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Red Willow Spirit: An Alive and Dancing Fire

The mercury will likely hit ninety today, and yet there are more trees newly gold and brown. The color line on the slopes spreads, it seems, almost by the hour, and such as winds as make their way through here now drive yellowed leaves from the weeping willows to carpet the ground below.

If the meteorologists are right, we are due for a sudden change: rain tomorrow night, and a near twenty-degree drop in our highs. As always, we’ll believe it when we see it.

Wings and I are, without question, ready for fall. The year to date has been so confoundingly out of the ordinary, too hot and too dry and with seasons all out of order and time, that we’ll both be happy for a steady space of cooler air to herald winter’s coming. Here at Red Willow, autumn is the most beautiful of seasons, even in the worst, most irregular of years.

Autumn in this place is nothing short of magic, a season of mystery and spirit and of the aesthetic medicine of color and beauty, a world aflame with elemental light.

It’s a dance, one of romantic slowness and passionate, furious speed, this melding of Father Sun and Mother Earth amid ceremonial robes of gold and amber, copper and bronze, crimson and scarlet. The world’s regalia at this time of year is like no other, one that draws on every strand and band of the spectrum, that invokes the earthy tones of the ground in counterpoint with the blues of the sky, the shimmering of molten shades of precious metal against the fires of leaf and tree and stand and forest.

The dance is one the outside world sees as one of decay, of a winding down, of death in opposition to the birth it associates with spring. But I was born in the bright and stormy days of middle autumn, and to me, this is the time when my world begins truly to come alive.

At this moment, the winds is drifting through the quaking aspens, setting them to chatter and whisper among themselves. They are not yet as gold as the one above — rooted at the lowest point of this land, they remain green longer than most, although this year has already seen incursions of yellow and even brown among their ranks.

The maples have not begun to turn much yet, either. There are hints that they are making ready to trade in their more sedate robes of summer for the celebratory dress of fall: a deepening of scarlet veining, a little crimson around the occasional edge, a bit of plum now blended here and there with the green. The fire maple has handled this drought with remarkable élan, managing to seem both unutterably cool now, yet ready at a moment’s notice to live up to the elemental force of its name.

Speaking of purples, the asters, such as they are, are already in full bloom. Mid-September is usually a time of gold and amethyst, wild sunflowers adance in the winds above the tiny fragile violet of their aster cousins. The drought has been brutal to both; only the odd stand of the former remains, and of the latter, fewer than a dozen plants have managed to flower here and there.

Our ground is near as brown as it was for most of the summer; only in the lowest-lying point around the house have the recent small rains managed and Wings’s stewardship managed to turn the land a steady green.

Above the dusty earth tones of the land, the vines have begun to turn early, too.

They are mostly green yet, hints of yellow and orange weaving through their cascade, but here and there, the scarlet already shows itself. At this rate, the vines will be skeletal, hard and dry and fully dormant, before October has a chance to get under way. Until then, they will make a lively counterpart to the weathered wood on which they climb, the contrast between crimson and dulled pale browns a perfect metaphor for this drought-ridden land now.

As I said yesterday, this is a time of decay, but also of rebuilding, a means of facilitating the structural change of the earth’s own architecture. There are those who see in these days only the weathering, only the decline.

To us, it’s a time of rebirth, of Earth as Phoenix, emergent, from the flames of an alive and dancing fire.








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