The Search For Home – Part 5: Creating a Native Calendar

by on March 1st, 2009
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spiraltime.jpgThe Search For Home
Part 5: Creating a Native Calendar

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

We may live forever in the timeless present, but we are also positioned at any given moment at a shifting point in the cycles of day and night, earth and life.  This schedule and record of events is marked neither by the clock nor the normal 12 month calendar with its state approved holidays and customary periods of work and vacation.  It is, rather, a native calendar, marked by shifts in climate and vegetation, familiar to most land based indigenous peoples… as well as to many of those street-people we call “homeless.”

They should perhaps be called “houseless” instead, since they know better than most residents of the suburbs just what it means to be intimate with the largely predictible changes that help define “home.”  They may know the names of the nearby boulevards, but more as places to avoid because of the traffic or the police, dangerous corridors they must cross to get from one neighborhood to the next.  Ask them where they live, and instead of rattling off a numbered address they’re more likely to respond with a litany of landmarks: next to the river past the ruins of the old brick factory, under the old fir tree behind St. Martin’s, a five minute walk from the tracks.  They know what hour each bakery throws out its unsold bread, what days the supermarkets rotate their milk, how often the police patrol a particular street, what air ducts supply heat in the winter, and where the overhangs provide the most relief during the hottest months.  With no lawn of their own, they become familiar with the flowers and layout of everyone else’s, and can often recite the names of the local children they come into contact with.  They can, and often do, find their way home to their camp in the dark.  They usually have a deeply realized sense of where they “belong,” and exhibit a profound intimacy with their local environs.  Often frequenting the same neighborhood for decades on end, some can recount the succession of families moving in and out of any particular house, identifying each by the way they took care of their yards, the style of their cars, the attitude of their dog, or a habit such as what time a renter would always come out to pick up his newspaper.  They navigate their world without maps, and likewise traverse the seasons without the benefit or constraints of a Julian calendar.

Like other natives, their calendar is internalized, remembered, and round.  Each new turning of the Earth into the light, each new day is distinguished by its sensory record rather than some assigned number.  A native calendar is an articulation of significant events, rather than dates.  Some, such as the longest day of the year, are experienced similarly by divergent cultures and will be duplicated on their regional almanacs, while others are events specific to a certain group of people, situated in a particular place.  We notice that while the seasons, the successions of wildflowers, and the hibernation of the bears are things that occur dependably every year, the exact time of their arrival is likely to differ:  The day of first snow, which has come for us as early as November and as late as the new year.  The show of heaviest rains.  The first Fall frost.  But others clock in year after year, almost to the day:  The arrival of the dock my partners gather for our salads.  The ducks faithfully returning, from either direction.  The insatiable whistling of the mating elk.  In time the more significant or memorable of these recurring themes define the character of each portion of the native’s circular calendar.

Try creating your own.  The most predictable events become as the cardinal points on a compass, in which the Solstices and Equinox mark the four directions.  Of course the North is midwinter, the hottest days of the year situated at the southern extreme of your rounded calendar.  We can break it down further:  Between the longest and shortest days of the year, the days of the longest and shortest shadows, the new and full moons.  Mark the points of natural and social transitions:  When school starts and ends, the onset of each vacation, the time for planting bulbs by the side of the house, the bug season, swimming season, traditional holidays, and the day regularly given to Spring cleaning.

Here in the mountains of New Mexico we’d make the Roman August “the month when the snakes come out.” We’d mark down the first appearances of foodstuffs like ripened acorns, pine nuts and sorrel, the ideal time for root and tuber harvests, and the month for drying fruit.  Then there’s the period of antler shedding, and the months they’re in velvet.  The blossoming of so many blue flowers in the Spring, a dozen different species of white-flowered plants in June, and the splash of brilliant yellow ones come every late September.

There is nothing in your busy schedules and wordy workshops, high tech entertainment systems or feel-good fantasies that can replace physical engagement with the very real planet, itself spiriling through nonlinear time.  Step outside your gated yards and walled minds.  Then look around you, go for long sauntering walks, take note of the colors and processes of your world and then position yourself within it.

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Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, The Search For Home

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