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Red Willow Spirit: An Animating Current

There’s nothing quite so beautiful as pure, clear water.

I had the thought this morning as I was watching the water roil into the dog’s water dish, the sunlight catching its cascading ripples and miniature waves. Even the plastic behind and beneath it couldn’t diminish its perfectly beautiful clarity in natural light. We know, at a cellular and even a genetic level, that water is life, and breath, and medicine. But even we too often forget that it is elemental art that adds simple beauty to our days.

The hummingbird was back this morning, loudly in search of a feeder, and so Wings is refilling and rehanging them all today — refilling them with a mixture of sugar and, yes, water, a mix they vastly prefer to syrupy commercial nectars. This giant specimen’s appearance this morning seems, even in the face of tomorrow’s snowy forecast, proof that summer is truly on the way. And snow notwithstanding, the rivers here are now running in full thaw, not overflowing as has happened in some years, but full near to the bank’s edge.

And here at Red Willow, the water most surely runs. It is an active, animated thing: running and roiling, burbling and boiling, frantic and frenzied and so obviously filled with joy that it’s infectious. It’s impossible to watch the movement down the Río Pueblo, much less down the Gorge and the Río Grande, without catching a little of its exuberant spirit.

It will not, of course, be quite so green along the banks yet as it was in these images Wings captured some eleven years ago. He took these at the outset of the second week of May in that year, at a time when the Pueblo had not be reopened long, and when we had just reopened our gallery. Business was still slow — Ski Valley newly closed, school not yet out, air still chill and the summer tourist season not yet begun — And he had time, then, to seek out the elemental beauty of area around the village plaza.

And that was the year, also, that snow fell more than a month later, on June 10th, and so tomorrow’s forecast, and those of next week, come as no surprise to us in April.

It will not, of course, be any kind of accumulation, at least not the kind with staying power beyond a noonday sun. The air is too essentially warm for that now, the green too well established, spring too set in its ways and summer to close around the bend. But whatever we are granted, even in its cold and crystalline form, will only add to the gift that is currently racing down the watersheds as though for its very life.

For its life . . . and for ours. For water here is an animating current, nearly electric in the power of its energy, a life force all its own (and part of ours, as well). They say that, on average, water constitutes about 60% of the human body. When we say that water is life, we mean it at the most basic level.

But the 60% number is only an average. Certain parts of the body contain far more than others. On average, the heart is about 73% water; the lungs, 83%. Now you know why (instead of the now-popular phrase that has been an essential truth here forever, but only now creeping into the colonial consciousness) Wings always says that water is breath.

To me, water is all of those things (I come from the lands of the Big Water, after all), but my own spirit conceives of it in another way. To me, water has always been medicine — the first medicine, as I have referred to it even in this space for all these years. I come from a family who have always understood its purifying properties, who have always comprehended, at levels both physical and spiritual, the life-sustaining importance of its use. Our relationship to the water is much like Mother Earth’s, and like our own relationship to our Mother.

On this day, the water will be running high and hard and fast, skipping over stones and crashing against the banks, rising up to dance in a furious whirl of drops like diamonds in the light, then crashing down again to ripple and fall and float, all while singing with a steady, uninterrupted joy. This water is verbal, like the birds: chattering, muttering, whispering, openly guffawing at its ability to race and slide and tumble and flow. It is a current, simultaneously raging river and electrical ignition, one whose joyous task at this time of year is to spark new life in this old world.

We may have more literal electricity tomorrow, should the forecast snow-turned rain be accompanied by thunder and lightning — not at all unheard-of at this season. But we have plenty of energy even now, in the ditches and the streams and the rivers large and small: a animating current, medicine to heal the world, here to give us breath and life.

~ Aji








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