By Ben Boomer
Long ago in the high desert plateau of what is now the southwestern United States, there was a tribe of people who gathered together in the cradle of four sacred mountains. They were known to the ancient Anasazi and pueblo people as “Field People” or ‘Na-bay-ho’ according to Navajo historian Wally Brown. The Navajo of the time planted crops in a spiral pattern, and you were taught as a child that you were part of this continuing pattern of growth, like the plants in a spiral. There are many generations that come after you. It was this teaching that made the name ‘Na-bay-ho’ that evolved into ‘Navajo’. We, of course, refer to ourselves as the Diné (The People).
These spiral crops were harvested at the end of summer, and preparations were begun for winter. The New Year for the Diné begins at the new moon in the month of Ghąąji’ or October. Ghąąji’ translates to “Back to back” or “The joining of seasons”. It is where the snowy white of winter joins the golden yellow of summer. This is the time of harvest and preparation. This time is where insects, and reptiles, bears, and even plants and trees seek safety and protection in the blanket of mother earth. It was also a time to hunt young animals for meat and older ones for skin and tools. Medicinal herbs, edible wild plants and roots and nuts were also gathered and stored. It is a time to cultivate the great abundance of the year and prepare to settle in for the long cold nights of winter. The winter is a time to rest, renew, teach, learn, reflect and pray. In this way, we know it is time for the nine-night nightway chants, and for the shoe game as well as many sacred games, stories and teachings.
This time of quiet is marked by stories, ceremony and games that last through the cold winter and is marked at an end in Atsá Biyáázh (baby Eagles) or February. The cry of the Eagle wakes the Sky that in turn gives thunder to awaken the Earth, the plants and the animals. The wind, the soil, the water and the sun also awaken, and all begin to dance together to create life.
This is the time to recognize the renewal of life and bless ourselves and the world around us. It is a time to stretch our bodies, and dance. It is the time to embrace our bodies and the body of the world around us. This is how the cycle of life and renewal move through time. We have learned as humans to recognize this time in different ways. Each culture has a powerful lesson to give about life and the nature of reality. Learning from these rich traditions is one way to expand our awareness and relationship to our environment in time and space and the cycles of life, death and renewal.