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Red Willow Spirit: Growing Season

The Growing Season

At this time of year, the rains overtake and overwhelm, seizing our attention to the exclusion of all else. Our days revolve around cycles of precipitation, scheduling tasks to dodge the drops and the downpours.

It’s natural, of course: The rainy season here is not called the monsoon for nothing. It’s a phenomenon both fierce and ferocious, one that defends life on the one hand and yet destroys it on the other.  There is no means to plead for moderation; the weather does as it will, and we must either ride it out or get out of the way, or find ourselves destroyed, too, in the process.

But the sheer magnitude of such elemental power necessarily crowds off our radar much of that which fills the days here now. For this is a time when the whole world is busy, when, both because of and despite the pummeling, punishing forces of water and wind, new life has already taken firm root in the earth and is diligently engaged in the process of growing, expanding, standing tall and branching out and reaching for heights literal and metaphorical.

It is August first, and this is growing season.


It begins with the wild spirits, the chamisa and sage, cactus and fruit, and this year, the sunflowers, too. These last find themselves turning their faces to a mostly invisible sun these days, shielded by a celestial wall of dark blue and silvered gray. But turn they do, and sway, and dance: It is their task and their way of being. They have flowered a month early this year, these hardy few, but beneath their small number grow thick lush banks of their younger siblings.

The fruits are closer to their usual time: no wild strawberries yet, although the wild raspberries began to flower a month ago.


It’s hopeless, this year, to try to capture the raspberries’ image; the grasshoppers devour them before we know they’re there. Such are the wages of climate change, even in the growing season: Not all that grow and thrive are plants, nor are they all beneficial. It is not yet a plague of locusts, but another too-dry winter or two and their numbers may grow to Pharaohic proportions.

Still, we are blessed by that which grows wild upon the land. There are the flowers that are both paint and medicine:

Indian Paintbrush In Bloom Resized

In English, it is Indian paintbrush; in Native cultures, it is distinctly Indian, but with many more facets than brushes or art. It is, of course, pigment for paint, for canvases made of hide or of the living human face and body; a medicine for many purposes, healing the body and soothing the  spirit.

Then there are the spiny plants, those who arm and armor themselves to keep safe the power within. Scattered here across the land is one that some from the outside world name for alcohol, claret cup cactus, although we have always known them as a small but intensely beautiful variant of the prickly pear.

Prickly Pear In Bloom Resized

Some cultures use as claret (and other spirits of the alcoholic sort) both as dessert and as medicine. In this part of our world, the prickly pear similarly does double duty, its inner pads (defanged, of course) useful in making jelly and candy and a soothing balm for inflamed skin.

And, of course, that which bites and stings in self-defense grows, as is so often the case, into a Medicine worthy of the capital “M,” a gift of power out of all proportion to its humble size and toxic armor.

Peyote In Bloom Resized

The peyote plant is deceptive in other ways, too: It’s bulbous and unassuming body, so low to the ground, seems an unlikely candidate for a flowering headdress of delicate pink touched with gold and white — and such fragilely beautiful petals seem equally unlikely to adorn a plant also dressed in the power of strychnine (or, rather, one of its analogues). And yet here it is, seemingly oppositional elements having come together — and grown together — to larger purpose.


And, of course, it is also a time for a more cultivated growth: crops and fields and flowers given purposeful life. Sometimes, they are all the same.


The scarlet runner beans we planted this year with the corn, and the squash and gourds along with them too. We have our first squash blossoms of the season, just within the last week or so. The beans have not yet flowered openly; only the buds are visible, but so, too, are their colors, crimson and violet and a shade just off pure white. In the space of a week, the second and third sisters have grown from young childhood to a thriving early adolescence.

And then, of course, there is the first sister: Corn.

Cornfield Resized

She is neither twin nor triplet nor any other permutation of multiple births; she is a whole clan unto herself, born anew each year. She is food and art and medicine and culture, an archetype from kernel to sprout to stalk to ear. Her rich green limbs thrive in the brown loamy earth; they flourish beneath the weight of wind and water.

In the season of most elemental extremes, she grows.


And now, in the beat of a bird’s wing, blue sky and sun have been overtaken by a veil of gray from the east. The heavens have opened, and a day that saw a forecast no greater than twenty percent is now awash in the rains of the growing season.

~ Aji






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