When the crows gather, the maple sap starts to run. Aandeg Biboon (Crow Moon) some call it, or Onaabaanigiizis, the hard-crusted snow moon.
Just before the maple syrup time begins is the Ojibwe New Year. There’s time on the land and time on the clock; those are different. There’s what’s called Indian Time — you are waiting for the sap to run, or the wild rice to finish parching. Then there’s the time that your flight used to leave, or maybe a Zoom call coming your way. That’s a different time.
There’s time on the land, I think of as the Creator’s Clock.
Giiwedinong, now, is the time when the swans return — waabiziiwag bi azhigiiwewag. They are coming home, by the thousands, nestling into cornfields on the Ponsford prairie, the Hubbard prairie, coming home to the lakes they will grace for the months ahead. Some tough birds. They fly to open water; no need to wing it to Florida, they gather just where the ice is gone.
And now they are back. And, if you listen, you can hear the crows, they are gathering. You have to be still enough, get outside, take your eyes off phone and turn off the music. Then you can see them and hear them. That’s time on the land.
The Ojibwe calendar is full of these notations, Hard-Crusted Snow Moon, Maple Syrup Moon, Flower Moon, Blueberry Moon, Freezing-Up Moon, Gashkaadino giizis. Not a single moon named after a Roman emperor. And, still, we’ve made it this far.
We look at time differently. Time is, while constant, a cultural reference. Our winter counts would record historic moments of that year, our ancestors to the west, scribing or retelling these stories on buffalo or elk hides. There’s a time when the snow was higher than the tipis. This March, there was snow in Los Angeles, and hail in San Diego. Don’t forget this time, it’s a time of climate change.
Indigenous people don’t have historic amnesia, we remember our history. Sadly, most Americans have a pretty good case of amnesia, and often don’t even know the name of the people upon whose land they live. We remember. Our birchbark scrolls, copied intergenerationally, tell a thousands of years old story of migration and miracles. We keep track.
A long timeline helps you remember, and think ahead. My ancestors would consider the impact of their decisions upon the Seventh Generation from now; beyond an election year, beyond quarterly earnings.
Indigenous thinking requires deliberation. That’s some intergenerational responsibility.
Industrial world time is different. There’s digital time, fiscal years, quarters and the seconds of social media tick tock — the information age. There’s the Stone Age, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and now the information age and the fossil fuel era.
Then there’s the big times: the Jurassic Age, that was the dinosaurs. Now it is called the Anthropocene.
The human age. We’ve become the biggest force in the world, bigger than T. rexes ever were.
Amazing as it can be imagined, we’ve produced more stuff in the world than all the living beings in the world — all the biosphere. Put it this way: There are more BIC lighters in dumps than all the living elephants, I would wager.
The Anthropocene will be long-lasting in impact. We will forget the fabulous rock and movie stars of the new millennium, and we will be remembered for a few other moments in time. My stuff will far outlive me. A plastic straw takes about 200 years to decompose; annually about 8-12 million tons of straws end up in our ocean, choking turtles and such. A disposable diaper takes 500 years to decompose. Then there’s some doozers of the Anthropocene: nuclear waste can last 100,000 years.
Literature on nuclear radiation uses the term “half-life.” Radium 226 has a half-life of 1,200 years, plutonium 239 has a half-life of 24,100 years, and Pu-241's half-life is 14.4 years. That means half of the radiation is gone.
Then there’s immediate time. If Enbridge’s Line 3 suffers a catastrophic break — like the Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids spills — the company can spill up to 20,000 gallons a minute into the Shell and Mississippi rivers.
That’s time too.
I’ve more winters behind me than ahead of me. That I know. I also know that this is a time of tremendous change. It’s a question of who controls the change. We didn’t leave the stone age, because we ran out of rocks. It’s the same with the fossil fuel age. Let’s just say, we figured out that a combustion engine was only 16% efficient, and an electric engine was 65% efficient. So, we moved on. There’s a reason that Elon Musk is one of the wealthiest guys in the world and Exxon is no longer the top of the S&P. The times are changing.
The Time of the Bat is now: The time of the coronavirus pandemic. A time of warp speed, fast cars, and then we were collectively forced to slow down and take a breath. This is a time when we slowed down enough to see the crows gather and the swans return. I am glad I saw them. They are right on time.
Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.