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Everything Is Alive and Has a Gift to Give: Gratitude for Nature’s Round

Last summer, I met my friend Dunja at the Vashon Island Historical Museum to view the exhibit “Vashon Island’s Native People: Navigating Seas of Change.” Sunlight streamed in as we pondered each display, grateful to be learning about the pre-contact history of the island.

When I reached the panel entitled Seasonal Round of the Coast Salish, I lingered. Some deeper knowing resonated as I read the Twulshootseed name for each month:  “When frog talks,” “Wind blowing time,” “Wind dies down,” “Saltwater shining,” “Time of salmonberries,” “Time of creeper blackberries,” “Time of salal berries,” “Time when salmon begin to run,” “Time of silver salmon,” and “Time to dry salmon.” “The oldest month” gives way to “Younger brother month,” evoking a familial relationship that endears, not separates.

As I looked upon this circular wheel, each segment illustrated in nature’s hues with life-sustaining activities, I thought about how differently I felt, compared to viewing my rectangular calendar at home: connected, continuing, part of a renewing cycle, versus separate, linear, enclosed.  I was delighted when the museum later made posters of the Seasonal Round available. “In the Coast Salish culture,” it reads, “it was understood that everything was alive and had a gift to give: Deer, Otter, Salmonberry, even Mountain and Wind.”

This interconnected cycle is how my European farming ancestors understood their world. Their well-being depended on deep relationships with all beings around them. They created hundreds of sayings, often rhyming, to pass down their earth-based wisdom. They respected and propitiated the natural forces that allowed them to eat and live. Alpine villages still celebrate the arrival of seasonal foods. My ancestral culture and the indigenous culture where I live find common ground at the earth.  When I acknowledge the gifts of nature and express gratitude, I am also connecting with them.
Posters of the “Seasonal Round of the Coast Salish,” illustrated by Sandra Noel, are available for purchase at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum.

Mary Beth Moser lives and writes on the island. Her recent doctoral dissertation is “The Everyday Spirituality of Women in the Italian Alps: a Trentino-American woman’s search for spiritual agency, folk wisdom and ancestral values.”