Photo by Brenda B.
As part of the Blackfoot Phenology for Farmers course, a group of farmers, growers, and food lovers across many Indigenous territories and ecosystems have committed to one year of active ecological observation based on the Blackfoot lunar calendar. Students pick a study site in their area and visit it often in order to recognize and learn from the patterns, relationships, and cycles they observe. Here are some of their reflections from the first part of summer.
The first few lunar cycles of summer have been dynamic and vibrant. We passed though the summer solstice and watched the plants leaf out and the insects emerge. This is an exciting time of year with so much to enjoy and observe.
“Summer seems to be finally here and the change in pace continues to amaze me, especially in contrast to the stillness of the winter months. It has really given me a new perspective of winter… I watched a general sense of vibrancy, energy and life increase rapidly, with a bit of start and stop during April storms and then there seemed to be a turning point at which everyone/everything seemed to know that it was time to bloom and come back to life fully. So much is happening that I often sit back and just take in the general changes, noticing the day-to-day differences. There’s plenty to notice.
I also often am drawn to lie in the grass at the frog pond at my site and simply tune in using my senses. Where I was previously lying in the sunshine on a cold day listening to the sound of the breeze gently blowing through the grasses, I am now lying in the shade on a warm day, covered by an abundance of new foliage and surrounded by too many singing birds to count.
Photo by Alexis
For a while, about a week’s time, I heard the boreal chorus frogs’ chorus and was surprised it didn’t last longer. I smell the changes in the pond as the water levels rise and fall and in the air as the flowers bloom at different times – the buffalo bean was the first I noticed, and recently the saskatoon, dogwood and chokecherries. I feel and see the increase in ants scurrying below and around me and hear the bees buzzing as they pollinate.
I am also very surprised to see how much I have learned in what feels like such a short amount of time, simply through the act of repetition as we were taught. I am starting to understand the concept at a deeper level than before. I watched the willow catkins unfold and change, and I have watched the goslings grow up. It all just seems to soak in. I have a lot of gratitude and try to reflect that with my offerings. For now I continue to watch the bird life as well as the patterns of plant communities… Who is growing where, how is it interacting with everything around it and changing with the seasons, and why?”
Photo by Joanna T.
“Beautiful day to choose a slightly different trail, cross the river barefoot, snack on some asparagus, and soak it all in. I am increasingly grateful that we started this class more or less in the winter, good teachings on being quiet, listening and watching. There is a lot going on all around now.”
Taking the time to be still and observe often leads to interesting questions. Reflecting on who is present and how they come to be there and how they interact with everyone else is at the core of the Blackfoot Phenology course.
“I find that much of the language and discussion of native/non-native/naturalized/invasive species implies that native species are superior. But how does one become native? Is it simply about time spent in a place or is it also about actions? What is our current baseline for “native” based on, before the arrival of Europeans? What about the movement of species via weather and animals (including humans) before the arrival of Europeans? If the implication is that native species are superior, what about everyone else? When the circumstances of how you end up somewhere are largely beyond your control, how do you find your place?”
Photo by Alexis
MAATSIIYIKAPISAIKI’SOMM & AAPISTSISSKITSAATO’S
This year, the first two moons of summer combined into one. The main events of Maatsiiyikapisaiki’somm (Frog Moon) and Aapistsisskitsaato’s (Flower Moon) occurred in the same moon, which is quite unusual. Ecosystem changes were rapid during this brief period.
“The weather has been colder here than usual for the time of year, but it seems like the saskatoons are loving it, sizing up tons… Noted a few wax currents that have already bloomed, oregon grape is done blooming, red osier dogwood is currently in bloom, black cottonwood is fruiting with those bead looking things… Sumac starting to leaf out, and Mullein popping up. Tons of different grasses all over, still need to spend some time figuring them out. Things are definitely greener than usual here with the rain/cooler weather. ”
Photo by Brenda Bohmer
“The days have been warm and we got a thunderstorm today. Mosquitoes are also beginning to greet us in the ravine and there are large swarms of midges along the paths… There is no much aspen fluff that it almost looks like snow.”
Lush Forests and Full Bloom
During this time the forests become lush and vibrant with their new foliage and many trees and shrubs are flowering. It really starts feeling like summer around this time!
“Another sunny and warm day here and the forest feels very lush with all the leaves. We found an abundance of asparagus today. Many of the asparagus plants we watch are in shady areas so they come up quite a bit later than those plants on the sunny slope. Lots of interesting insects out and about and I heard cicadas for the first time this season.”
“Kept tracking the blooming stages of various plants – it really does go fast! Red willow blooms just starting. Mountain Ash in full bloom. Cotoneaster, getting ready to open. Star-flowered Solomon’s Seal, still in full bloom. Sarsaparilla blooms close to finishing as well. Elderberry blooms finishing up as well. Sandbar willow catkins look like they are still in full bloom.”
Many birds also nest during this lunar cycle and there are a lot of baby birds to observe – it’s always so enjoyable to watch them grow up and explore their surroundings!
Photo by Brenda B.
The abundance of flowers provides a much appreciated source of food for diverse insects and their numbers really begin to flourish. The birds are then able to feast on all the insects and they are able to build nests and raise their young.
Photo by Alexis
“Have been hearing yellow warblers, red breasted nuthatches, house finches, juncos, chipping sparrows, and white-throated sparrows on my bike rides for the past few weeks of this lunar cycle. Today, I listened for a while to two birds, possibly juncos doing a kind of call and response. They were making the high trilling sound, and I’d hear one call from somewhere, and then another, same rhythm and tone but slightly different pitch, and seeming to come from a different direction.”
“A major highlight over the past few days has been significant solitary bee activity at our site. We’ve seen as many as 30 bees at once flying around this spot, digging out and inspecting holes in and beside the path, and potentially even mating (or at least we’ve seen smaller ones tackle larger ones in mid air or on the ground). My guess is that most of these bees are andrenas, or mining bees. They are considered solitary but they apparently do often build their individual ground nests close to each other, like they are doing here. I wonder why they do it like that? It’s great to see them here, because it’s the same spot we saw them last year and (looking at my notes) almost the exact same time in the solar calendar.”
Photo by Brenda B.
“Today I noticed that the ants have created small moats around their holes – this is a sure sign that rain is on the way.”
This year the second moon of summer is Misamssootaa (The Long Rains), when the monsoon rains reach this part of the world. During this time of year the water levels reach their peak and many riparian areas are flooded. The flowers, birds, and insects continue to flourish and change as the season progresses.
“Misamssootaa seems like an appropriate name for this month. We had well over 100mm in 4 days, and it kept raining most days after that. The river is running very high; the islands the geese were nesting on are mostly flooded out. Luckily the beavers have not lost their lodge even if all their dams in the pond from last year have been flooded. I have watched the goslings grow and families disperse. They now look just like smaller versions of their parents, but the gander still hisses at me when I get close. Today I heard a bird yelling out and lots of rustling in the brush just beside me. It ran out onto the pathway I was on, at which point I watched the sparrow being nipped at as it ran away from what looked like a garter snake. The sparrow escaped and retreated with another sparrow in the higher brush while the snake hung out for a couple minutes before slinking back into the grasses…
I consistently see and hear the grey catbird, warblers and red-winged blackbirds… There are mallard ducklings and merganser ducklings following their mamas. The frogs started croaking again with the rise in water levels…”
Photos by Margaret G. (left) and Joanna T. (right)
“So many prairie crocus and glacier lilies out there. A lot of snow higher up and a lot of water lower down. I actually can’t walk to my site anymore unless I want to bush whack… so I’ve been paddling over to my site.”
“I was struck by the biodiversity of the vacant lot compared to lawns – appreciated noticing how diversity springs up wherever it’s allowed.”
“Yesterday I went to my favourite dirt road which is lined with sweet fern, a native plant that gives off an amazing fragrance when you brush against it. It is edible and makes a great tea or you can dry it and flavour sugar with it to sprinkle on strawberries for a summer treat.”
The next lunar cycle is Okonokistsi Otsitsi’tsspi (When the Saskatoon Ripen). It’s time to enjoy the delicious and bountiful berries that characterize this time of year.
Photo by Melisa Z.
“Buffalo berries are here! And the Saskatoons are getting pinker/purpler everyday…Saw a couple deer and two fawns as well, as well as a momma merganser diving with her babies. We have continued to have rain almost everyday, though the river levels have been slowly going down.”
“Saskatoons are just showing the deep purple in my part of the world. Remains of a crayfish in the creek bed (typically see one a year – sometimes the living kind too). Many other fruits, nuts (beaked hazelnut), grass seeds and berries are forming.”
Photos by Melisa Z.
“I have noticed many feathers on my site walks. As the fledgling birds leave the nest their parents shed any damaged feathers in preparation for the fall migration and grow new ones.”
Photo by Margaret G.
Tune back in a few months to hear from participants about what they observe in the second half of summer!
Learn more about the Blackfoot Phenology for Farmers course.
Thank you to Alberta Ecotrust Foundation for their support of this program!