A Tale of Two Calendars

Canada geese with melting snow
Canada geese with melting snow, Edmonton, AB

After a lot of years living on North America’s Central Flyway, I’m pretty familiar with the waterfowl migrations that come along with spring. Each March, I begin my wait for the great flocks of Canada geese, snow geese and all the other migratory birds that advance northward with the melting snow.  I’m sure all of us look forward to hearing the honks overhead as the first V of geese flies by.

In University, I chose a roundabout path to a degree in history. My course load was all over the map in terms of focus; I’d go off on a tangent if something interested me or inspired me. For example, an evening course on the policies of the Arts in Canada led me, after a detour or two, to a couple of years studying the Cree language. I’ve since lost any conversational ability I may have had but I have retained some of the vocabulary.

I find the Cree language much more connected to the natural world around us than English, and much more descriptive, as well. Many Cree words were constructed after first contact and reveal the influence of European culture on Indigenous peoples. However, much of the language remains very reflective of the deeper rhythms of life.

When I flip the page on my fridge from February to March, I know the geese are on their way, even if the calendar doesn’t specifically spell it out for me.  The Cree word for March, though, does exactly that because niskipîsim means the goose moon.  Other ‘goose’ months are May, opiniyâwewipîsim, meaning the egg laying moon; June, opâskâwehipîsim, translates to the egg hatching moon and August, ohpahowipîsim, is the flying moon.  Names like these seem so much more relevant than those of the ancient gods that label my calendar, now.

In any case, it’s been a heck of a winter all the way around but, finally, the temperatures are warming; the snow is melting and, best of all, the geese have arrived. There’s nothing on the calendar that says they’ll turn around and go back if the weather’s too cold, but that’s exactly what happened in Winnipeg in 2014 – for the first time on record. I hope it doesn’t become a habit!

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.