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Red Willow Spirit: Early Storm and Late Fire

Here at Red Willow, October is the time of early storm and late fire: the first snow of the season; the last moments when the trees still burn like flame in the light.

There will be no snow here today, nor this week, although next might be a different story. For now, we are fortunate to be anticipating being touched by the fringe of Tropical Storm Rosa, which swept up the Baja Coast and moved inland yesterday. We have had no rain yet, but the dawn clouds hang low and threatening, their purple mass backlit only here and there, and only momentarily, by the fiery coral light of sunrise.

In a season when the mercury, even now, reaches eighty degrees, snow remains out of our thoughts. We’ll gladly settle for rain.

The aspens, of course, are not yet the color of amber, although they are at least as dry as is usually the case a month from now. The few  monsoonal storms we were granted this summer, most far later in the season than is the norm, generated precious little runoff for us: The earth, dry and arid as the flat desert plains far south of here, drank it in as fast as it fell.

Here, of course, we were helped by Wings’s attention to the trees and the land immediately surrounding them. There may have been no water for irrigation, but we benefit from an artesian well and a water table recently shifted and elevated in the area directly surrounding our home. The fields were not so fortunate; they sit mostly upon ancient river rock, hard and dry for many feet below the surface. With no water flowing down the ditches, the fields were abandoned for this year and any harvest with it, but Wings managed to keep our more immediate environs alive, if not as lush as in years past. Only one aspen was lost to early dormancy, all but a trace of its leaves long since browned and fallen to earth. The leaves of the others curl now at the edges, fragile and friable, but only small patches of pale yellow and brown peer through what remains mostly green.

Wings captured this series, one also of early storm and late fire, in October eight years past. Unlike these early days, it was the latter half of the month, only traces of green left on the lowest branches of trees that were still young and small. Today, they stand far more tall and broad, like the big beautiful weeping willows that bound south pond and north ditch — trees that eight years were similarly immature, but now hold all the grace and power of their kind amid leaves that are fast turning gold.

It’s not all that has changed in eight years. The ladder is gone, parts of the fence replaced — the former a casualty of a trickster wind, the latter, of a small deep-winter fire equally worthy of Coyote. Still, the clouds return this year, and the shadows too.

For now, the promised storm has stalled over Arizona, moving only slowly into the far western reaches of what is now called New Mexico. In truth, neither state name nor their invisible, artificial borders hold much meaning for us; they are the lands of Dinetah, the people from those lands west of here. They will, as is customary, get this much-needed precipitation first; as it moves northeastward, we must hope and pray that it neither changes direction nor spins itself out.

At the moment, the clouds have lifted here and there, their color lightening from dusky shades of indigo and violet to a pewter-like shade of gray, backlit here and there with silver and white. Strands of turquoise show themselves between the heavy bands, a hint skies more customary to these early October days. By all predictions, that will change by afternoon — the storm will move in, delivering rain to a still-hot and thirsty land.

If the rain does come, it will precipitate another change, too: The cooling water will usher in a drop in temperature, setting the stage for next week’s projected hard freeze. It may not be snow, but it is an early storm for the season, and by the time it has passed through, the late fire will be evident in the newly-turning leaves that remain in place on increasingly skeletal branches.

It is warm this morning, surprisingly so beneath the lowering sky.

The cold is just around the corner.

~ Aji








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