By COPE Food Systems Specialist, Carole Palmer
In traditional Navajo lifeways, the time Westerners know as the month of June correlates with Ya’iishjááshchilí. This can be translated as “the planting of early crops” or also “asking permission to plant early crops”, as prayers and songs have always held a sacred role in Navajo planting practices for corn, squash and other traditional foods.
The Summer Solstice, which takes place June 20 to 21 (depending on who you ask), has additional significance. “Shí'ílníí'” translates as “the middle of summer” and there are several variations on how one might indicate that the Summer Solstice has arrived. “Shí̜i̜go Shá Ninádááh” can be interpreted as “in the summer, the sun travels back”, while “Jóhonaa'éí T'á̜á̜' Nídeesdzá̜” is also used and means “the sun is traveling back”. The days will begin to get shorter as the sun changes its path on the horizon.
For crops as with people, the change in daylength has its affects. We all proceed to grow and mature together during this time, making best use of the available light throughout the remaining summer months. People care for their gardens and farm plots, acquiring even more patience, understanding and dedication to their plant relatives while anticipating a bountiful harvest to be shared in the fall.
For Western science, there are additional terms to describe a plant’s response to light. “Photoperiodism” means a plant reacts to the amount of light versus darkness it receives. Bulb onions are known to grow according to daylength, with some varieties responding best to short days, some requiring long days to grow to a large size and some being neutral, growing at a steady rate based on their own internal “clock”.
When we see a plant bending toward the light as it grows, that is “phototropism”. Sunflowers are a fun example to observe in the garden. A sunflower’s head will slowly turn and follow the sun throughout the day, facing east at sunrise and progressing to a westerly direction by the time the sun sets in the evening.
Whether you are tending a garden/farm or just watching the grass grow, take time to enjoy the sunshine, appreciate its benefits and reflect on the significance the Summer Solstice still has in our world today.