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Friday Feature: By the Lights of Eagle and Moon

Rain Leaf Winter Buffalo

Early this morning, a groundhog told the dominant culture to expect six more weeks of winter.

We should be so lucky.

Actually, it’s entirely possible: The last two years, we have had more winter, and more snow with it, in the downward slope of winter and the early weeks of spring. Our extended forecast here, one that reaches fifteen days out, has stubbornly predicted a zero percent chance or precipitation, and yesterday the mercury hit just shy of sixty. Late last night, snow fell out of a giant cloud hovering directly overhead.

It was as much ice as snow, more a cross between graupel and grue than anything that might be called flakes, and fell as a sparse flurry. Still, it was enough to leave the the thinnest of rimes on surfaces, near-transparent but still visible nonetheless. Dawn saw its demise, but it left in its place the wondrous clean smell of a winter’s rain.

This week has brought us a celestial lightshow sufficiently to remind us of our place in the cosmos, at the mercy of gravity and tide and whirling orbits. Perhaps it will now also begin to bring us a bit of the winter we so desperately need.


Events of such cosmic magnitude brought to mind a specific work for today: a small painting by one of the Pueblo’s masters, of diminutive stature but a towering spirit. From its description in the Other Artists:  Wall Art gallery here on the site:

A herd of buffalo approaches over a snowy horizon in this small painting by Frank Rain Leaf (Taos Pueblo). A full moon rises in the frigid winter sky, reflecting off the icy ground beneath their hooves, while a single red-tailed hawk keeps watch over their path. Unframed; 9-7/8″ high by 7-7/8″ wide (dimensions approximate).

Acrylic on canvas stretched over wood
$225 + shipping, handling, and insurance

Of Frank’s body of work, I have always loved this painting most. The colors speak to me at an elemental level, the whites and violets and blues of winter; the presence of two of our greatest animal spirits; the feel of depth and motion, as the herd treks across a rounded horizon across the snow, beneath the icy illumination of a full winter’s moon. Each of these elements alone would be enough to capture my attention, and my heart, but together, they touch something deep within the spirit, something that lives and breathes at the level of ancestral memory.

And while no buffalo have shown themselves to us today, the raptor is another matter.

Frank frequently paints the great birds, both eagles and hawks. Among our inventory of his work over the years, we have had paintings featuring golden eagles, particularly, and red-tailed hawks. I have always thought of the raptor in this work as the latter (perhaps because of the mated pair of red-tails that make their home here with us), but I think it is actually the former: Golden Eagle, or as my people call him, the War Eagle.

This morning, having just completed my prayers, as I turned to go back into the house a movement caught my eye. Across the road, just above the treeline, a young eagle appeared seemingly from nowhere, flapped his giant graceful wings three or four times, then soared westward to vanish as though in mid-air. From this distance, it was impossible to tell whether it was a bald eagle or a golden; it was young, with a mostly-white head but mottling on the underside of its great wings and a tail whose markings had not yet solidified into their final color.

In a way, that bit of mystery makes the sighting all the more wonderful — I didn’t need to know the species, nor to capture its image in a photo; I was only supposed to see it, and to listen for whatever message it might hold.

In Frank’s painting, the raptor seems to serve as the buffalo’s escort, or perhaps their guide, giving the full moon a little extra help in showing them the path across the icy winter earth. A near-full moon set here this morning, and when it rises tonight, it will be a little less full yet, although likely no less bright. Its own journey will blaze a trail that follows the same one our young eagle took this morning.

Illumination comes to us in many forms, showing us our place in the cosmos and the road we are given to walk within it. For this day, like the buffalo, we will chart our path by the lights of eagle and moon alike.

~ Aji








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