Poor Will’s Almanack: Cold days ahead

What light is tenderer

Than this of early February

At 5:05 p.m. or so,

Just trying brightness out?

— John Updike

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 between 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.

Lunar phase and lore

The Skunk Mating Moon wanes throughout the first week of February, becoming the Desert Wildflower Moon on Feb. 8 at 9:39 a.m. While the northern states are still bound with snow and ice, the deserts of the Southwest, encouraged by winter rains, bring their flowers into bloom.

Rising after midnight and setting after lunch, this moon passes overhead (its most influential position for catching fish) near dawn. As the barometer drops before the first cold front of February, early morning angling should improve even more. Lunar position in Scorpio at the start of the month, and in Capricorn on Feb. 5-7 favor seeding of bedding plants and early greens.

Natural calendar

Today: The bell-calls of the blue jays add texture to the approach of early spring.

Saturday: 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 middle summer.

Sunday: Pick new mint leaves in the woods for a February tonic.

Monday: In warmer years, groundhogs come out of their dormant stage. You may see them eating the new grass by the side of the road.

Tuesday: Maple syrup starts to run as the moon waxes.

Wednesday: Horned larks and red-winged blackbirds migrate.

Thursday: Skunk Cabbage might well be blooming in the wetlands.

Field and garden

Today: This month average temperatures rise between two and four degrees in every state of the Union except Hawaii. Changes in pastures, winter grain fields occur in the South and central states.

Saturday: Plant onions as soon as the soil is soft — but not soggy.

Sunday: 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.

Monday: As you complete your planting and landscaping schedule, add a little space for restoration of the land in native species.

Tuesday: Force branches from flowering trees as the moon waxes.

Wednesday: Plan ahead to take care of animal and pet maintenance after full moon (Feb. 22): trim feet, worm, and treat for external and internal parasites.

Thursday: In the most sheltered southern exposures, yellow aconites are budding.


An inventory in the first weeks of February offers a measure for the year and a record against which to compare the late winter of other years. Measure the height of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips. Note the color and size of lilac and other buds. Count the number of pussy willows emerged. Look for new leaves on garlic mustard and poppies. Check for chickweed greening in the alley. The longer the list of plants observed in February inventory, the greater the context for observing the subtle alterations in each day to come, the more exciting each addition.

Inventories, of course, are not limited to plants. As the days lengthen, birdsong increases in volume and frequency. Keep track of when you hear cardinals calling, how many times you hear them in a day, how many times in a week. The exact number is not important; it is not even important that you can identify which bird makes which sound. What is important for your perception of the advance of the season is that you are paying attention, and that is because spring is the sum of its parts. The more parts you see and hear and smell and taste, the more spring you have!