I had the opportunity to spend a few days with my parents lately. They ventured down from Attawapiskat to do some shopping and a little visiting. While they were here we got into a conversation about the weather. It seemed to be an appropriate subject considering that the temperature in the Timmins area over the last three weeks has been hovering between -30 and 40 degrees Celsius.
My dad Marius and my mom Susan amaze me with their knowledge of the old ways. They are the last generation that has memory of the way the Crees lived from the dawn of time to the coming of the European. They are the last generation to speak and write fluently the Cree language, and to know what it is like to survive on the land.
When we talked about how our people would forecast weather in the old days I realized how close to the land and nature my people were. They were so in tune with nature and the world around them that over the centuries they developed many ways to forecast the weather. Of course, they did this out of necessity due to the fact that they were very vulnerable to the elements. The weather affected everything including their food sources and their safety of travel in the wilderness, on the river systems and the great James Bay.
For example, mom and dad tell me that a wood fire comes in very handy when predicting a weather temperature change. The next time you are looking into a wood fire remember this means of weather forecasting that has been passed along through generations of the James Bay Crees. As you look into the fire you might notice the pulsating glow generated from the coals. If these wood coals are burning a very yellow or bright red/orange it means that warmer weather is to be expected, and if they happen to be burning a bright white that means colder weather is on the way.
Another way of forecasting the weather involves the sun and is used mostly in the winter months. Of course, you have to keep an eye on the sun and monitor it daily. If you notice, a ring will sometimes surround the sun. If you look closely the colour of this ring will tell you what weather is to be expected. A dull colour means there will be warm weather ahead and if it is bright white it means cold weather is coming.
A wonderful way that our people used to forecast the weather had to do with Wawatay or what are otherwise known as northern lights or aurora borealis. If you see the Wawatay and notice they are very green in colour, that means warmer weather is just around the corner. Now if the Wawatay appear a lighter green or almost white it means colder weather is on its way. You can also forecast what the wind conditions will be through observing the Wawatay. If the Wawatay is active, with lots of movement and pulsating across the sky, this indicates that in the very near future you can expect high winds. If the Wawatay is not moving a lot and very inactive this means the winds will be calm.
Another more bizarre way to forecast the weather has to do with the condition of a person’s healing frost-bitten skin. The mere fact that this means of forecasting the weather even exists gives you some idea of how vulnerable people were to the elements at one time. If you have frost-bitten skin and notice that as it heals you feel an itching sensation, that meant that warmer weather is on the way.
Another means of forecasting the weather is related to the insect world. In the spring as the snow is melting with the power of the sun you will notice little black insects flying all over the place. They are hard to notice and seem more like dust particles. If suddenly you begin to notice thousands of black specs on the snow it means these insects are dying and dropping like flies. This signifies that a cold spell is right around the corner and you should prepare for it.
So there you have it – a few nifty ways to forecast the weather thanks to thousands of years of the Cree tradition of handing down information about our traditions and cultures by word of mouth. Thanks also to my dad Marius and my mom Susan for keeping these traditions and their culture alive and well.