The Reason for the Season Is in the Tilt

Science tells us that the season's changes are caused as the Earth, tilted on its axis, travels in a loop around the Sun each year. Because we have no control over those transitions, we humans simply adapt, often by putting on more clothes or taking them off.

When I taught in the public schools, I took advantage of these times as an invitation to write, and when I trained teachers, we developed lesson plans with writing across the curriculum components so that science and language arts could connect, for example.

In conjunction with a unit on seasons, I offer the book Huckleberries, Buttercups, and Celebrations by Jennifer Greene and Antoine Sandoval.  Written in poetry-like vignettes, the book explains how the Salish people followed a seasonal calendar that is reflected in their names for each month.  Monthly activities showcase the resources and gifts of each season.

Once the book is shared with students, the teacher can invite students to imitate the text by writing a poem or vignette from their own cultural heritage to commemorate or illustrate the events from a month.  Many of the traditional activities from Greene’s book continue today among families and in the community, and many of them vary because of diverse cultural affiliation.  Still, Greene’s book offers an opportunity for a text-to-self connection and extends the opportunity for cultural learning.  As poems or vignettes are shared, we learn about one another and about other cultures.  While the Salish talk of huckleberries, the Assiniboine may talk of June berries, and the Gros Ventre might speak about chokecherries.

After reading Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac during a special topics literature course at Aaniiih Nakoda College (ANC) during fall semester 2012, one of my students wondered about a focus for her literary response.  I invited her to notice how Bruchac of the Abenaki/Slavic tribe relates the passage of time with section titles like Moon of Leaves Falling (October) and Moon of Long Nights (December).  Throughout the story, main character, Howard Camp similarly notices weather changes and other seasonal markers: “It was late August, three months past the time of the blackflies and a month or more before the first real frost” (27).  As an analogy, we discussed concepts like the shepherd’s calendar, which concentrates on the weather and how it affects the livestock and the landscape.  Native Americans, too, capture these changes with their own names for the passage of time.  To illustrate, I pulled Huckleberries, Buttercups, and Celebrations from my bookshelf.  In this book—which preserves the Salish calendar months while commemorating language, culture, and gifts received from Mother Nature—we read about Bitteroot’s Moon celebrated in May and Storytelling’s Moon observed in November.

Inspired by these ideas, my student decided to learn the names and stories behind each month of the Assiniboine calendar and to create a calendar of her own.  In this way, both she and I learned Wicogandu Sugagu Hawi, the season of Moon in the Middle of Little Brother, and Amhaska Hawi, Long Day Moon, the Assiniboine words to describe December and January.  

We enrich our learning with such literacy experiences as we promote and honor cultural identity.  When readers see themselves represented in stories or when teachers make explicit efforts to connect their school learning to their lives, they realize that they matter, that their experiences count. 

All students will benefit if we take the time to learn about one another.  Cultural relevance also plays a role in motivation and engagement. 

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