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Hoofbeats Across a Full and Rising Earth

August first, the literal middle of the summer.

Here, this has been a summer like no other, and for us, it has for weeks been, in too many ways, already on the wane.

Every day, as I do such work as I can outside, I’m taken aback all over again by the starkness of our changes in one short year. We have been in a long-term drought now for some two decades, one relieved in the immediate sense most years by normal monsoon and winter seasons. Relieved sufficiently, anyway, that we have not needed to notice much.

We have noticed, of course; it can hardly be otherwise for people who, stereotypes notwithstanding, actually do live close to the land. And we do, whatever the season; Wings spends at least as much of his day at work out of doors as inside. I spend less time outside, especially now, but my life, like his, revolves around our natural world, and it is impossible not to notice the real-time effects of galloping climate change.

The hoofbeats are no longer distant; indeed, they seem to race right across this dry and thirsty land daily. Perhaps they are the cause of the repeated dust devils that whirl across our earth, spiraling clouds of red dust now dry as ash and bone. I suspect they are spirits less of horses than of the buffalo who once ruled much of this land, a now-giant ghost herd here to warn us lest we go the same route as they, and in similar numbers.

Our peoples have done what we could to rebuild the buffalo population in the face of a concerted campaign of extermination (both of them and of us). But when humanity faces such an extinction-level event, there will be no one to rescue us.

I look out the window at fields burned brown by heat and lack of rain, at the aspen that has already lost more than half its leaves, at the weeping willows, a third of their leaves having turned from green to gold and a third of those already fallen to ground.

Mother Earth is not dying — yet. But too many of her children are already gone, and too many of her own organs, her limbs, her digits have turned necrotic. there is so much that needs saving, and so little time in which to do it.

We are doing our best with what we have. Wings long ago ripped out the invasive species that contribute here to drought, invasive and colonizing water hogs brought from a continent half a world away to spread like wildfire throughout the land, heedless of and unstopped by tribal boundaries. He planted indigenous trees and cultivated the old stands of red willow, now thriving all over the land. The wild sunflowers returned, too, although this year there numbers are few. And we have turned our attention and resources away from new planting, away from crops and hay in the fields, in favor of saving the habitat at large.

Because the word of the day seems to be many with a shared root — the precipice at which we and our world so clearly stand, the precipitation whose levels have dropped so, yes, precipitously — and if we fail, the whole earth falls with us. It is up to us to help lift her from the ruins we have created, to enable a renewed earth to rise from ash and bone.

Today’s featured work embodies this struggle in ways that go far deeper than the surface ornamentation. Each symbol tells a story — many stories, some older than time, some lodged wholly in the present, some that foretell a future that may or may not be. From its description in the relevant section of the Bracelets Gallery here on the site:

Earth Rising Cuff Bracelet

It is a time of elemental change, Earth rising to link past and present and future in a sacred hoop of protection and survival. Wings links them in more tangible ways with this spectacularly complex cuff, one that fuses one of his very early pieces into a whole new work that honors elemental powers, sacred numbers, and ancient spirits. It begins with a solid sterling silver cuff, scored freehand into eight separate lines, the number of the cardinal and ordinal directions. At either end, a sterling silver overlay in the shape of Grandmother Turtle, she who holds the world on her back, climbs steadily upward. Each turtle is cut, freehand, with a tiny jeweler’s saw, articulated head, legs, and tail each stamped with traditional patterns to form scales and provide texture and dimensionality. Each turtle’s shell is gently scalloped with stampwork around the edge, a Morning Star stretched across the shell’s center. Wings brought old to new and melded them together at the top of the cuff with the addition of one of his very early pieces from his personal collection: a hat pin in the form of a medicine shield that doubles as a medicine wheel, cut freehand and centered by Buffalo’s skull, our Elder Brother of the Earth. The horizontal spokes of the medicine shield are sculpted and stamped in the shape of a ceremonial pipe, eagle feathers suspended at either end. The entire wheel is overlaid onto a backing of hand-hammered sterling silver. Cuff band is 7″ long by roughly 1-1/8″ across; turtle overlays are 1-1/4″ long by 15/16″ across at the widest point; buffalo medicine wheel overlay is 1-7/16″ high by 1-3/8″ across at the widest point (dimensions approximate). Other views shown above and below.

Sterling silver
$1,900 + shipping, handling, and insurance

According to some of the old stories, it was Grandmother Turtle who saved the First People, creating our world by holding us on her back. It’s why we call this land mass Turtle Island. For many of us, Buffalo is our Elder Brother, one who protected us, fed us, clothed us, sheltered, gave us medicine and art. His numbers may be far fewer now, but he still protects us to this day, counsels us, gives us the benefit of his wisdom and his strength.

But a land wracked by drought is a land haunted by ghosts, and they are many now. We see them in the blank spaces between what was and what should be but is not, in the gaps among the trees and wild grasses, in the wildlife that have not come in their time and those that flock here out of it.

Grandmother Turtle’s shell is hard and sturdy, and so is Mother Earth’s, but neither is indestructible. Right now, we hear the sound of the ghost herd echoing off her shell, the sound vibrating with a new hollowness that should be a warning to us all. It is time for al of us to get down to work, to begin the repairs, the reclamation, the rehabilitation that will renew her health and ours with it.

When we again hear hoofbeats across a full and rising Earth, a herd made up not of spirits but of vibrant, healthy, living beings, we will know we have succeeded.

~ Aji








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