February 2014

Fine-tuning a New World calendar

By Art Goodtimes

15014 … For years now I’ve been playing around with finding a suitable date in the past from which to begin a New World calendar. The modified Gregorian calendar that European and American society uses is based on the supposed Middle Eastern birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christos (“Anointed One”). There are several other world calendars in use, including Hindi, Jewish, and Arabic. But it seemed to me that in a modern secular nation we ought to find a calendar that isn’t beholden to one specific religious tradition, particularly one from the Old World … I thought to follow the poet and deep ecologist Gary Snyder in using some human metric as the start date. In one of his essays, he espouses a calendar beginning 50,000 years ago, since that is roughly when anthropologists believe human culture began worldwide. Snyder figured to synch it with the Gregorian by using the last two digits of the current millennium, so as to easily transition from one calendar to the other. In his calendar scan today’s year is 50014 … I appreciate going back that far – it certainly makes for a more realistic start date for a calendar than a Semitic religious leader’s supposed birth 2000 years ago … Since humans came late to the New World, why not employ a New World (NW) calendar? Why not start with the millennium when humans first stepped on to these continents we misname the Americas? … However, it’s proven not so simple to establish such a date scientifically. In fact, it’s been a moving target for a number of years. Scattered physical anthropological finds from our kind’s New World past first appear about 13,000 years ago, or just short of that. But many theories, though still unproven, push the first footfall date much further back in time. The Laurentian Ice Sheet only opened up about 14,000 years ago, if a land-bridge crossing from Siberia were used. Although many have conjectured that ancient peoples tracked along the coast in sea kayaks and canoes and settled the Americas not by land but by sea. Indeed, recent information about ancient sea levels suggests coastal areas of both continents were hundreds of feet lower than now, so that evidence of earlier occupations may be buried underwater … Out of all this conflicting data, new evidence has surfaced on which to attempt a preliminary New World calendar … Two years ago Science magazine reported that samples of fossilized human excrement (coprolites) from Oregon’s Paisley Caves date back more than 14,000 years. And just this past fall a Science News article (Sept. 21) reported on an Italian study of mitochondrial DNA from 41 Native North Americans, combined with data from previous studies, suggesting humans migrated into the Americas in three distinct waves – 1) a coastal migratory wave from Siberia between 15,000 and 18,000 years Before the Present (BP); 2) an inland Rocky Mountain migration, using the Berengian land bridge from 10,000 to 14,000 BP (the latter date contemporaneous with the melting of the Laurentian ice sheets); and 3) a move of native peoples from Alaska into northern Canada and Greenland around 4,000 BP … That’s enough new information to refine a calendar I’ve been working on for the last 30 years. At first, I was tempted to use the high-end estimate of first human habitation, 18,000 years ago. But it seems we should perhaps proceed cautiously in moving back this historical date. So, I chose conservatively. My new calendar date for 2014 is 15014 (NW) – 15 millennia and counting.


The Way

the way little brown birds
flock to the newly stocked

the way the frozen air drifts
through the lowest ebb of
last year’s sun

the way the christmas tree
draws up water through its arteries
so the toddler can push
ornaments onto its fingers

the way
pope francis makes
in clunky shoes

— Greg Hobbs

SAGE GROUSE … Been a lot of furious activity over the holidays trying to craft a letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from our Western Slope 11-County Coalition, which Gunnison County commissioners have spearheaded – trying to let the Feds know that they need to work with local and state governments on a Rangeland Management Plan and not merely invoke federal pre-emption with an ESA listing, if they truly care about saving the bird ... Not that the Feds should walk away. The Gunnison sage grouse is going to need significant help to survive – given all the encroachments on its habitat by humans, crows, coyotes, eagles, oil & gas drilling and real-estate subdivisions. It’s just that working collaboratively with local communities makes far more sense than using a listing club to swat down all the local protection efforts under way … Yes, the bird is endangered. But it’s also a Yes that local communities and both states are well aware of the peril, have been working for years to turn that status around, and have had some success.

GOING TO POT … Couple of rad Facebook posts went viral after Jan. 1 when Colorado began allowing legal cannabis sales for adult use, regardless of medical status … One was a funny tongue-in-cheek headline from the Daily Current (a kind of online Onion or San Juan Horseshoe): “Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization.” Supposedly the accompanying story was from the Rocky Mountain News (which went out of business in 2009). While most of us laughed at the spoof, a few were angry and worried that some people would actually believe it … And the other was a pix of a resin-dripping bud with a text noting that this winter there were 15 injuries and one death on Black Friday among American shopaholics, but exactly 0 injuries or deaths from the first-ever legal cannabis sales … By the way, Delta publisher Ron Bain (Western Slope Watchdog) has started a new hard-copy magazine, Western Slope 420, wherein one Arcturus Goodtimes has a column – “Loafing in the Grass.”

WEEKLY QUOTA … “Whatever the reason, poetry continues to flourish. It’s a marvelous way to live and that’s why most of us do it. Imagine noticing things for a living. Imagine taking language and standing it on end, turning it around, making it new. Imagine taking words and rinsing them off.” –Grace Cavalieri

Art Goodtimes is a county commissioner, poet and author in San Miguel County, Colo.