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Red Willow Spirit: Lost Light, Found Fire

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It’s easy to lose your way in the dark.

Two days from the Solstice, and we have more dark now than light: Father Sun declines to rise until well after six in the morning; and he has already descended to his rest by five in the evening. All that remains is the afterglow, a gradient of amber light arcing across the western sky.

The days are short, the light low, and yet the sky is aflame.

Here at Red Willow, this is the season of lost light, found fire.

The light is never really lost, of course, only more fragile, more vulnerable than the rest of the year. Various peoples of this part of Turtle Island that we call the Southwest maintain traditions that call back the Sun each day, that pray him up over the peaks and sing him across the vault of the sky. In some versions of the stories, it’s because he needs our encouragement to rise, our help to make his journey in these days when his light and warmth are both vulnerable to the effects of the bitter cold. In others, our prayers and songs are more in the vein of supplication: a request that he not go to ground, as some spirits do, during the winter cold, because we will not survive without his help.

Either way, it’s a beautiful lesson: We need the help of the spirits, and sometimes they need help from us. In a season when the road is long and winding and the path too often dark, it’s useful to remember that we may find direction from each other, and that we may help each other on our journey.

But now the light that shines upon the signposts, that highlights the blaze upon the trail, glitters with the cold fire of winter. It’s a beautiful marker, the signpost, dusted with diamonds in the form of snow; the ladder is, too, but its rungs are spangled with ice. It’s folly to become too distracted by the illuminating beauty of the sun at an hour when the earth and all its surface grow treacherous.


But it’s folly, too, to focus too much on the danger and miss the beauty for it. Even as we seek to keep our feet firmly on solid ground, we must look up occasionally, or risk missing the magic that is Father Sun in winter robes.

For it is in those fleeting moments just before he drops below the horizon to his rest that he gives us one final gift of setting the world alight. It begins softly, skies snow-spangled and trees limned in gold, only the smallest, coolest silvery flames.

The light is timeless, but its presence is not: In a moment, in the mere beat of a winter bird’s wing, the flames stretch and expand and then contract and coalesce, gathering themselves into a bold red bonfire of the skies.

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This is the little winter, the time of the small snow, although has been scarcer than the diamonds it mimics in the cold fire of sunset. In those years when we are blessed with enough of it to measure in feet, the mere knowledge of its gift, one that will last well into summer, is enough to warm the heart. In years such as this, when earth is as dry as ash, when the air itself crackles like flame, such warmth requires a little more of us than mere observance.

It requires hope. It requires faith.

But every year, the light grows short, losing itself in the gathering dark . . . and every year, it returns with the Solstice, and returns again daily, whether with our help or because we need its help. And every year, the fires of winter appear in the sunset skies, warm and red and found again.

Even too warm, even without the snow, this year will be no different. For now, we live with light lost, fire found, and the knowledge that its power is timeless, the earth eternal.

Two days from the Solstice, that’s a precious gift.

~ Aji












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