Whether in song or affecting our tides, the moon, the second brightest object in the sky after the sun, plays a vital role in our lives.
Native Americans’ close connection to nature is seen in their names for the months. Although calendar types vary from tribe to tribe, nearly all tribal calendars begin in the spring, the time of year that symbolizes the start of a new year through the emergence of new plants and the birth of new animals.
Moons of Renewal and Growth
Each spring, the camp circle moved to higher ground. Men fixed old weapons and made new ones to hunt with. Women gathered early berries and roots, repaired their lodges from new hides collected during the fall and winter hunts, and sewed leggings and moccasins from the smoked tops of the old lodge skins. After being confined to their lodges over the winter, children played outside in the warm weather.
During this time, the animals carrying babies were at their largest before giving birth. This was April, Wihakakta cepapi Wi, the Moon of Fattening.
The warmer weather made its way onto the prairies, and the pleasant temperatures meant it was time to plant. This was May, Wojupiwi Wi, the Moon of Planting.
The berries were tasty and red at this time of year, just right for picking. Parfleches and robes were painted, and raiding parties were underway. This was June, Wipazuka waste Wi, the Moon of Good Berries.
The Warm Moons
As spring gave way to summer, the camp circle moved often to follow the migrating buffalo herds. Women struck the lodges and packed the family’s belongings onto pony drags for transport to the new camp. They also prepared food and made and set up the lodges. Men made weapons, hunted for game and defended the camp. While girls helped gather firewood and water and were instructed in quill- and bead-work decoration, boys practiced their hunting skills on small animals.
Summer was the time of celebrations and ceremonies and for seeking visions. The women made pemmican from ripened chokecherries and other berries, and the men planned war parties. This moon marked the time for one of the most sacred Lakota rites, the Sun Dance. This was July, Canpasapa Wi, the Moon of Cherries Black.
As summer wore on, the men hunted and the women gathered vegetables and nuts and dried meats in preparation for the coming winter. This was August, Wasuton Wi, the Moon of Harvest. It was also called Wicokannijin, the Moon When the Sun Stands in the Middle for the unrelenting heat it brought down upon the Great Plains.
The Moons of Change
As summer turned to fall, the Lakota prepared for winter. Food was gathered to last through the winter moons. Women prepared meat from the buffalo that the men hunted. Underground storage caches were filled with dried meat and fruit, and large quantities of firewood were stocked. As the weather began to change, the trees responded. This was September, Canwapegi Wi, the Moon of Brown Leaves.
As autumn settled over the Great Plains, the Lakota people prepared for winter.The trees also prepared by dropping their leaves. This was October, Canwapekasna Wi, the Moon of Falling Leaves.
The Cold and Dark Moons
Winter brought a quieter time, during which a single camp site was used for the season. While women made and mended clothing, men went on raiding parties to ensure the camp’s safety and strength. Winter was also a time for storytelling. Children slid over the snow in buffalo ribcages and in the evening gathered around the fire to listen to the stories the elders told of past times and heroes.
This was the time when everyone started thinking about the coming winter. This was November, Waniyatu Wi, the Moon of Starting Winter.
When the heavy snows began to fall, and blistering winds fell upon the prairies, and the deer began to shed their horns, it was time to strike the lodges and travel to a sheltering wooded hollow near a river or to the sacred Black Hills where they would be close to supplies of firewood. This was December, Tahecapsun Wu, the Moon of Shedding Horns.
At this time of year everyone experienced difficulties. Food was often in short supply and the weather was fierce. A severe winter could bring starvation, and at times like that rose berries, acorns, and even the horses were eaten. This was January, Wiotekika Wi, the Moon of Hard Times.
As a new moon arrived, the Lakota people noticed a great change. Trees on the Great Plains popped and burst as their branches became laden with winter snow and ice. This was February, Cannapoppa Wi, the Moon of Popping Trees.
Although the promise of spring was on the horizon, the cold winter weather continued. It was a time of blinding sun rays reflecting off the snow. This was March, Istawicayazan Wi, the Moon of Snow Blindness.
And with the passing of another year spring came once again to the prairie, and with it, a renewal of life and hope.
My latest release, RESTLESS WIND, Book 3 in my Native American Wild Wind Series, continues the story of trader’s daughter Katie McCabe and Lakota warrior Black Moon. Their love has survived misunderstanding, treachery, absence, abduction, and tragedy, but the ever-increasing hostilities between the soldiers and the Sioux in late 1866 have planted seeds of uncertainty in Katie’s mind as to where she belongs – the white world into which she was born, or Black Moon’s Lakota world in which she has chosen to live. As tensions erupt over the plains and Black Moon rides with Crazy Horse to rid the Powder River country of the Long Knives, Katie joins a wagon train and embarks on a journey of self-discovery, setting into motion events as turbulent as the restless wind.
The story begins late in Canwapegi Wi. As Katie sits astride her Indian pony gazing out across the land, she is reminded of a Lakota legend about why the leaves turn colors.
She had ridden today much further than she intended, having joined the other women to gather wild prairie turnips, and then left them digging on the hillside to gallop her pony across the land in the futile hope that an exhilarating ride would chase away the uncertainty. Grappling with the doubts that plagued her, she gazed at the quaking aspen and scrub oak ablaze in color, with red, yellow, green and orange blanketing the hills in the distance.
The old ones told a story about why the leaves fall. Many moons ago, they said, when the world was still young, all the plants and animals were enjoying the beautiful summer weather. But as the days went by, the weather turned colder. This made the grass and flower people very sad, for they had no protection against the sharp cold of winter. Just when it seemed there was no hope for them to go on living, the Great Spirit came to their aid. He told the leaves on the trees to fall to the ground and spread a soft, warm blanket over them. To repay the trees for the loss of their leaves, He allowed them one last bright array of beauty. This, they said, was why the trees take on beautiful farewell colors before turning to their appointed task of covering the earth with a thick blanket of warmth to protect the grass and flower people against the chill of winter.
Katie heaved a sigh. Soon, the branches would be bare, snow would cover the ground, and ice would clog the rivers and streams. She thought again of the Lakota legend and wondered who would protect her against the chill that had found its way into her heart.
The restless breath of the wind blew across the land. As she turned her pony’s head away and headed back to the Oglala camp in a valley of the Tongue River, her father’s words echoed in her mind.
“Katie, m’darlin’, nothin’ stays the same.”
RESTLESS WIND is coming soon to all e-readers.