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Monday Photo Meditation: A Last Welcome Warmth

October first: The feast day is over, and it’s time to get down to the business of fall.

This year, there’s precious little such business for most of us; “harvest” may be a mood and a moon, but it’s not much that’s tangible after this year’s drought. We will be lucky if our six or seven ears of blue corn survive to full fruition — as it is, they are at best half-ripe, and that two months later than usual. The hay is nonexistent; there was no water for irrigation, and the fields have been brown all year.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to remember what autumn in this corner of the world more usually looks like, or at least used to look like: green fields slowly turning, studded with bales of good new hay; amber cottonwoods here and there amidst the evergreens; chamisa gone as gold as the October sun. This image is from well over a decade ago, but up until this year, it could still have passed for the present day.

It’s also not an image from here, precisely, which is to say, neither the old village nor our particular plot of land. It’s from land now long since designated non-tribal; occupied, but never regarded as such, so long has it been in other hands. And despite the prevalence of chamisa and scrub and mountainous geography, it has always reminded me a bit of fall in the lands of my own people, a place of old wood-frame structures weathering in the elements, where the hay is abundant and the associated work is, too.

I think my father sold our horses in part never to have to deal with getting the hay in again.

It’s easy, from this vantage point, to romanticize the past — or it would be if we did not spend most of our years engaged in precisely the same sort of heavy labor. Indeed, here, much of it is harder, in this place where irrigation is done in the oldest of old ways, with the turn of a shovel.

But there is value in the old ways. Our peoples have always known this, and while we are quick to adapt to new technologies, we do not fetishize them for their own sake. “Technology” and “progress” are colonial shibboleths, part of what has led our world down this drought-ridden road even now.

October first, and the business of fall is here: leaves turning fast, in keeping with the moon of the same name; a chill edge to the wind that sends the aspens shivering as though haunted. Soon such harvest as there is will all be in, and our focus will turn to surviving the harsh cold of winter.

But on this day, dawn arrived robed in fiery skies, a watercolor vault of gold and amber, coral and rose, indigo and violet. The sun has not yet transcended the peaks, but its silvery glow has made our world visible once again. In this place, autumn is art, and time wields the brush, painting the earth in beauty and a last welcome warmth.

~ Aji







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