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Monday Photo Meditation: When the Light Is Medicine

We were granted a brief but beautiful dawn sky this morning, shades of amber and and coral and slate unfolding above the peaks and valley, backlit by the glow of a still-unrisen sun.

Now, in early but full morning, the clouds remain but the color has vanished on the chill wind. It’s cold now in the early hours, enough to rime the various water sources with a film of ice thin and clear as glass. It’s not precisely the dawn I would have wished for the last day of my personal year, but it’s a good one nonetheless.

I come from a land where water is, or at least used to be, everywhere: pooled upon the earth in the greatest of lakes; falling regularly from the sky in storms great and small. I was born a child of the storm, and a sky darkened by clouds is my favorite sky, one that makes me feel at home.

And so perhaps it’s no surprise that, on this annual marker, I should return repeatedly to the series of images featured here today and tomorrow. The one shown here today is the wider angle, a more panoramic view of the same scene, which tomorrow will be broken up into two shots taken from a closer perspective. Wings shot these with his old film camera well over a decade ago, probably some fourteen or fifteen years ago. They show the land in what were unquestionably better times for it, times when this land possessed what were the unique markers of its high-desert elevation: four discrete seasons, and a good amount of rain in summer and snow in winter. In spring and fall, that also meant occasional fog, blue the shade of ice rising from behind trees the shade of amber to enfold snow-frosted peaks in its embrace.

For October is normally the month of our first snow here, although in point of fact there is nothing normal now. Even at the time this shot was taken, this broader region was already caught in the grip of a five-hundred-year drought; the vagaries of climate change merely allowed us to have a few years of decent, sometimes extreme precipitation. In recent years, the land has turned to ash and bone, so unutterably dry that every drop of rain has become precious, even tendril of fog a blessing, every flake of snow a gift.

This image also reminds why that is. It was taken in my early years here, before the constant colonial overdevelopment had encroached quite so close as it has now. The image shows the old cottonwoods across the highway to the left, three of our four northern weeping willows to the right, and between, only land and mountain and sky. Indeed, the only evidence of human habitation anywhere are the old-style fenceposts and gates in the foreground, and faint in the distance, the twinned wires from strung between telephone poles.

Now, the drought has reduced much of the vegetation to scrub, and the sight of the highway and its endless traffic intrude; too many of the trees to the left have been unable to survive these years of drought, and some have fallen, skeletal trunks still listing halfway to the earth. The foreground green is all gone, what were once lush fields now reduced to dust, and there is no fog, nor any snow upon the peaks.

Still, it’s October, the very heart and spirit of fall. The leaves are amber, the light is gold, the skies are a cloud-banded blue. This is the magic season, when the light is medicine, and there is a chance for the earth’s healing. The world is still beautiful, and life is still good.

~ Aji








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