early spring, and it occurs in several phases. The first period, from the 1st through the 3rd is the time of the Groundhog Day thaw. Following that brief warm-up, the days from Feb. 4 and 15 are usually the coldest of the month, often the coldest of the entire winter. Feb. 16 initiates about a week of moderating and changeable weather, the first week of Earliest Spring. The month closes with a Snowdrop Winter between the 24th and 29th, which chills the emerging snowdrops, aconites and crocuses.
January’s full moon on the 28th occurred so close to lunar perigee on Feb. 3 that it is likely that the first week of the month will be stormy. New moon on the 11th will also increase the odds for cold and turbulent weather. Apogee on the 18th should encourage the arrival of Early Spring near that date, but full moon on Feb. 27 will put much of the progress of the month on hold and, with perigee on March 2, will make it unlikely that March will come in like a lamb.
(Events in Nature that Tell the Time of Year)
Keep track of morning birdsong. Cardinals and doves typically call about half an hour before sunrise; their music keeps pace with the growing day’s length.
In the gentle, wet nights around Groundhog Day, you may catch the first whiff of spring skunk.
The pollen season, which ended with Early Winter, has now begun across the South with the blooming of mountain cedar, acacia, smooth alder, bald cypress, American elm, red maple, white poplar and black willow. Southwest winds may bring the pollen to your nose.
The bell-calls of the blue jays add texture to the approach of Early Spring.
In northern Mexico, monarch butterflies are moving toward the Texas border. They will reach the Gulf coast in small groups during mid to late March, and their offspring will find the Midwest in Deep Summer.
Countdown to Spring
• Just a few days until doves join the cardinals in their pre-dawn songs, and maple sap flows
• One week until the first red-winged blackbirds arrive in the wetlands
• Two weeks to the first snowdrop appears and the official start of Early Spring
• Three weeks to snow crocus season and major pussy willow emerging season
• Four weeks to the beginning of the morning robin chorus before sunrise
• Five weeks to daffodil time
• Six weeks to the start of the early wildflower bloom
• Seven weeks until the yellow blossoms of forsythia bushes appear
• Eight weeks to the main woodland wildflower bloom of the year
• Nine weeks until pears, apples and peaches come into flower
• 10 weeks until American toads sing their mating songs in the dark and early corn planting time begins
Mind and Body
In the 21st century world of digital comfort, it is easy to lose touch with forces other than those created by modern society. Inside our well-heated cars and homes, however, our mind and body clocks are running as though we lived in caves.
Even though our survival instincts quicken as the cold of January deepens, our body sends us mixed messages. Testosterone levels decline in humans and livestock, and PMS often worsens as winter tightens its hold. Colds, flu and other illnesses follow a slight decline in our immune system, and physical discomfort and lethargy encourage the urge to hibernate.
The consequences of winter inactivity, however, can be severe. Rapid weight gains are common. Migraines are more frequent in the darker months, and diabetic reactions are often more severe. Death from infectious diseases is greater in December, January and February than during the spring, summer and autumn. The strains of shoveling snow or simply getting around are enough to bring on more heart attacks than at any other time of year.
For all the negatives of winter, positives abound as well. Winter has always been the time of rest and recuperation from the work of growing and harvesting. Even though your garden may have failed and you work in a cubicle in the city, your body still expects you to lighten up and relax a little. Don’t let it down.
Along with recuperation comes late winter’s energy. After a relatively short period of hibernation, the mind and body are really ready to start the new year. If you have given up on the no-smoking or no-drinking resolution you made for New Year’s, the end of January and the first weeks of February can provide the conditions for a more realistic resolution. With the exception of early autumn, this is absolutely the best time for many people to break bad habits.
This week, the S.A.D. Index, which measures seasonal stress on a scale from 1 to 100, falls from the low 80s at the beginning of the week to 76 by Feb. 7, then rises again as lunar perigee approaches, reaching 84 by Feb. 11, the last day of readings so high this spring. For full S.A.D. statistics, consult Poor Will’s Almanack for 2021.
In the Field and Garden
Depending on the year and your location, killing frosts could be over for the year in six to eight weeks. Always plan to have some plants ready to go into the ground early. Many years, they will survive and give you a bonus harvest.
Birthing season has begun for ewes and does bred in early autumn. Make plans to sell kids and lambs to the Roman Easter Market at the end of March and early April (and again with Orthodox Easter at the start of May).
Test cattle for anaplasmosis after you hear doves call. Plant onions as soon as the soil is soft – but not soggy.
Prepare equipment to spray fruit trees when high temperatures climb into the 40s. Before spring growth begins, treat ash, bittersweet, fir, elm, flowering fruit trees, hawthorn, juniper, lilac, linden, maple, oak, pine, poplar, spruce, sweet gum, tulip tree, and willow for scales and mites.
Pick up supplies for February pasture seeding. Repot house plants. Clean and repair old cold frames and hot frames (which traditionally use manure for heat), and build new ones. Their season will begin as early as the middle of February. Spray your broad-leafed evergreens with anti-drying agents to prevent winterkill.
Aconites and snowdrops begin the bulb flowering season in milder years – and now is the time to divide and move them.
The Fourth Time: A Royal Throne
By Rick Taylor, Norwich, Ohio
Some 70 years ago, just for Halloween, a couple of us boys tipped a tiny outhouse off the edge of a cliff and down a steep hillside. The next day, the owner put it back.
The following year, the same thing happened, but this time the boys tied a rope around the privy and got a horse to pull it over the bank. Again, the owner brought it back up.
The third year, the boys discovered four posts around the farmer’s throne, so they tore it apart and threw the boards over the edge.
The fourth year, the boys found just a new chicken house at the site, so they left. Unbeknownst to them, an outhouse had been installed inside the chicken coop. And all the royal chickens shared the hidden throne with the farmer.
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Copyright 2021 - W. L. Felker