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Red Willow Spirit: In the Low-Angled Light of the Sun

At long last, we have a mostly clear early autumn day.

There was plenty of haze still here at dawn, but a brisk breeze has spun it up and mostly out beyond the peaks now — a development that means the peaks finally clearly in view for the first time in days.

We are just coming up on midday now, shadows foreshortened but the world already golden in the glow of the fall sunlight. What was yellow only days ago, the fields of thistle and cowpen daisy have begun their journey toward dormancy, their drying petals darkened to a rusty gold and folded around them like shawls and blankets now. The chamisa are coming fully into their own, but their gilded cottontops seem sparse this year, even these hardy dry-climate flowers falling to the drought. The grass is less yellowed than already going gray, and aside from the small maple whose leaves are fully half reddened two months early, it seems unlikely that we shall be granted much in the way of fiery fall colors again this year.

But here at Red Willow, this early autumn’s spirit remains strong, animating the season with magic and mystery and medicine too.

It doesn’t look like our usual fall day outside the window. Oh, the clarity of the air is right, but there are clouds scudding across the sky on all sides now, punctuating the blue with puffs of dove gray and white. The wind whispers with the aspen leaves, as though they conspire together either to hold winter at bay or to summon it early. Even the green of the mountain slopes has begun to lighten and shift, as the sands and lines of deciduous trees make ready to gild their robes in the low-angled light of the sun.

These are the shades and shapes and spirits of fall at Red Willow, the season when the light becomes so much more than mere warmth and illumination.

Today’s featured photographic images, all five, show the light’s capacity at this season with near-perfect clarity. They are of a piece, stylistically, with the image from yesterday’s photo meditation, but in truth all five images (plus a few more not shown here today) were shot some six or seven years prior, and on film instead of digitally. Those familiar with the area will recognize it as U.S. Highway 64, which is what Paseo del Pueblo also becomes when it ceases to be Sur and instead becomes Norte. It’s the main highway out of town heading northwest, through El Prado and on out to our own turnoff heading north toward the Ski Valley, and, far more importantly, again to tribal lands. [As always seems to be the case with colonial governments, this highway again inexplicably changes its identity and its number as it unfurls straight ahead from that intersection; it requires a hard left turn at a ninety-degree angle to pick up 64 once more.]

This is a segment of that main highway showing lands that stretch back toward the Pueblo itself.  The visible earth is a checkerboard of Pueblo and colonially-occupied space now, but it was once, of course, land as entirely Indigenous as it is indigenous. The fields still mostly remain unencumbered by structures there, although there are homes and businesses alike just out of camera range.

Still, the spaces depicted here today are mostly left as largely-open fields, a circumstance that permits the sharp, low-angled light of the setting autumn sun to scribe bold lines of light and shadow across their surfaces in shades of gold and gray and blue.

The series shown here today is intended explicitly as a series, to be read, so to speak, from left to right [and as placed in this post, from top to bottom]. Each shows a part of the previous image, then extends it further rightward to give a fuller picture of this landscape, stunning at any season, but perhaps never moreso than when gilded by the golden light of fall.

And it is, in fact, a series that, like yesterday’s single image, helped to inspire today’s featured works: three pieces from Wings’s signature series of gemstone bead jewelry, each work capable of standing alone but explicitly created to coordinate and conspire. It’s the second in a new series, The Elementals, that will eventually encompass all four essential elements and all four seasons, forty-eight pieces in total. The first in this collection in miniature, The Autumn Elementals, has not yet been featured in this space, although its constituent works are available for purchase in their respective galleries; that one is a tribute to Earth. This second collection, Air, honors the beauty and power of the atmospheric spirits of autumn, the skies, the wind, the stars and light. The full collection is shown together immediately below, although all three works are sold individually.

You can see all the shades of the beads in the images above and below: the blues of sky and silvery white of the clouds, the gold of earth and light, even the remnant greens, some fading, others still vibrant, upon field and mountain slope. And there is the mysterious gray-black of the shadows, bold and imposing but somehow not at all forbidding: less any kind of omen than a guide to navigation now.

It’s true, as the individual descriptions will make clear, that the greens refer as much to sky as to foliage or field, that the white is the shimmer of stars rather than the puffy edges of clouds already racing eastward. But the shades cohere, in either case — a remarkable development in and of itself, and one that really only occurs here at one time of year.

These photos were taken much later in the season than the point at which we find ourselves now. Of course, back then, our more usual patterns still held: September was a month much more of summer than of fall, with very little change in color until October, and a landscape still alive and full of flame well into early November.

Those days are gone.

Now, the leaves begin to turn as early as June, less a product of actual seasonal change than of the death grip of what is now a 1,200-year drought. And while the angle of the light and our relationship to the sun has not altered schedule, the climatic changes make it seem as though the days grow shorter ever earlier now.

The trade-off, of course, is the dance of light and shadow, most typically under a sky unmarred by clouds at all.

It’s an image that leads us directly to the first of today’s featured works of wearable art, one named for precisely such phenomena. The necklace is part of the The Beaded Hoop Collection, found in the Necklaces Gallery here on the site. From its description:

Shadows Beneath an Unbroken Blue Necklace

Autumn here is a season of sharp angles in low light, scribing the earth with shadows beneath an unbroken blue. With this necklace, Wings calls together a cascade of golden light and darkling shadow and all the blues of the fall sky. It’s the sky shades that create the focal portion of the strand, two extraordinary barrel-like nuggets of ultra-high-grade violet-blue kyanite, bisected and flanked by single small rounds of chatoyant apatite. Extending upward are paired larger rounds of chatoyant cornflower blue kyanite, segments of large gold and blue Pietersite flanked by old brass beads, small and glowing. Single translucent barrels of yellow quartz, also flanked by old brass, accent the side centers of the strand, which extends upwards into smaller rounds of sunny Pietersite, paired sterling silver round separator beads, and mysteriously chatoyant black moonstone, the shades of shadow and night, in two sizes. Necklace is 20.5″ long, excluding findings (dimensions approximate). Designed jointly by Wings and Aji. Another view shown below. Necklace coordinates with The Green Glow of Guiding Stars earrings and A Trickster Wind Through Turning Leaves coil bracelet. From the Air series in Wings’s new collection, The Autumn Elementals (all pieces shown below).

Strand:  Tri-ply foxtail plated with silver; sterling silver findings;
Beads: Ultra-high grade kyanite; apatite; old brass beads;
Pietersite; yellow quartz; sterling silver; black moonstone

$400 + shipping, handling, and insurance

All three of today’s works capture the magic of land, season, shadow, and light, but it is the necklace that I find truly extraordinary in its ability to reflect their beauty, whole and entire. You can see all of the colors and textures in the image below, the third of today’s featured photos, one that picks up where the second one left off and captures the crenellated beauty of new shadows.

The shadows on the left, visible in the first and second photos, are of tall cottonwoods, which by then would have been mostly trunks. To the right, more of the same trees, but with heavier foliage, at that dried and distilled to a crown of dried copper leaves. The shadows they cast look like towers, or perhaps the spirit sentries standing guard within them, protecting the land against the dangers of night.

What they don’t show, because Wings was standing with his back to the west side of the highway, capturing the eastern mountainscape, is what happens to the sky at this season when the sun goes down.

This year has proven an exception, with a few spectacularly clear days in spring that proved the rule, so to speak. But normally, the sight that the next of today’s featured works embodies is a phenomenon solely of fall, when the air at dawn and dsuk is so clear and sharp that it nearly cuts the skin and actually does burn the lungs if you inhale its purity unawares. The earrings are a part of The Standing Stones Collection, found in the Earrings Gallery. From their description:

The Green Glow of Guiding Stars Earrings

One of the rare gifts of autumn in this place is the green glow of guiding stars, those of morning and evening shimmering against a flawlessly clear gradient that runs from indigo to jade to gold. Wings recreates the gradient, and the stars that shimmer and dance within it, with these extraordinary jewels stacked into earrings. Each dangling drop is anchored by a single large round gem at top and bottom: electric cobalt blue at the top by way of ultra-high-grade, intensely chatoyant kyanite; glowing golden Pietersite, beautifully marbled, at the bottom. In between, the green gradient appears by way of five small rounds of African jade, the nearly-white center orb flanked by shimmering faceted rondels of high-grade moonstone. Earrings hang 2.5″ long, excluding wires (dimensions approximate). Designed jointly by Wings and Aji. Another view shown below. Earrings coordinate with Shadows Beneath an Unbroken Blue necklace and A Trickster Wind Through Turning Leaves coil bracelet. From the Air series in Wings’s new collection, The Autumn Elementals (all pieces shown below).

Sterling silver; ultra-high-grade kyanite; African jade; faceted moonstone; Pietersite
$175 + shipping, handling, and insurance

Wings and I refer to it as “green sky.” It’s supposed to be impossible, yes? Impossible unless one counts the Northern Lights, at least. And yet, we see it if not regularly, at least repeatedly enough to form a clear pattern at this time of year. It occurs occasionally at dawn, more often at dusk: The skies are so perfectly clear and unmarred by even the faintest cloud or haze that the sunrise and sunset glow forms an equally perfect gradient, one in which the major colors are clearly visible, from the violet and indigo of falling dark to the lighter blue near the center, a crimson sun disappearing below the horizon, its glow radiating upward in shades of amber and gold.

And in the center, flawlessly blended, a pale but clearly perceptible jade green.

And it is in this space that the stars so often first show themselves, of an evening, or occasionally linger at break of day.

It’s a gradient replicated in today’s photos, too: blue skies; golden earth; green mountain slopes studded by the white of a few fluffy clouds.

As above, so below, insist some Pagan traditions. our ways know that it’s not a perfect analogy, but we also recognize similarities when they appear.

The penultimate photo in today’s series crops those crenellated shadows out from the expanse on either side. It puts the focus on those shapes, and perhaps to some degree, too, on the spirits that cast them — great old trees, dried but not dead, only dormant for another winter, yet still at work throughout the heavy winds and snows of the winter to come. [And in the winter that followed the taking of these photos, they were heavy indeed.]

Now, the wind has risen once again outside the window, aspen leaves shivering and dancing beneath its force. At this point in the season, it’s very much a trickster wind, one still capable of whipping up a dust devil, then dying to nothing while the world here swelters beneath an unseasonably hot sun.

And still the leaves fade and turn and begin to fall.

The third of today’s featured works makes this caprice manifest in a powerful spiral of color and texture. The bracelet appears in The Coiled Power Collections, found in the Bracelets Gallery. From its description:

A Trickster Wind Through Turning Leaves Coil Bracelet

It may be a season of clear skies, but autumn arrives on a trickster wind through turning leaves here now. With this coil bracelet, Wings summons skies, wind, leaves, and all the shades of fall into a whirling vortex of rich color and light. At the center of the spiral are two large focals of phenomenal ultra-high-grade black moonstone, bisected and flanked by tiny chatoyant faceted cubes of the same material. From the center, the coil extends outward through a gradient of rounds, from the shimmering cobalt of ultra-high-grade kyanite to smaller black moonstone, glowing golden Pietersite, electric green chrome diopside, and rich African jade. More black moonstone faceted cubes and sterling silver rounds delineate each segment of the larger beads. Bracelet consists of four full coils strung on memory wire. Designed jointly by Wings and Aji. Another view shown below. Coil coordinates with Shadows Beneath an Unbroken Blue necklace and The Green Glow of Guiding Stars earrings. From the Air series in Wings’s new collection, The Autumn Elementals (all pieces shown below).

Memory wire; black moonstone; ultra-high-grade kyanite; Pietersite;
chrome diopside; African jade; sterling silver

$350 + shipping, handling, and insurance

What makes the coil so powerful is the mix of night shadow at the center and the vibrant greens at the ends: electric leaf shades dancing in the wind on a night lit perhaps by shimmering stars, perhaps by a moon emergent in any of its phases.

This was the final image in this series shot so many years ago: at the extreme east end of the landscape, where the mountain slopes slide downward to the level of the land and the foreground trees are still so close that their dried coppery crowns form stark and forbidding silhouettes against a sky still pale blue and lit with a distant rising moon.

Some of these trees are gone now.

Much more than just they have been lost.

And yet, despite the alterations in our patterns, despite the dangers of drought and aridification and habitat loss, the great star at the center of our cosmos remains constant, warming the earth, lighting the way, calling our relatives home. The animals and birds know that there is sanctuary to be found here, refuge from the journey before resuming migration, perhaps even a place to shelter the winter round.

They are arriving now.

And in the low-angled light of the sun, we are moving forward on the path to winter. It’s a light that will keep us strong throughout the journey.

~ Aji








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