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Monday Photo Meditation: A World In Health and Harmony


It’s Christmas Day, or so they say. Here, you couldn’t prove it by the weather. The original low forecast for the small hours just after the Christmas Eve festivities was six below zero, one revised upward a couple of days later to seventeen.

It was thirty-five degrees when we went to bed last night, and thirty-five when we got up this morning.

On this day, I would normally offer an image of this place that is shrouded in snow, one that looks like the season. This year, the best I can do, if it’s to have even the smallest bit of accuracy, is one that emphasis the earth’s evergreens. Wings captured the shot above with his film camera many years ago, and from an angle wholly different from our own, but it’s the one that most resembles this Christmas Day: stands of lush green piñon against paler chamisa and sage; remnant snow patched upon a browning earth. The flaw lies in the mountains, for on this day, one would need to invert the colors for realism: Instead of peaks fully blanketed in white, only the tallest Ponderosa pines and rocky outcroppings showing through, we brown and green slopes spangled in only the tiniest, most remote spaces with sunlit white. The turquoise sky above the veil of white, though — that could be a mirror image of today’s.

For most of the dominant culture, today is a day of frenetic activity, of gifts given and received, paper torn off and ribbons discarded among the tape; of too much rich food and often too much strong drink and exercise that consists of the walk between table and television; of money spent and material things sought; travel and family embraces and arguments and disappointments. In other words, it’s the most fraught, most expectation-laden holiday of the year, and the one that makes those of such traditions but perforce on the outside feel most alone.

For those whose tradition it is not, it may be just another early winter’s day, or perhaps a day to enjoy Chinese or Indian food and a movie, window-shopping without the crowds, walking or skiing or sledding if weather permits.

And then there are those like us: of a tradition outside it, and yet raised in it, too, with all the expectations and yet none of them.

For us, this is in some ways a day like any other, in which we go about our usual chores as always. We always make time, in the evening, for a good meal, one that varies from year to year — turkey, ham, buffalo, a hen, this year a duck. Sometimes it has all the Christmassy trimmings that tend to be common to the outside world, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, a pie. This year, it will be wild rice and pecan stuffing with asparagus spears and a mix of roasted squash and sweet potatoes. Not especially common, but a meal that draws on both our indigenous traditions. We will settle in for the evening an enjoy each other’s company and marvel that we are doing so, for the first time in seven years, within the warmth and safety and beauty of our own real home. We will set out an offering bowl with food and drink for the spirits, and give thanks for all that we are given, daily, in the year now ending, historically and ancestrally.

And we will know that, come tomorrow, it will be time to contemplate what changes we must make in the calendar year to come, what the Earth will require of us for her survival. For as lovely as these warmer days feel, there is a reason why they have lasted so long, and it is one that reflects neither health nor harmony. There is a reason why the snow-wrapped peaks of a few scant years ago are . bare of all but trees today, why the ice is gone from the pond and the water with it, why the only snow that remains from the fall two nights ago is that on the full north side of each structure, the side that never sees the sun face to face.

This year, while we contemplate gifts given and received, we should perhaps spare a moment’s thought for the gifts of Mother Earth: After all, it is she who, in her own way, birthed us; it is she who gives us life and allows us to live another day. Today strikes me as an especially good day to reflect upon all that she gives to us, and to contemplate how little, collectively, we give to her in return.

It might also be a good day to give one final gift: a promise to change that.

It is not possible to take and take and take without reciprocity; no well is bottomless. We have obligations for the year to come, and at the forefront of them, perhaps, should be a returning of gifts to the Earth.


There is much nostalgia, and not a little melancholy, across the land right now for Christmases past — the Hollywoodized New England ideal of the 1950s, a Christmas that, despite the fickle vagaries of memory and the fierce denials that accompany it, never existed for most. In our communities, many of us had few such holidays, or none . . . but we did have an Earth less out of balance.

While we’re meditating upon what Christmas was and is, what it means or at least should mean, perhaps we can spare some mental space for what the Earth needs now. She is, after all, Mother to us all. And while it is customary for a mother to give to her children, Christmas or no, now it is time for us to give to her — the gift of healing, of working toward a world in health and harmony.

~ Aji





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