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Red Willow Spirit: A Pueblo Earth Beneath Summer Skies

Taos Pueblo in summer is a place of turquoise skies and red-gold earth, of towering clouds and towered roofs, of shadows and lines scribed upon dusty soil by the sun.

Here at Red Willow, the oldest continuously inhabited community in the whole of Turtle Island, the earth itself reaches daily for the sky.

Sometimes, they touch: In the monsoon season, which the long-range forecast insists will deliver itself to us beginning sometime next week, the rain mediates the space between each plane. It is the story of turquoise itself, the stone comprising bits of sky, fallen to earth in the form of rain, hardened by the soil’s heat into a precious and protective jewel.

Give the shade of the sky and the gifts found within it, it’s perhaps no surprise that the people brought its protective qualities down to earth in another way: painting the doors and windows turquoise to keep that which would do harm decidedly out of doors.

Pueblo skies are not always turquoise, of course, although some might be surprised to find that, at sunset at certain times of year, parts of the gradient western sky are indeed green. Just like the doors of North House, they are a mix: sometimes bright blue, sometimes dark, sometimes the glowing warm shade of sunburnt wood. But in summer, the western sky at morning is something more than a jewel, a shade the color of the wild cornflowers that dot the wilderness meadows at this altitude.

The contrast is unmistakable, the beauty of the rooflines thrown into sharp relief against the deep vast blue.

In so-called “color wheel” theory, certain hues are said to be “coordinating,” others, “complementary.” The idea — a classic colonial and capitalistic idea and an equally classic example of the concept of overthinking it — is to dictate which colors should be worn together or used together in decor schemes for the proper gain, whether “gain” is defined as increased sales or increased compliments on one’s appearance. I’m oversimplifying, of course, but not by much; in the end, it all comes down to maximizing gain in one form or another. Perhaps ironically, the hues that complement the blues, which run the gamut from blue-greens such as turquoise to purply shades such as violet, are those in the “orange” category, which include shades of golds, reds, and browns.

In other words, the contrast between the warm red-gold of Red Willow’s adobe earth is the perfect counterpoint to a desert sky that spans a spectrum of turquoise, cornflower, indigo, and cobalt. A millennium ago, of course, the people used what was readily available.

Sometimes Nature knows best, after all.

But a Pueblo earth beneath summer skies holds much more beauty than mere color or contrast.

This is the place where the people live, still, after a thousand years and more.

Sky and clouds are their map; earth, their road home.

That road home leads to more than individual houses, too. It is the visible, graded, clearly delineated part of a much older path, or rather, a network of them: paths and trails, roads and tracks, leading far back into the mountains that are a part of the people themselves, and vice versa.

And that is the part that outsiders don’t get, colonizing johnny-come-latelys who make a great and public show of referring to “‘our’ sacred mountain,” as though it is something in which they share ownership, to which they hold title. The mountain — mountains, plural — know their own in ways as obscure and mysterious and essential as time itself.

There is no public path.

Behind the North House wall, the view changes somewhat: from a vantage facing mostly southward, the skies seem paler than elsewhere, more literally the color in the Crayola crayon box labeled “sky blue.” It, too, could be labeled turquoise, with its paler tint and underlying hint of green. In summer, at just the right time of day, it throws the back of the homes into shadow, offering a cooling respite beneath more private arbors.

A little further on, and the corner of the wall comes clear . . . and with it, a perception of the vastness of the sky.

Behind North House, on the roads untraveled by the outside world, the blue unfurls westward in the pale afternoon light, as though showing the way toward another mountain, its peak just visible over the rooflines. The thunderheads begin to climb, even as they lower their rain-laden bases toward a thirsty earth.

And still, the ladders reach for the sky, silent ancient witnesses to what it means to emerge into the light.

And sometimes, the only way to look is up:

Up into a Pueblo summer sky, up into the greatest blue jewel of them all.

The clouds are a gift; they prevent us from blinding ourselves by staring into the light, even as they allow us to take in the beauty of the blue.

The earth moves inexorably toward the Solstice, toward the first official day of Summer. It is time to ground our feet firmly upon the earth, and to lift our eyes to the gift of summer skies.

~ Aji








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