Hvshtula: The Reclining Sun
Updated: Feb 6
Our part of the world doesn't get winter weather every single year. Over the past couple of days, though, we've been blessed with ice, snow, and temperatures to match. Once upon a time, my favorite weather was the very hottest days of summer. Since then, I've spent a good bit of time doing heavy physical work on Nan Awaya Farm on days with the heat indexes soaring well above 100 degrees. When you drink 2-3 gallons of water a day, hear your heart pounding in your ears, and sweat through your clothes every hour, it has a way of giving you a special appreciation for the cooler season. Last year, we did a post that invited readers to walk with us to enjoy the beauty of a native pasture on a June day with the heat index pushing 110. Now, we'd like to invite you to come on a walk with us at Nan Awaya to enjoy the beauty of a day that has a windchill 100 degrees cooler.
In the Choctaw language, the cool season is called Hvshtula, which means "Reclining Sun". This refers to the effect of the earth's tilt on its axis, which makes the winter sun set on a southerly point on the horizon during the winter, and brings cooler temperatures for the northern hemisphere. The picture above is of the same pasture that we featured in our June post. The colorful prairie plants are now dormant. Yet, LIFE is everywhere from the Cardinals gleaning seeds from the prairies plants, to the native bees passing the winter in the pithy stalks, to the thousand rodent and coyote footprints in the snow. Underground, the roots and microbes in the soil are just waiting to shoot up new life when spring comes around.
Two weeks ago, a couple acres of this pasture burned. We've been scattering seeds on the blackened ground to increase the diversity of native plants there and to improve the forage for our animals. Scattering seeds across a blanket of snow on top of a burned area is even more ideal. The snow makes it easy to see where the seeds are landing, and the freeze/thaw when the snow melts help the seeds to get down into the soil. Pictured to the right are seeds from Sand Lovegrass and Sand Dropseed that have been scattered onto the snow in this pasture. The tiny size of these seeds is comparable to the size of the ice crystals they sit on.
We've just moved the herd next to a new holding pen that our Choctaw friend Roland has built onto our corral this fall. The addition will make loading animals up for sale later this year a much safer proposition.
Bison are well adapted to winter weather. Our animals' coats insulate them so well that their body heat doesn't even melt the freezing rain and snow that get on them. In the more extreme part of their range, bison are good down to 60 degrees below zero.
Next, we head into the woods to check on the newest livestock to come to the farm. These are not animals that we purchased, they made their way here all on their own. It's a family of kinta (beaver). They're pretty industrious. Here are a few of the trees they cut down this fall.
Beaver are incredible landscape engineers. They dam up streams to create deeper water to make it easier for them to avoid their predators. In the process, they raise water tables making areas less prone to drought, increasing water quality, reducing soil erosion, and diversifying habitat. 100-200 million beaver once managed the streams and lowlands of North America. Their densely packed fur insulates them in cold waters like what you see in these pictures. That high quality fur was a favorite material for making men's top hats. Like the bison, they were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s to the detriment of America's wetlands. Today, their numbers in North America have rebounded to 10-15 million.
In the past few months, these animals have built three dams here. You can see one at the right of this photo. The trickle of a stream that used to go through this pasture is now 3ft deep with crystal clear water. As you can see, the stream is also flooding this low area. Years ago, there was a beaver pond several acres in size in this same spot. Our neighbor told us he used to catch a couple of stringers of bass from it each year. It will be fun to watch these animals transform this part of a pasture into a different type of habitat that will be of benefit to the rest of our land.
Each day, the sun is setting a little farther north on the horizon. It won't be too many weeks before the heat index will be back in the triple digits. When it is, we'll look back on this winter day with a certain amount of nostalgia. Thanks for joining us on a walk through the native winter landscapes of Nan Awaya Farm!