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A Native American guide through the year

The book's cover, book was written by local authors. (Submitted photo).
The book's cover, book was written by local authors. (Submitted photo).

Passing the Moon Through 13 Baskets: A Guide to the Natural Year & Native American Celebrations on the Wild Redwood Coast by Susan Calla, with Sandra Jerabek and Loren Bommelyn. Illustrated by Kevin Haapala (Redwood Economic Development Institute, 2005).

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Among the first things that one notices on moving into Del Norte County is the landscape. The area is hidden, indeed many claim remote, and most of Del Norte County is public land. Here is preserved a natural habitat for many native species of flora and fauna in the West Coast's largest estuarine lagoon outside of Alaska. This rich habitat is home not only to many hundreds of plant and animal species, it also is home to almost 30,000 people.

The nature of the geography has helped to preserve a homeland for many Native Americans. The principal native people are the Tolowa and the Yurok who maintain their ancient customs and language, passing them along to their children.

These original inhabitants of the area begin their year with the Winter Solstice and it traditionally has 13 months. A handy guide called "Passing the Moon Through 13 Baskets" is shaped by the Yurok custom of placing an object into a basket on each new moon and offering prayers of thanks and prayers for the blessings anticipated in the coming month.

The guide begins with a brief introduction to the setting and natural forces in place, followed by information about the "First People" of the area and their customs. Thereafter, the guide is organized by month. Information for each month includes either a Tolowa Tale or a Yurok Story and is a seasonal summary in calendar form of natural and heritage events.

Each month in the 13 Basket Year has its special name and occurrences. January, for example, is called "Candlefish Time." At the beginning of the year, and continuing for several months, prolific runs of Candlefish (Thaleichthys) swim up the Klamath River and Redwood Creek to spawn. Yurok men net quantities of the small, silver fish, dry and smoke them over alderwood fires. Once dried, these fish are still sufficiently oily, and they can be lighted from the tail and burned for illumination like a candle.

My favorite month is "March: Sturgeon Fishing Time." Green Sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) provides food for many coastal and inland tribes and the Klamath/Trinity River is one of three river systems in the area that provides an adequate habitat for spawning. March also is the month that marks the change of seasons with warming days and the return of the geese.

The Aleutian Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii leucopareia) plays a part in the Tolowa tribal creation lore, and the Yurok tell of seasonal migrations northward through a special "hole in the sky." For both tribes, this goose has been an important food source and a harbinger of spring. Return of these geese also is cause for celebration in Crescent City. So the lore goes throughout the year.

At the back of the book are a number of helpful references. An alphabetical list tells the reader the best places to go to see the natural attractions mentioned throughout the book (cobra lilies, cormorants, gray whales, mushrooms and newts, etc.).

A bibliography of print resources lists titles for further reading. There also is a list of Information & Visitor Centers showing the addresses, telephone numbers, and Web sites for each area's tribal offices, visitor centers, museums, and chambers of commerce. The guide is a ready resource for resident and tourist alike.

 


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