I might have mentioned it, but I’m studying the Ojibwe language. One thing I’ve learned is the names of the months. Or rather some names that some people use for the months, since Ojibwe isn’t one single language but rather a bunch of related dialects spread across a broad area.
Most of the months are named after something that’s happening in the natural world at that time of year. For example the next few are:
- February: namebini-giizis—suckerfish month, when the suckerfish took pity on the hungry people and swam right into their nets.
- March: onaabani-giizis—hard-crusted snow month, when the snow was good for snowshoeing and you could move even faster than deer, who would sink down to the top of their slender legs.
- April: iskigamizige-giizis—sap-boiling month, when you make your maple syrup for the year.
But this year there’s a problem with that naming scheme. Even up here in the cold lands of Anishinaabewaki, the country’s bizarre spring-in-the-winter has been hitting, and as a result it’s already time to start syruping now, during the suckerfish moon. (Seems like all the onaaban I saw was last month, too—January is meant to be Gichi-Manidoo-giizis, the moon of the Great Spirit, but the Great Spirit had to share this year.)
Misty’s away at a meditation retreat, so I was expecting to have some time this week to finally write about some of the many things I’ve been wanting to write about. But with the moons all out of whack, it’s time already for me to head out to the sugarbush, and I won’t have time to write any more than this in the next week.
I’ve never gone syruping before, though I’ve wanted to. This year Pebaamibines, who runs the Ojibwe language table I go to, told us there about a place outside town called Porky’s Sugarbush, where everyone’s invited to come by and help out, carrying buckets of sap and bundles of firewood. I’ve never known of a place I could actually learn before. This year, not only has finding a place finally worked out for me, but this sugarbush is extra special. Because Pebaam is going to be packing up his tent and things and living out there for the duration of the season, and making it an Ojibwe-immersion sugarbush.
Which is, I think, exactly what I need at this point—I’ve been learning a lot of book grammar, but I’m finally getting to the point where it seems like I can put it together into real talking, and I need to test that out. But these days there’s a scarcity of places where I could do that, where I could live in the language. Some of my ancestors’ countrymen took great pains to make sure that was so. I’m trying to undo, in some very small way, what those people did, so I’m really happy to have fallen into this opportunity.
I’ve been wanting to write at length about the Ojibwe language and my motivations for learning it for a while now, so this post is a bit of a placeholder for that longer and forthcoming post. Really I just wanted to let you know where I’m going to be for a week or so: I’m packing up my tent and joining the camp. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.