Almanac March 2024

Almanac March 2024

March is a giggle of wild violets, a squeal of flowering redbud, a tea party in the making.

The earth is awakening. As purple blossoms spill across the softening landscape, cottontail rabbits follow. Mingling in sunny patches, they graze on heart-shaped leaves and tender grasses, feast on the freshness of this fragrant spring morning.

In the distance, a pregnant doe plucks clusters of crisp buds from magenta-studded branches. Munching to the tune of chattering squirrel, counter-singing wrens and white-throated sparrow, the deer hears a different kind of music: laughter. One ear back and one ear forward, she pinpoints the source, gently flicks her tail, resumes her browsing.

The children arrive skipping, bare feet in cool grass, eyes bright with life and color. Their pleasure is unmeasured; their vision is clear: wild violet shortbread.

Between cartwheels and somersaults, they gather purple flowers, linger in the sunlight, bask in the welcome, dewy warmth. As they dream up tea and cookies, guests of honor arrive on the wing: bluebird, robin, purple martin, warbler, swallow, towhee, killdeer. The old tabby is near. Early honeybees embrace early dandelions. Her ruby-throated highness takes her throne in a luminous redbud.

Soon, a heap of hand-picked violets becomes a spread fit for a court. Among wild giggles, the children don crowns, wriggle their toes in the soft grass, sink their teeth into the delicate sweetness as the birds sing spring is here.

Spring’s greatest joy beyond a doubt is when it brings the children out. — Edgar Guest

Eye on the Sky

The days are growing longer still. Daylight saving time begins on Sunday, March 10. All the better for soaking up the soft and radiant magic of spring, which officially begins with the vernal equinox on Tuesday, March 19.

According to Scientific American’s “Sky Spectacles to Watch in 2024,” you’ll want to gaze due west at sunset on Sunday, March 24, when Mercury will appear directly above the sun at twilight. Positioned at its “greatest eastern elongation” (greatest distance from our sun), Mercury will be about 19 degrees from the star that gives us life. A little wink from a tiny, not-so-faraway planet that isn’t always easy to spot.  OH

Nectar, Etc.

“The first day of spring is one thing,” wrote the late poet and author Henry van Dyke, “and the first spring day is another.” Such is the day that the earliest eastern tiger swallowtail glides across Carolina blue skies.

The first broods of our official state butterfly are on the move. With a wingspan up to 5 1/2 inches, this eye-catching swallowtail is recognized by its black and yellow tiger stripes and three-lobed hindwings. Most females have a low row of iridescent blue markings on their hindwings. However, they can also occur in a dark color phase, causing humans and male tiger swallowtails alike to mistake them for a different species.

Want to take a closer look? Attract swallowtails to your own garden with native pollinator plants they won’t be able to resist. And if you’re looking for suggestions, check out North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s list of native trees, shrubs and flowers here:

Almanac February 2024

Almanac February 2024

February wakes us gently.

Deep in our late-winter slumber, we dream of wild violets and dandelions; the return of hummingbirds; the green and quivering kiss of spring.

Swaddled in ancient stillness, our hearts ache for warm earth and fragrant blossoms; snap peas and crimson clover; chorus frogs and velvet-soft grass. February knows. Still, we mustn’t be ripped from this rich and fertile darkness. We mustn’t be startled, forced or rushed.

As the pink breath of dawn illuminates a leafless kingdom, a barred owl pierces the silence with a rousing incantation. Within our womb-like chrysalis, we shift and wriggle, reaching for our wild longings, tilting our face toward the beckoning sun. Prayers for patience on her tongue, the wise one lets us sleep, stroking our hair as we flit between worlds.

Soon, the cardinal will sing of bloodroot, crocus and flowering quince. Soon, a mourning cloak will flutter among the bleak and frigid landscape.

As we drift toward this vernal threshold, February invites us to linger. She knows that our souls require deep rest. She trusts our natural rhythm. She softly guides a sunbeam to our winter-weary bones.

The bluebird scouts a nesting site. The red fox grooms her kits. As sure as the daffodils rise from naked earth, we will open our eyes, awakened by the quickening pulse of our inner spring.

I know him, February’s thrush,
And loud at eve he valentines
On sprays that paw the naked bush
Where soon will sprout the thorns and bines.   

— George Meredith,
    “The Thrush in February,” c.1885

Outside the (Chocolate) Box

There are flowers, and there is fruit. But if you’re looking to dazzle your green-thumbed sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, consider gifting a fruit tree, which ultimately offers both.

Apple, fig, persimmon, pear and plum are among the recommended fruit bearers for our state. Choose cultivars that thrive in the particular soil and climate you’re working with, plant it with a kiss, then let the tree enchant the gardener year after year.

Year of the Dragon

The Chinese (Lunar) New Year is celebrated on Saturday, Feb. 10. Get ready for the Year of the Wood Dragon, the last of which delivered Beatlemania and the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If ever you’ve heard “The Great Race” fable — that is, how the Jade Emperor determined the sequence of the 12 animals associated with the Chinese calendar — then perhaps you recall the honorable qualities of the dragon (fifth sign of the zodiac), who stopped to help the creatures of the Earth rather than easefully crossing the finish line first. Those born under the Year of the Wood Dragon are the wayshowers. They’re here to dream up a better world, and have the vigor and drive to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.  OH

Almanac January 2024

Almanac January 2024

January is a sacred pause, a rite of passage, a miracle in the dark.

As the Earth sleeps, a brown thrasher sweeps through the dormant garden. Gray squirrels skitter across naked gray branches. A grizzled buck disappears into the colorless yonder.

These bitter mornings, you study the critters beyond the window until the kettle calls out. Back and forth, you putter from stovetop to window, marveling at the movement amid the still and desolate landscape.

You open your journal, turn to a fresh page, watch your thoughts wax introspective.

Sifting through the humus of last year — the upsets, obstacles and lessons — you procure a wealth of nourishment. Glimpses of who you’re becoming. Morsels of wisdom to carry forth.

So much is stirring beneath the surface. Surely the crocus feels this way. Growth isn’t always visible. 

At once, the thrasher breaks your focus with spontaneous song.

You put on the kettle, fill up your thermos, step into the freshness of a brand-new year.

The buck has shed his antlers at the forest’s edge. Gray squirrels skitter from cache to cache. Each critter is a holy mirror.

The darkest days are behind us. Within the ancient quiet of winter, a secret world awaits discovery. Those searching for spring will never see it. Those looking within will find the key.


Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.     — Rumi

Milk Flower

Among the earliest spring bulbs to bloom, the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) dazzles in large drifts, especially when planted beneath deciduous tree canopies.

A birth flower of January, the snowdrop’s Latin name translates as “milk flower.” Emerging from a cold and sleeping Earth, the delicate flowers are, in fact, sustenance for the winter-weary, symbolizing purity, hope and new beginnings.

Reaching a height of just 3 to 6 inches, the dainty white blossoms of this hardy perennial resemble tiny teardrop chandeliers. German folklore tells that, before snow had a color, it asked the flowers of the Earth if it could borrow one of their radiant shades. When all the other blossoms denied the snow’s request, the humble snowdrop offered its white hue to the snow. Grateful for this kindly gesture, the snow vowed to protect the snowdrop from the icy grip of winter. Thus, snow and snowdrop remain true and lasting friends.

Stone Soup

You’ve heard the old folk story: Everybody gives, everybody wins.

Soup Swap Day is celebrated on the third Saturday of January. Launched in Seattle in the early 2000s, this unofficial holiday has inspired soup enthusiasts across the globe to gather their tribes — and their Tupperware — and get to simmering.

It’s simple.

Pick a soup, any soup:

Vegetable stew served with homemade bread.

Cream of mushroom topped with cracked pepper and fresh thyme.

Roasted cauliflower brightened with a squeeze of lemon.

The possibilities are endless.

Cook a king-size batch, ladle into containers, then distribute to your broth-loving friends. Leave the party with as much soup as you doled out. Everybody gives, everybody wins.  OH

Almanac December 2023

Almanac December 2023

December is a waltz with what’s still here; a slowing down; warmth from new directions.

These frigid mornings, dawn lingers.

Through the kitchen window, soft light unveils a council of leafless trees, silhouettes of cottontails, a frost-laced landscape.

As steam rises from the mug in your hands, you feel the sudden swell of loss. The sting of what’s not here. The emptiness of winter.

You deepen your breath, allowing the wave of grief to pass almost as quickly as it arrived.

Unexpectedly, a surge of joy follows.

When resident birds pierce the rose-pink silence with their silvery warbles and trills, you look toward the swinging feeders, eager to honor your end of the deal.

The agreement is simple: You offer sustenance; they offer life. You set down the mug for the bundling ritual.

Outside, the cold air enlivens you. Toting the bag of seed, you follow your breath to the wee, suspended altars. The winged ones disperse.

Despite the crunch of frozen earth, the starkness of the skyline, the withering garden, a softness cradles these early winter days.

Nature doesn’t mourn what’s gone like we do.

As you refill the feeders, a cardinal whistles from a nearby holly; chickadees sing among towering pines.

Winter isn’t empty, you remember. Nor is it quiet. It simply offers space for deeper listening.

Light of Arthur

Days are getting shorter. On December 21, the winter solstice marks the shortest day — and longest night — of the year.

Ancient cultures birthed countless myths and legends about the solstice. Scots attributed the darkening days to a giant hag-goddess named Cailleach, queen of winter. Finnish myth tells of a shape-shifting witch who steals the sun and moon. Nordic people called the solstice “Mother’s Night,” believing that their goddesses gave birth at the season’s darkest hour to offer more light.

In Druidic tradition, the Wheel of the Year now revolves to Alban Arthan, a winter solstice festival that celebrates the light of King Arthur, symbolically reborn as the Mabon (sun child).

This much is true: From darkness comes light. May we trust the grand unfolding, honoring the journey from winter to spring again and again.  OH

In a way Winter is the real Spring — the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.       — Edna O’Brien

River in the Sky

The winter sky is a stargazer’s dream. These crystalline nights, don’t let the cold air stop you from getting intimate with Orion and company.

Among the best-seen constellations this month — Aries (the ram), Triangulum (the triangle), Fornax (the furnace), Horologium (the clock) and Perseus — is a vast celestial river that begins at the footstool of the Hunter and meanders down, down, down to the southern horizon and Achernar, the constellation’s brightest star.

Among the 48 original constellations catalogued by Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, Eridanus requires a dark sky. It may be faint, but if you’re able to spot this massive star cluster — home to the so-called Eridanus supervoid and the Witch Head Nebula — surely you won’t regret the extra effort.

Almanac October 2023

Almanac October 2023

October dares you not to look away.

These early days of autumn, deciduous trees edging toward full glory, you wouldn’t dream of it. Brisk mornings enliven your senses. You can nearly taste the crispness through your skin.

As golden light alchemizes a brightly colored skyline, yellow becomes more than yellow; red, sharper and truer; orange, otherworldly so.

The merging of light and leaves mesmerizes you. There is nothing soft about this symphony of color. Nothing subtle. The dance is as stunning as molten gold.

Trees become torches. Foliage laps against cerulean skies like ravenous flames licking silent blue heavens. This amalgam of color transforms your very being. You feel both awestruck and emboldened. Ancient and brand new.

Suddenly, a gust of wind sends a wave of leaves swirling earthward. Another gust follows, releasing howling, coppery flurries.

The wind goes rogue.

Wave after furious wave, the leaves descend with reckless abandon. As starling murmurations flash across a brilliant sky, the fleeting beauty makes you ache.

The paradox is arresting: The season has reached its full potential, and there’s nothing to do but watch it make a raging, riotous exit. 

Do not look away, you tell yourself. A shock of crimson shakes from open branches. Do not miss one glorious moment.

October commands your faithful presence. As the trees free themselves of all adornment, you soften to their naked truth. This, too, shall pass

Hold tenderly this precious knowing — this visceral aliveness — and, in the next breath, let it go.


There is a far sweet song in autumn

That catches at my throat,

I hear it in each falling leaf

And in each wild bird’s note . . .   

 — George Elliston,
“Mine Own” (1927)

Birds of Autumn

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers arrive; ruby-throated hummingbirds depart for warmer climes. Birds come and birds go.

This month, as nature dazzles us with her warm and glorious hues, keep watch for white-throated sparrows, pine siskins and yellow-rumped warblers — winter residents whose songs are as distinctive as their field marks.

Oh, Sweet Canada, Canada, sparrows whistle.

Warblers perform their soft, slow trills. 

Pine siskins stun us with their harsh and wheezy zreeeeeeet.

Winter is nigh, the birds seem to say.

In other words: Enjoy the show. 

Flower of the Dead

Nothing says autumn like a field of fiery marigolds. Or a tidy garland of them. 

Although October’s vibrant birth flower has long been associated with grief and loss, its uses have been — and continue to be — vast. Because their sunny orange and yellow hues are believed to dispel negativity — and to help guide wandering spirits to altars for the dead — marigold garlands are commonly used in religious ceremonies in Asia, Latin America and Mexico.

They’re also a choice natural dye, companion plant and, depending on the variety, edible flower. Bust out a batch of marigold-and-saffron shortbread this season and see if you ever crave pumpkin spice again.  OH

Almanac September 2023

Almanac September 2023

September is the last stand of sunflowers — thick with bumbles and honeys — wistfully facing east.

Sown in the softest days of summer, when early berries fairly tumbled from their vines, the seeds of these yellow giants held more than plumule and root. They held the glory of summer, a timeless cure-all, the warmth and likeness of the sun.

Weeks after their shoots burst through fertile earth, the sunflowers whispered patience. Ever reaching toward the light, their stalks grew tall and sturdy; their rough leaves wide as open palms. Soon, the buds emerged — tidy cinch purses as splendid as stars — holding their treasures tight.

Summer burst in all directions. Cicadas emerged screaming. Queen Anne laced meadows and roadsides. Thistle and clover reigned supreme.

Butterflies teetered on purple coneflowers, feasted on milkweed, drifted among sage, sedum and hibiscus.

At last, when early giants withered on their fibrous stalks, the luminous beauties unfurled.

Summer fades. And yet, the last wave of sunflowers beams.

Here now, they sing.

The bees know, sharing communion at their golden centers. Whirling in ecstasy. Humming an ancient prayer for grace.

We know, too. We hold tight to summer — let it transform us — then wistfully look toward the autumn sun.


New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.   — Lao Tzu


The Thick of It

Muscadine season is here at last.

Hypnotically sweet, this native grape thrives in the sticky heat of our Southeastern states, ripening from late August through early October. Ranging in color from greenish bronze (we call them scuppernongs) to deep purple, this thick-skinned whopper (Vitis rotundifolia) is the official fruit of North Carolina.

Muscadine wine. Muscadine jelly. Muscadine grape hull pie.

For some, muscadines by the handful take the cake.

According to the State Library of North Carolina’s online encyclopedia, early English explorers of the Outer Banks reported that this fruiting vine “covered every shrub and climbed the tops of high cedars.” This was 1584. Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano wrote about the curious “white” grape some 60 years prior.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the half-acre “Mother Vine” in Manteo, now over 400 years old? Planted by Croatan Native Americans or, perhaps, settlers of the Lost Colony, this legendary scuppernong is the oldest known cultivated grape vine in the country. It’s aging, no doubt, like a fine, sweet wine. 


Crisscross Equinox

Apples blush. Whippoorwill sings his final song. Things end and things begin.

The autumnal equinox occurs on Saturday, September 23. As the turn of the season graces us with equal amounts of day and night, we prepare for the final harvest. We celebrate the abundance here now, soak up the remnants of summer, and ready ourselves for the darkening days.  OH

Almanac August 2023

Almanac August 2023

August slows us down. Speeds us up. Goes by a host of honest names. Call it “Epoch of Purple Coneflowers” or “Dawn of the Swamp Rose Mallow” or “Rudbeckia in C Major.”

In the garden, call it “abundance.”

Call it “too many tomatoes” or “fresh salsa for days” or “winter marinara.”

Call it sweet corn tossed with butter. Pickled chili peppers. Green beans sizzling in the skillet. Call up the neighbors to share the harvest.

The bees seem to know these days are numbered. The butterflies, too. They sip warm nectar long and slow as if to become it. As if the beauty might swallow them whole.

It’s the beginning of the end. Summer’s swan song. The firefly’s last dance.

Perhaps you call it bittersweet, the way the golden light begins to soften. How the cicada still sings. How it’s all so subtle.

Black snake basks in candied light. As the season fades, the crickets play their hearts out. Beautyberries bear whorls of purple fruit. The gray squirrel bears her second litter.

It’s the beginning of something new.

By month’s end, the hives are fat with honey. The spring fawns have lost their spots. The crickets perform late summer’s opus.

“Rudbeckia in C Minor” swells into the balmy evening.

As the earliest apples ripen, something in the air will shift. You’ll want to name it “joy” or “sorrow” — maybe even “respite.” Call it what you’d like: gift, heartache or threshold. August is all of it. 


Going Moony

Those who garden by the moon’s phases should know that two full moons will grace us with their brilliance this month — on the first and last day. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, this age-old planting practice is based on the idea that the gravitational pull of the moon “affects the moisture in the soil” just as it causes the tides to swell and recede.

Ever tried it? Annual flowers and above-ground crops (as in your fall greens) should be sown into the earth during the waxing phase of the moon. In other words, from the new moon (August 16) until the blue moon (August 31). Flowering bulbs (think spider lily and sternbergia) and below-ground crops (beets, radishes and rutabaga) are said to thrive when planted during the moon’s waning phase, beginning the day after it is full (in this case, August 2) until the day before it is new again.

If those full moons happen to look just a bit bigger and brighter this month, it’s because they are, in fact, supermoons — as close to the Earth as they can get. 

August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun and the lilies again are spread across the water.      — Mary Oliver


The Bees Knees

Among the native wildflowers sure to dazzle pollinators and nature lovers alike, behold the blooming swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), found thriving in moist soil and full sun, especially alongside creeks and ponds. Irresistible to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, this showy perennial is known for its sizable pink and white flowers. Fragrant and funnel-shaped, these five-petaled wonders open at night, revealing a vibrant red or purple center with a riot of yellow stamens. Long bloom this late summer beauty! OH

Poem July 2023

Poem July 2023

Clay Banks

The creek is old and its banks are steep.

Its flow never stops its work of remaking.

Clay like this wants to keep its form

though scoured by the storm-carried silt,

pitted as by earthbound lightning strikes.

Water is turned by jutting granite,

milky quartz, even soft sandstone,

all of it red with rust going green

as first the ferns unroll their fronds

and vines tease the air with soft thorns

the way childhood returns in old age.


A friend told me how his mother, who

is now constantly looking for her home,

who can’t recognize him or his sister,

was happy to play ball with his toddler,

with his new puppy. She tossed the ball

against the brick patio wall with a spin.

The dog and child ran with confused joy.

Sometimes they fell over each other.

His mother always caught the ball.

She was the only one who seemed to know

exactly where the ball would bounce.

— Paul Jones

Paul Jones is a professor emeritus at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His latest collection of poetry is called Something Wonderful.

Almanac May 2023

Almanac May 2023

May is the nimble bard, back again, rendering tales of romance and revelry.

When the peonies sing out and the black snake sheds his winter skin, the bard slinks in with an age-old poem, jubilant and familiar. You recognize the words but the tune has changed. It’s more florid, less restrained.

A bard never sings the same song twice.

The poem is a constellation of roses, a bouquet of wild songbirds, a quivering fawn, wet from birth. It is a bluebird’s first flight, a canopy of tree frogs, a fox kit emerging from the den.

It’s a tale of first love — a whisper, a giggle, a kiss — a sacred song between two hearts and the ancient, flowering magnolia.

The rhythm quickens for the ballad of the bee and the lady’s slipper; the waltz of the foxglove and hummingbird; the butterfly’s ode to red clover.

Honeysuckle on the tongue, the bard weaves from wild place to formal garden, from strawberry patch to rabbit burrow, from poppy field to chrysalis. 

She sings of earthworms and spring rain; soft grass and bare feet; the boy and his mud castle.

Listen for the girl in the sunhat. Snap peas on the trellis. Dandelions and cartwheels and picnic baskets.

The wind sings along, carrying her tune through the leafed-out trees until we are nectar-drunk and flushed. Each word pulses with ecstasy. We cannot help but sing along.


Among the Wildflowers

National Wildflower Week, celebrated during the first full week of May, is spring at its finest. The air is sweet. Roadsides and meadows are bursting with life and color. The pollinators are here for the party.

Perhaps you know that in 2016, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation launched The Butterfly Highway project in response to the alarming decline of native bees and monarch butterflies. This conservation restoration initiative continues to expand its “network of native flowering plants” to help sustain our pollen- and nectar-dependent wild ones. Interested in adding a “Pollinator Pitstop” to the map? Visit, where you can find N.C. native pollinator seed packets, discover what’s blooming this month, and learn more.


The word May is a perfumed word . . . It means youth, love, song; and all that is beautiful in life.    

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, journal, 1861

The Great Mother

Creation stories of the Lenape and Iroquois people evoke images of a great cosmic turtle carrying the world on its back. Surely all mothers have felt like that turtle from time to time.

This year, Mother’s Day lands on Sunday, May 14. Perhaps fittingly, World Turtle Day is celebrated this month, too — on Tuesday, May 23.

The Eastern box turtle, N.C.’s state reptile, begins nesting at the end of this month. Although common across the state, the Eastern box turtle population is declining. When next you see one, wish it well. She could be carrying eggs — or tending a clutch of tiny, delicate worlds.  OH




March is a born artist, wide-eyed and unbridled, creating for the sake of life itself.

The genius begins with a single daffodil, warm and bright, nodding in a stream of honeyed light. Each petal is a world of yellow. Each leaf, a meditation on green.

The artist becomes obsessed.

One daffodil becomes a series, progressively abstract, until each flower is more essence than form.

Paintings expand into wild landscapes. Quick as the hand can move, a rolling sea of yellow starbursts stretches from one canvas to the next. The foreground softens. Thick and messy brushstrokes evoke a tender, playful light.

Crested irises and yellow violets now spill from the frenzied brush, followed by flowering clover, purple deadnettle, wild onions, chickweed and a downy flush of dandelions.

Robins begin to appear. Bluebirds, too. Tree swallows and towhees and red-winged blackbirds. The painting nearly sings out.

Leafless branches, stark among the luscious earth, are suddenly laden with clusters of crimson whirligigs. Redbuds are studded with bright fuchsia blossoms. Soft pink swirls adorn silver-limbed saucer magnolias.

The brush strokes quicken. A sweep of tulips colors the earth magnificent. As spring bursts forth, flower by brilliant, quivering flower, the artist surrenders to the muse.

On the Wild Side

Among the wild blossoms beginning to carpet the soft earth — fig buttercups and field mustard, blood root and Johnny jump-ups, dimpled trout lilies and Carolina jessamine — the common blue violet is one you’ll likely spot in damp woods and shady meadows. Also called the woolly blue violet, wood violet or common meadow violet, this short-stemmed perennial is known for its heart-shaped leaves (edible) and white-throated purple flowers (also edible).

But have you ever seen a bird’s foot violet? Named for the shape of its narrowly lobed leaves (they do, in fact, resemble bird feet), this viola species prefers dry, sandy soil and pine lands. The five-petaled flower, lilac or bicolored with bright orange anthers, is largely considered to be the most beautiful violet in the world. But what spring bloomer isn’t a bewitching vision to our winter-weary eyes?


Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour.             — Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Time to Sow

The cold earth is thawing. The Full Sap Moon rises on Tuesday, March 7. The maple sap is flowing once again.

The vernal equinox occurs on Monday, March 20 — along with a dark, balsamic moon. As a new season and cycle begin, we return to the garden.

In early March, sow carrot, spinach, radish, pea and turnip seeds directly into the softening earth. Mid-month, sow chives, parsley, onion and parsnips. At month’s end: beet and arugula seeds.   

Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seedlings can be transplanted outdoors mid- to late-month. Ditto kale, Swiss chard, lettuce and kohlrabi.

Growing season has commenced. As the days grow warmer still, behold the simple miracle of spring’s return. The miracle of life itself.  PS