Life Beyond Calendar and Clock

By | June 14, 2012

Right now, it’s around a mealtime after high sun, and we’re in the waning crescent of the Frog-Chorus Moon, after the Very Early Melt White Season. Do you know where you are in the day and season without a clock or calendar?

I associate with two different kinds of people: one will look down at their wrists when I ask them what time it is, and the other will look up at the sun. When I ask for the day, one will consult a calendar, and the other will refer to the moon phase. I live and work with yet another group of people, the staff and students of the year-long Wilderness Guide Program. They grew up with clock and calendar, yet their hunger to connect directly with the means and ends of their existence has inspired them to leave modern time reckoning behind and look instead to nature’s timekeeping methods. Only we no longer know nature intimately—it exists out there somewhere beyond the concrete and steel—and we no longer know much of our human nature. Here is an example of the students (who are called Seekers) are connecting with their lost natures:

“How long after you set your trap did it take to catch that squirrel?”

“I made the trap about one sleep ago, but I set it only an egg roast or so before I went to check it.”

If you want to join us in reconnecting with the natural rhythms, you already have a start with terms such as sunrise and sunset. Just use early sun, high sun, and late sun instead of morning, noon, and afternoon and first light and last light in place of dawn and dusk. You could use sunsleep for nighttime, and last sun, this sun, and next sun for yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Rather than using seconds, minutes, and hours, we find references that are relevant to our lives, such as a breath, a meal time, and a sleep time.

Depending on context, we use either white season or turn of the seasons for year. For Northcountry Natives, the white season is oftentimes the most memorable part of the year because of its deep snow, extended cold, and the hardships it can bring. For an infirm person or elder, surviving a white season might be a feat to be remembered. The long-term passage of time is noted by the number of white seasons. From trapping camp in the Freezing-Over Moon to fishing camp in the Snow-Melting Moon, both sides of the white season are major times of movement for the nomadic North People. Summer is the green season. Most Natives here have no parallel terms for spring and autumn, which are considered just transition periods between the two main seasons.

We follow the Native tradition of naming each moon after its notable event. There is the Falling-Leaves and the Budding-Leaves Moon, the Fish-Spawning and the Goose-Returning Moon, the Freezing-Over and the Ice-Leaving Moon, the Strawberry and the Blackberry Moon. Deep in the white season, there is the Long Night Moon, and in the flush of the green season there might be a Thunderbird Moon. (For more on relationship with the moon cycle and seasonal changes, I’ve written Fat Moons and Hunger Moons: The Turn of the Seasons for Northwoods Natives.)

Where hunter-gatherers account for the passage of time by the moons, agricultural peoples traditionally use the sun cycle, with its solstices, equinoxes, and points in between. With late snows, early melts, and ever-changing weather and animal patterns reflected in moon time, agriculturalists need the more consistent sun-time regimen for planting and harvesting, along with related rituals.

Being creatures of habit and pattern, we’ve found it a great challenge to use conscious and relevant time references rather than automatically falling back on what we are accustomed to. We make a game of it, often times getting a good laugh out of the ludicrous options we come up with. Imagine telling someone it was a good gut-gurgle before you realized it wasn’t sprinkling but there was a squirrel on the branch above you. Life has become all the richer for the challenge—it has given us the opportunity to become more engaged in our communication, more conscious of our surroundings, and more aware of the passage of time. We have adopted the approach to other aspects of our lives, such as the naming of plants and animals. Grouse is now Drumming Bird, Dragon Fly is Mosquito Hawk, and Northern Pike is Water Wolf. Native peoples do the same, even naming themselves with consciousness and regard for their greater relationships.


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