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Monday Photo Meditation: What Abundance Means Now

It’s another beautiful fall day, in defiance of the calendar’s protestations to summer: sun shining, wind chattering through the drying leaves, air cool and sharp. There is still haze in the air from fires distant and otherwise, and white clouds scud across the turquoise expanse, but our small world here glows golden in the light.

Part of it is the abundance of the color in the flora and foliage now. There are still a few wild sunflowers hanging on to life, although most have now gone the deeper gold of the already dried cowpen daises and golden thistle that have gilded the entire southeast field. And, of course, while the leaves remain mostly green still, yesterday’s early-morning rain in the cold dark hours has turned even more of the aspen and cottonwood leaves that surround us, both here and in adjacent plots and across the highway by the riverbed. To the west, the marsh grasses, long since deprived of a full pond or, indeed, any water at all, are already brassy and brittle.

And then there is the chamisa, our own living golden globes, in full flower now.

It’s one of the subjects of the image above, sharing space as it does with the small cairn of local gray stones. Wings shot this piece almost two years ago to the day: September 12th, two years and eight days ago. Then, that sand of chamisa was full and lush; now, it’s in full golden flower, but the flowers are fewer and further between.

The other focal point of the image of the sky, that perfect clear blue of September, so brilliant and with color so intense it’s nearly cobalt. Even that is different now, sky paler and seemingly leached of its autumn fire, adrift with purposeless clouds that help drive the winds but will never hold any rain.

And although it’s no doubt related, the sky seems the very least of it.

Later and elsewhere, I’ll be posting a pair of images that illustrate exactly what this drought has done to the land here. People will likely not believe it; I can already hear the accusations of doctoring, but they will be unretouched photos shot in real time last year and this year. The picture the change paints is catastrophic.

The situation our small world here faces is catastrophic.

It’s impossible not to grieve, not to mourn what has been lost so recently and yet apparently fully now. It’s terrifyingly clear that there are aspects of this place, qualities that were always an integral, braided in the blanket part of its very identity, that will not be recovered, not in our lifetimes and perhaps not ever.

Knowing that ineluctable, utterly inescapable truth, how do we go forward?

Because going forward is an obligation; it is part of the task we have been set by Creator, by the spirits, by the ancestors, and by the elders who have every right to expect us to pick up where they perforce leave off one day.

At times, it seems impossible, and never more so than now, when even the chamisa struggles, when even the hardy and drought-resistant red willows who lend place and people their name are dying all around us. Go forward? Is there any forward to go to?

The answer, of course, is staring us in the face. We are not gone, nor is the world around us; as always, we remain, and part of our reason for being here is to make sure that generations yet unborn have their own chance to remain, too.

But we have to face certain hard truths, and find a way to make them and the world they show us ours and our children’s as surely and thoroughly as we once thought the world of our childhoods would be theirs, too.

It starts with redefining what we thought we knew. We have had certain luxuries in how we understood prosperity, in what we could reply upon for harvest, in what we counted abundance in our daily lives, and for the future. It relied upon a certain steadfastness of our natural world, a certain consistency of climate and season and weather, no longer available to us. And it would be all too easy to see only the losses, the voids, the empty spaces devoid of animating spirits . . .

. . . when in truth, there is beauty all around us.

It now becomes as much a question of mental work as physical, of being willing to redefine expectations and adapt to change at a galloping rate, of understanding that our world is not in fact, but that what abundance means now looks different from what it did five years ago, and will look more different yet five more years from now.

All around the globe, Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of catastrophic, existential losses. Measure by that benchmark, we have been fortunate indeed. The work of reclamation and rehabilitation, or restoration and renewal, is a burden that we will never be able to lay down. But we can make it more manageable by a simple shift in perspective, of looking past the empty spaces, the monuments to death and markers of destruction, and see and honor the beauty all around that the spirits still provide for us.

We will redefine what abundance means now, and use it to inspire our minds, strengthen our hearts, and steel our spirits for the work ahead.

~ Aji








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