by Ken Lassman
Kansas Area Watershed Bioregion
This piece was originally published in Perspectives in Bioregional Education, edited by Frank Traina and Susan Darley-Hill, North American Association for Environmental Education, copyright 1995.
A seasonal wheel is a cyclical calendar created with information gathered from a particular bioregion. Lassman, the originator of the wheel concept, explains how to develop the calendar, describes the type of information which can be included, and suggests sources of useful information. By providing details from his own project, the author offers a leg up to those undertaking similar projects in their own bioregions.
Developing a wheel is a highly adaptable project suited for classes of various sizes and grade levels. It can be carried over for a number of years or for a much shorter period of time. The finished product never goes out of date and can always be embellished and amended by students in successive years. It allows individuals with various interests to participate in a worthwhile community-building project.
One of the most powerful messages that the bioregional movement carries is for all of us to create and sustain bonds of kinship with the place where we live: the land, the rivers and oceans, the weather, and especially the non-human beings that share the land, air, and water with us. The salmon spawning season, the return of the swallows to Capistrano, and dogwood blossoms in the Appalachians are just a few examples of natural events that humans celebrate with dance, pageantry and storytelling. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: every place has its own set of seasonal events that nature unfolds every year, and attuning to this annual cycle is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to get in touch with the place where you live.
The best source of information is nature herself. Watching her with this project in mind for a year or two will help you sort out what to include and where to put things on the chart.
The Seasonal Wheel is a nature calendar in a circular format that highlights the annual comings and goings of the natural world. It is circular to emphasize the cyclical nature of the seasons and the activities of wildlife rooted in them. This schedule is different for different parts of the continent, giving each region a unique seasonal signature. At a given place, this signature displays remarkable consistency year in and year out, particularly in the sequence that unfolds each year. Because of this, Seasonal Wheels don’t go out of date.
Becoming familiar with this local pattern of natural events is an excellent tool of awareness. It gives people a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of their home. In my watershed, Seasons & Cycles: Rhythms of Life in the Kansas River Basin has been purchased by museums, teachers, families and individuals. People use it to help identify what they see when they hike in the woods or prairie, and to schedule field trips around events in which they are interested, such as the pelicans flying through or the penstemon beginning to bloom in the prairie.
But this article is more about how to do it than why to do it. As someone who has created one for my own area, I offer the following suggestions and comments.
First of all, try to figure out what kind of detail you want to provide and how much time you and others can put into it. As part of the Rocky Mountain bundle (1979), the Planet Drum folks put out a very simple yet attractive wall poster that depicts the seasonal highlights of the area, such as Bighorn rutting season and the peak of the trout runs. The Ozark Area Community Congress has done a more detailed poster of their area. My initial inspiration for doing Seasons and Cycles came from seeing the Rocky Mountain Lifetime poster and thinking, “What a great idea! We’ve got to do this for our area.” My enthusiasm for the idea couldn’t be contained in a single poster, and two and a half years later I found myself with enough information to put out a booklet with nine charts and accompanying text.
Whatever scale you finally decide on, be it a mimeographed flyer or a full-fledged published booklet, involve other people and take your time assembling it. The best source of information is nature herself, and watching her with this project in mind for an entire annual cycle or two will help you sort out what kinds of things to include and where to put them on the chart. The more people you tell about the project during this time, the more people will be keeping their eyes, ears, and noses attuned to what is going on.
Secondly, find out if anything like this has already been done in your area. I went to libraries, museums, universities and the state extension service, talking to people and organizations to find out if they knew of any local nature calendars. It is doubtful that they will know of anything in the circular format described above, but if you’re lucky, people will have kept nature diaries that have been published or presented in some fashion – an article in an old journal or a pile of papers in an attic. The area of biology called “phenology” studies the seasonal progression of behavior in plants and animals, so you can approach biology professors, particularly local ecologists who specialize in your region, and ask if they know of any phenological records for the area.
Another useful information source, of course, is field guides to local fauna and flora. You will find out that they won’t necessarily agree on the specific dates that anything occurs. I made 3″x5″ cards for each plant, animal, and event I was interested in, and when I found a reference, I put it on the card. After a while, I had a list of dates I could work with, along with my own observations and others’. Don’t be afraid to show your work to other people. Here is a list of people who could assist in the creation or review of your project:
- A local high school biology teacher
- People who have lived their entire lives in the area, especially in the rural areas
- Native Americans who live in the area (or consult books about them)
- Someone from a local historical society
- An archaeologist familiar with the area. They try to recreate the annual food and resource gathering cycle of native peoples
- Anyone you know who enjoys being outdoors for fishing, hunting, camping, etc.
- Artists and people skilled in graphic arts, who can be invaluable in designing an attractive final product
Unlike other calendars, a seasonal wheel never goes out of date.
As you might have figured out already, putting together a Seasonal Wheel for your area has tremendous potential for networking and building community interest in the concepts of bioregionalism as well as your local bioregional activities, both during and after your project. One of the nice features of a Seasonal Wheel is that unlike other calendars, it never goes out of date. It remains a useful tool years later, as is or in more refined form.
Finally, a note about the final form. It is hard to say the project is done, since it never really is. So just set a date to put it out, or you may never get anything out. You can always add supplements in the future, but the sooner people start using it the better. I hired a calligrapher to lay out the information and had an illustration student do the cover as a class project.
I envision a time when Seasonal Wheels will have been created for watersheds and bioregions all across the continent and planet. You could collect them in libraries and at home, so that wherever you went, you could get a sense of the land and the life on it. They could be traded and collected like stamps, and honorary Wheels to the bioregion could be presented to guests of merit much like keys to a city. People will gather to celebrate the local seasonal events, be more aware of their ecological and cultural importance, and strive to protect the bioregion and its inhabitants.
Example Seasonal Wheel Diagram
Ken Lassman (b. 1955) is an author, naturalist, and fifth-generation resident of Douglas County, Kansas. His bioregional work in the area includes maintaining a weekly online nature calendar and co-founding the Kansas Area Watershed Council. He is also an occupational therapist at the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center.