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Monday Photo Meditation: The Color of Autumn

Pueblo Shadows - San Geronimo

The color of autumn here is not a single hue, but many: earthy browns and evergreens, turquoise skies and silvered light. But if there is one color that epitomizes October in this place, it is the one we call gold.

It’s fitting — after all, Taos Pueblo was one of several indigenous communities that colonial invaders mistook for one of the famed (and infamous, and also nonexistent) Seven Cities of Cíbola, the Cities of Gold. Indeed, of all of the possibilities for this mythic site, this place that its people call Red Willow was always the most likely: Its multi-story architecture and red-gold earthen adobe walls, glimmering with native mica in the dawn and dusken light, all but guaranteed such a mistake on the part of the continent’s early capitalists, intent on colonizing not only lands and human spirits but all of its valuable resources, too. And so it is that, in just the right light, the very village appears to be made of gold.

But “gold” covers a lot of territory, on the light spectrum and on the land, and in this place at this time, the name encompasses everything from a shade only faintly off silver, the color of pyrite, to bright brassy yellows to the most ancient of ambers to the pumpkin orange that shoots through the mapley reds of leaves to hints of coppery, bronzey shades of brown. It’s the golden brown of village plaza and mountain tundra; it’s the yellowed pinecones in the peaks’ carpet of evergreens. It’s the bright amber of the cottonwoods, those whose leaves yet remain, and most of all, the impossibly, unearthly, ethereally perfect gold of the aspen leaves, gold coins not yet subject to the seasonal alchemical inflation that will turn them to copper pennies.

And then, of course, there is the light: golden sun that casts the shadow of the bell tower’s cross upon the arch below, opening the light up like a flower, its white petals arrayed downward, seemingly edged with yellow diamonds.

This week will be the last for many of the leaves; those that survive the cold nights intact will lose their lustre nonetheless. The next rain — or snow, should the forecast hold — will send those to their rest upon the earth, leaving skeletal branches behind to turn silver in the winter light. And the golden glow of the waning sun will lose some of its colorful intensity, too, its angles dipping ever lower, its duration ever shorter.

But for now, for this week, at least, our whole world here is the color of autumn, rich and bright.

~ Aji







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