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Red Willow Spirit: Indian Summer Spaces

Bell Tower Closeup Resized

The village is abuzz with activity now, last-minute mudding and resurfacing and whitewashing preparatory to the Feast of San Geronimo at month’s end. It is a festival of early harvest, one marked well before all of the crops are in, one a part of summer’s tarrying days as much as a celebration of the its end.

Here at Red Willow, village and plaza and church, harvest and feast and the less tangible places inhabited by song and drum and dance . . . these are all Indian Summer spaces.

These days, much of the attention, and the activity, will be focused on the church. Every year, the fiscales resurface it, patching and mudding and plastering and finishing until the walls are once again as smooth as silk — or, at least, as much like silk as it is possible for the rich red earth of this place to be. It changes sometimes, from year to year, the form of the finish: In some years, building and towers and courtyard walls have all been the color of the earth itself; in others, sections of walls and crenellations may be whitewashed; in still others, virtually the entire courtyard wall is rinsed snow-white.

Bell Tower Resized

If needed, the bell towers — and the bells that inhabit them — are attended, too. So are the crenellated walls and flanges with their iconic stairstepped shapes, a form whose edges are easily eroded by sun and wind and water and must occasionally be reshaped to the proper proportions. The crosses will be repaired, if needed, and repainted too, these signs not merely of a colonial martyr’s death but of much older spirits and spaces and places and paths.

Soon, the white front wall will be brightened, the side walls floated smooth, and the church will be ready to face another winter more than 7,000 feet above sea level. So, too, will many of the other buildings, structures far older than the church will ever be: the traditional homes of the people, many of whom live in them year-round. Of utmost importance are the homes inhabited by elders; in a place where winter nights sometimes plunge to forty below, their adobe walls must be sound and solid, and their homes have stood a thousand years.

San Geronimo Church

The church, by comparison, is nearly new.

Still, all village spaces, even the new ones, have been constructed in the old way, with adobe brick made of earth and straw and water, mortar from the same earth sealing them together. Adobe walls are strong, insulating . . . and resilient, able to take the battering of the elements, to weather and erode and be rebuilt again. These are the spaces of Indian Summer, of thresholds and uncertainty, of hot sun before the gale force and the ability to stand strong in both.

Threshold Cropped

And that is, perhaps, part of what makes the ancient architecture so perfectly suited to this place. It honors the value of the old ways even as it recognizes that what is old must be attended, cared for, rebuilt and renewed by modern hands. In cultures that not only value ancient tradition but adhere to it on our daily lives, we know better than most that adherence is an active proposition. Failure to engage with it, to protect it, to renew it traps us and it forever: the latter fossilized, a mix of amber and the eroding sands of time; we former, stuck at thresholds, with no means to choose a side nor even to understand that sides exist.

Putting out hands into the mud, using the old processes and most ancient of materials to form new bricks: This is how we build the walls that protect, opened onto the world with the doorways that free us to enter, to leave, to emerge, to walk upon the path.

We build the walls that shelter us, and excise the openings that send us into sacred space.

The Real Sacred Space Cropped

For Wings, that is the real space of this season, and every other, and the real sacred, too: the land, peaks and valleys and lakes that belong to the people alone; streams and rivers and waterfalls and the rich red earth that underlies it all; the remaining green of the trees, soon to be gold and red and brown; blue of sky and white of cloud and gray of blessed storm.

There are many Indian Summer spaces, from the mountains to the treetops to the gardens and fields to the dusty earth of the plaza to the church that is the village’s youngest structure. All hold pride and primacy of place now, all awaiting with anticipation the feast, the harvest; all waiting with trepidation and yet thanksgiving the winter to come, and the abundance that arrives in advance of it.


For Wings, the crenellations of the church wall are not boundaries of sacred space. For Wings, they are pointers, guides, their shadows in the lengthening sunlight at end of day pointing elsewhere: toward the mountain, toward places beyond the community’s curtilage, toward the Indian Summer spaces of worlds here, and worlds unseen except briefly, a momentarily glimpse, in those liminal places where sunlight and shadow meet.

~ Aji







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