Long before there were clocks and calendars, people looked to the skies in order to tell not only the general time of day, but also the months of the year. Everyone was an amateur astronomer. If you didn't know what markers to look for in order to plant various crops, or to watch for the spring floods, or wait for the deer to migrate or the fish to spawn, you would probably go hungry. Mankind depended on the sun, moon and stars as markers for the time, the seasons, and the year.

Photo by Dawn Patrick

Many cultures named various phases of the moon...or the full moon itself as markers. The events likely to happen would become the name of the full moon of that month (moonth), and oral tradition would teach the coming generation what they needed to know in order to survive and prosper. European traditions were, naturally, different from the traditions of Native Americans. Different plants fruited at different seasons, or were only available in certain geographical areas. The same constraints affected the animal markers...different species were abundant in Europe that were not even in existence in the Americas. Even on the same continent, there were different plant and animal species in different geographical areas. For example, the Panzacolas of northwest Florida and Alabama would not be likely to name a full moon: Salmon Rush Moon. This area has a few lowland rivers and the Gulf of Mexico, but no salmon. Likewise, the Tlingit would not be likely to name a moon: Wild Rice Moon. Not that the Panzacolas knew what name the modern natives would call this grain, but the idea is that different areas had different crops or animal food sources, and different celebrations that were important to those people.

As examples, take a look at these full moon names:

January -- Old Moon

February--Snow, Hunger, or Wolf Moon

March -- Sap or Crow Moon

April -- Grass or Egg Moon

May -- Planting or Milk Moon

June -- Flower or Strawberry Moon

July -- Thunder or Hay Moon

August-- Green Corn or Grain Moon

September -- Fruit or Harvest Moon

October -- Hunter's Moon

November -- Frosty or Beaver Moon

December -- Long Night Moon

With just a little imagination, you can see how a people could use the names of the above moonths to order their lives. Remember, there aren't any grocery stores in this time. You grow, hunt, find (fruit and nut trees), or fish for what you eat. You don't have a freezer or refrigerator to put anything in--you may dig a pit in the ground to keep foods cold and dry. You don't have central heat and air, either...if you want to stay warm in winter, you're going to have to find plenty of firewood. Your home may be dug partly into the ground in order to keep some of the warmth of the earth for insulation.

In April, the birds begin laying eggs....a welcome treat since you've tightened your belt in January and February because the dried meat, fruit, and vegetables that you ate all winter have run out.

In May, you plant the seed that you saved from the healthiest and largest grain heads or fruits of the last year's crop and you watch as the cows, sheep, deer, elk begin birthing their young. In July, wild strawberries and blueberries are getting ripe--they can be eaten ripe, and also be dried for use during the long, cold months of winter. In July, the rains come...the streams may overflow, and fish fed by insects being washed into the water are harder to catch. In August, you see the promise of the fruiting grain crops...many cultures also used this time as a ceremonial observance and for marriage ceremonies. In September, you harvest the grains and many other crops, such as root crops, pumpkins, and fruits that dry well and provide needed stores for the coming winter. In October, the hunters search for migrating deer and other animals--again, the meat will provide for the present, but much will also have to be dried and preserved for winter. In November, you notice the first real chill of winter--if you have played instead of prepared, it is too late for you to start, now. December 21st is the longest night of the year, and it does seem bleak in the cold and dark, so it's time to celebrate to lift your spirits! January is the Old Moon, and by this time, the dried fruit, meat and root crops are getting pretty want something fresh to many ways can you cook a dried turnip, anyway! In February, some of the people have died of hunger or cold...or both. You are running out of food...everyone is hungry.

The wolves, deprived of the elk or deer that have yet to migrate back into the area, are so hungry that they might attack people as they go out in search of a few more sticks of firewood. March finally comes...the sap is running through the trees and green shoots appear...crows pick at thawing animals that didn't make it through the hard winter. But, the year rolls back around and April bursts forth with new life and promise for those who remember the markers...the moonths...well enough to prepare for the winter to come.

If you would like to make your own local calendar of "moonths," you need to study your local area. Notice when certain flowers bloom, certain crops come in...whatever you can find that is distinct about your community or county. You can include anything important to you or your family. If you want to start with January--Large Kitchen Appliances Sale, that's OK. If you observe what is happening in your community, you can come up with a neat calendar that you can post and check from year to year to see how accurate you've been. Would your calendar prepare you to survive the winter?

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