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Monday Photo Meditation: An Offering to the Sky

A new week, and a new veil of smoke has settled in around us, a threadbare yet heavy blanket wrapped around us in the heat.

The air is dry, the earth drier still, and the wildfires that edge around the far borders of our small world here remain no small threat.

It’s not just the risk of fire, of course; irrigation is impossible in these conditions. For an agricultural people long accustomed to aridity and ways of working around it, our current drought presents barriers of a height that have not erected themselves here for some time.

The lack of precipitation in the usual sense is far from our only local drought.

Tourism has been dropping for years, but this year risks bringing it to new lows altogether. We have already seen the early indicators, thanks to the Memorial Day weekend just past, and such small numbers do not bode well for the rest of the season. The tourist trade is essential to survival here — Pueblo artists make a the biggest chunk of their income during the months between May and October — but a dwindling economy does not lend itself to rainmaking of a monetary sort.

It is human nature, perhaps, in time of drought to pray for rain.

It will get worse in the weeks to come: This year’s powwow has been canceled, a casualty of diminished resources, most notably, the money required to put one on these days. The organizers hope for a return next year, “bigger and better,” but for now, the Pueblo will perforce do without its largest summer event.

We will all do without the necessary rainmaking of the financial sort, but it feels oddly ominous. It has long (perhaps always?) been one of the ironies of the powwow that the days leading up to it are hot and dry, only to have at least one grand entry, and occasionally a whole night of dancing, delayed by ferocious thunderstorms. That week is never the birth of our monsoon season — that comes earlier — but it comes close enough upon its heels that it invariably feels as though the two are intertwined. Once the thunder and lightning and rain have called a momentary halt to human activity, forced us to stand still and acknowledge its primacy and power, the storm’s passing feel both like a benediction upon the land and a passing of the baton to the rainy season as a whole: From this point forward, we can be reasonably confident that there will be rain, at least enough to permit a harvest at summer’s end.

This year, we have no such assurances.

This image has always seemed to me to be one of supplication, of prayer, an offering to the sky and the spirits that dwell within it. It’s not, of course; it’s simply a shot Wings took of the underside of a stunning (and stunningly large and thin) blackware pot held aloft by a delighted buyer. But the contrast of the mica blackware against the brown earthen adobe, both against the greater backdrop of the turquoise sky has always, to me, at last, thrown each element of the image into sharp relief, a world in three dimensions transcending its own bounds into a fourth by way of communication with the spirit world.

What would such an offering bowl hold? Corn pollen, perhaps. Prayers, certainly. What about water? An offering of that which is now most scarce, and therefore most precious, in hopes of persuading the sky spirits to send more?

In reality, of course, it held nothing but air . . . but perhaps it still held something more, something unrevealed until today, when we most need it:  a message, a lesson, a reminder, wisdom.

This will be a difficult year, for all of us. We cannot, by ourselves, make it rain; for that, we need the cooperation of forces far more powerful than ourselves. And so we conserve, and we strategize, and we pray.

And, perhaps, make an offering to the sky.

~ Aji









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