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Red Willow Spirit: A Fire In the Heart

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The nights are cold here now, autumn long since having knocked at the door and invited itself in. Yesterday, the air carried a chill wind, its leading edge sharp as any scalpel, too powerful for the sun to counteract it save for the peak of midday.

It is a time to light fires in fireplaces and woodstoves. to warm homes and bodies with its golden glow.

It is also a time to light a fire in the heart . . . and in the soul.

Friday evening will see the beginning of rites for the Pueblo’s great feast day, the one in honor of the Pueblo’s patron saint, San Geronimo. It’s a title conferred from without and at the edge of a sword, by a white European colonial authority. But as our peoples know better than most, survival requires adaptation, and a recognition of the old saw about discretion being the better part of valor — as the other old saw puts it, in picking one’s battles. And from the perspective of a half-millennium hence, no one can say that the people would have survived by making choices other than the ones they did.

Those of the people of the Red Willow can formulate their own disagreements with or acceptances of it as they see fit, best placed as they are to know what has worked and what has not. Wings long ago reached his own conclusions, conclusions informed by having been abducted in his youth by the Mormon Indian Placement Program and exile far from his people and the land that is his very heart and soul. His church exists not within four walls built aboveground by an occupying force. His cathedral is the earth and sky, mountain and lake, light and shadow of Red Willow, and of all the ancestral places and sacred spaces among and between them.

All lines lead to the mountain, the springs, the sacred lake.

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It’s not often that such lines show themselves so visibly. It is part of the magic and mystery of autumn that they choose now to do so. Earth works in concert with Sky Shadow with Light, to draw a map, chart a path that the human eye can follow, even if one’s feet are not permitted to follow suit. For this a map for one people only; the rest of the world is granted the only the privilege of seeing that the lines are there.

And that is as it should be.

Colonial mindsets decline to understand this basic truth: Some worlds belong only to their people, and to no one else. It is possible to walk upon the same stretch of road and yet not see what is truly there; it will not show itself to any but its own. It is possible to see the lines and shadows and to know, in vague geographic terms, their reach, and yet to be unable to follow where they lead. It is possible to see the light, to have it touch one’s skin, and yet still have it not be clan and kin.

For Wings, however, all these are his — or, perhaps more to the point, he is theirs. Unlike his colonial counterparts who share his “Christian” middle name, his “saint’s name” was not conferred as a mark of prowess in slaying others the same sought to colonize and kill. His “saint’s name’ was bestowed for its relationship to the land, to the soil, to the very earth of this specific place and to the stewardship of it, even as his real name, his traditional one, one that translates only partially in the colonizer’s tongue, belongs to the spirits of the sky.

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The same earth that captures and holds close the gold of the autumn sun.

The same sky that carries the clouds and shadows and the very light itself.

The same world, the same cosmos, that is solely Red Willow, immanent and yet transcendent.

But for a time — weeks, days, hours only — it reveals itself in the lines upon the land and the places they lead: unconcealed, momentarily, by a fire of the light, understood, inhabited, animated by a fire in the heart.

~ Aji






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