Decolonizing the Calendar with Circular Time Trackers

Of all the casualties of colonialism, lately I’ve been grieving the gridding-over of cyclical time. Long before linear, right-angled, and decidedly patriarchal Gregorian calendars invaded our desktops and kitchen walls, we knew when the tides were right to go fishing. We planted according to the phases of the moon. We changed our lifestyles significantly according to the seasons, slowing down when it was too hot or too cold, and revving up during bumper seasons in order to prepare for leaner times. 

[Don’t want to read the whole post or scroll down? Check out my favorite circular moon tracker and this annual circular calendar.]

Many people, indigenous and otherwise, still live according to these cycles. At times in my own life I have been much more attuned to lunar and seasonal patterns. When I lived in West Marin, a community that exists very close to the elements, we knew when king tides were likely to flood low-lying roads. We knew when to look under the pines for bolete mushrooms, when to make the annual pilgrimage to Rock Springs to pay respect to the rare (and stinky) fetid adder’s tongue flowers, when lupine and poppies and paintbrush would light up the green meadows… the very meadows that we knew would soon yellow in the summer’s sun until they eventually turned a crispy, dull grey in the fall.

In 2007, when I moved only a few houses from the sea, I bought and closely studied a tide calendar. Every day we experienced one high high tide, one low low tide, one low high tide, and one high low tide, and the height differences between them varied depending on the moon’s cycle. It wasn’t until I started surfing that I really started to understand, on a visceral level, the connection between the moon phase and where the tide might be at any time of day. Though I still vividly remember the awe I felt every time I watched a full moon creep up over the horizon during a sunset surf session, I can no longer remember where the tide was at sunset on those days, or even whether the surf was better on an outgoing tide or when the tide made its way back in.

Years of full-time office work and a move across the ocean from the natural cycles my body understands mean I’ve become unmoored from familiar signals of cyclical time. The fact of the calendar months no longer matching the seasons I expect them to has been, for both my partner and me, the most challenging aspect of moving from one hemisphere to another. I still have to stop and think any time someone says “summer” or “winter.” It takes my brain a beat or two to convert those words to an appropriate calendar month. Are they in the northern hemisphere? OK, they just said “summer,” so they mean “June, July, or August.” If someone here says “July,” I must remind myself that this refers to the season of soups and chopping wood for the woodstove.

(Now that the internet has enabled gatherings of community dialing in from around the world, I look forward to that next frontier of inclusive language: we’ll learn to specify which hemisphere’s seasons we’re referring to rather than making the assumption that everyone lives on the northern half of the globe. Yes, the majority of people may live up there, but there are lots of us in the southern hemisphere too! And don’t even get me started on people’s assumptions about which side of the international date line “everyone” is on…)

A little over two years ago, my partner and I bought a house on an acre-and-a-bit of land. In an attempt to build our knowledge of seasonal patterns in this relatively-new-to-us climate, we started a spreadsheet almanac of sorts. This is where we track when we’ve planted tomatoes, when the California quail will start bringing their impossibly tiny babies around the house, when we need to put nets around the grapes — last year we waited too long and the birds got them all! — and when the neighbor’s liquidambar trees start to change color. My body hasn’t assimilated this information yet. I still have to check that grid to know if something is happening earlier or later than last year, or confirm we’re not missing the window for an important chore.

Confession: I have always been a fan of spreadsheets. I’ve often joked that I’d put my entire life in a spreadsheet if you let me. But living in a hemisphere where the growing season is bisected by the Gregorian year has fueled a gnawing dissatisfaction with linear, gridded calendars in general. Then an interest in the lunar Māori calendar, Maramataka, led me to print out and place a circular Maramataka calendar on the fridge.

In the months since I’ve been using it, I’ve discovered it’s oddly soothing — reassuring even — to view time as a literal circle. “There will always be another chance,” this calendar says to me. “Though it will look different the next time, we will eventually end up right back in this phase.” 

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to figure out a system for tracking my writing practice. When am I most likely to be inspired? Is there a pattern to the nights I stay up until the wee hours to finish something to share? Do the periods when pages and pages of journal disappear under the scribblings of my pen coincide with any external pattern(s)? Multiple previous attempts to spreadsheet my writing activity have failed. Might I experience a different outcome with a circular calendar? Do they even exist?

Yes, they absolutely do! At the beginning of the first round of The Offering I searched the internet for “circular calendars.” I should have known I was in for a trip. After spending literal days lost in the labyrinths of Google image results, Pinterest, and Etsy, I settled on two that I love. 

I’ve been using this free one from Mandala Soul Designs to track my writing practice, menstrual cycle, meltdowns, and sleep patterns:

And I spent way too much to purchase and print this annual circular calendar. Not because the southern hemisphere version is without some pretty glaring errors (I’ve been in touch with the designers with some requests for next year!) or because I plan to use it to track anything, but because I think it’s a wonderfully nerdy art piece:

If you want to go down the lunar-trackers-and-circular-calendar rabbit hole, there are so many more available! Many are designed primarily for tracking menstrual cycles and moods. Many are free. Many, including my top pick above, require you to join a mailing list. If you don’t mind spending some money, head to Etsy for endless options, from simple to super-elaborate. If you speak Spanish or Portuguese, check out the world of mandalas lunar

(A word of warning for people in Aotearoa New Zealand or Australia: though many designers offer southern hemisphere versions, I’ve found it’s usually only when the designers themselves live in this part of the world that they pay attention to critical details, such as the dates of the new and full moons and which months correspond to which seasons or solstices.)

As I’m only a single moon cycle into my new tracking system, it’s far too soon to attempt to identify any patterns. But already it feels liberating to have freed myself, in this context, at least, from the right angles and linearity of Gregorian calendars and spreadsheets. If you find yourself inspired to try a circular calendar, I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

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