Kalapuya Calendar

by Sarah West

The Kalapuya, native people of the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys, divided their year into twelve lunar months, beginning with the first new moon of autumn. Anyone who has spent a year or two in this area can appreciate the familiar cycle their calendar represents, especially the short summer and extended spring. Being a transplant from the Midwest, I often have difficulty distinguishing the nuances of fall winter and spring in the PNW, and often think of this region as only having two seasons: wet and dry. The Kalapuya add a touch more poetry:

(Our August/September)  This first month was a time of abundance: living in dispersed summer camps, the people gathered and stored nuts, berries and roots.

(Our September/October)  “Hair falls off,” a reference to the dropping deciduous leaves. Camps move to where wapato grows and harvest of that root begins.

(Our October/November)  Winter approaches and it is time to prepare winter camps and lodgings.

(Our November/December)  “Good Month,” when Kalapuya moved into winter camps.

(Our December/January)  “Month of the burned breast,” when the weather turns cold and the elders sit in close to the fire, perhaps singing the breast of their clothing.

(Our January/February) “Out of provision month,” a hungry time when winter stores begin to run low and hunters begin to go looking for food in the woods.

(Our February/March)  “First Spring.” Brief camping trips yield young camas shoots and other greens.

(Our March/April)  “Budding Month,” when food collection on the valley floor begins in earnest.

(Our April/May)  “Flower time,” when camas blooms and the winter camps disperse into smaller, widely scattered summer camps. Spring runs of salmon bring a flush of color to the diet.

(Our May/June)  Month of camas, when the bulbs are full-size and ready to collect and dry. Fishing and berry collecting are in full swing.

(Our June/July)  “Half-summer-time.” Summer drought is in full, and the weather is hot and dry.

(Our July/August)  “End of Summer,” when it is still hot and dry, but the eyes turn toward winter and the necessary preparations of hunting and harvesting wild foods.

Source: The World of the Kalapuya by Judy Rycraft Juntunen, May D. Dasch and Ann Bennett Rogers.

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