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Red Willow Spirit: Passionate Earth

Prickly Pear In Bloom Resized

The first day of May.

Here at Red Willow, the red willows are once again red, comfortably ensconced in that space between the stark periwinkle stalks of winter and the feathery green robes of summer. The wild berry patches have not yet fruited, but the leaves are lush, the color of jade edged with scarlet. The large bush outside the kitchen window just this morning sprouted a single crimson blossom.

Drought we may have, and wind and dust, too, but all around us are the nascent signs of a passionate Earth: loved and in love, fertile and ready to grow.

This is the planting season — deliberate and accidental, a praxis of human stewardship and an expression of love beyond mortal influence or control.

One of the blessings of living in a place such as this is that such gifts make themselves known with astonishing clarity. In the lands my own people call home, drought is — or used to be — vanishingly rare, a periodic one-off over the course of generations. The seasons are well-defined and of roughly equal length; water is available in abundance, both in the earth and from the sky. Plant life blooms in a riot of color, wild, indigenous, domesticated, invasive. There is no shortage of grasses, nor of fruits and flowers.

Here, it is another matter entirely. Those from less arid climates often regard the desert as dull and brown, but in truth, there is much green to be had here — but it is all the more notable for its contrast with dusty earth and rocky outcroppings. In this place, the colors of the warmer seasons are discrete voices among many, harmony rather than melody.

And the song of spring’s latter half is one of color and passion, flower and fire, beauty and medicine.

In truth, most blossoms are still only buds. The prickly pears are thriving, but their flowers will not bloom for a time yet. Meanwhile, the skin of their pads have recently shifted in a muted rainbow of color beneath their protective spines. Defanged, the inner flesh of the pads has long been used both for its sweet flavor and for its pain-relieving properties.

Indian Paintbrush In Bloom Resized

Indian paintbrush will not flower for a time yet, either. Unlike the scarlet flowers of the cactus, this ancient indigenous spirit blossoms into softer hues: rose and coral and occasionally a red underlit with fire-orange shades. It is one of the great plants of Turtle Island, used by (and in some instances, sacred to) indigenous nations across this land mass, hardy and able to thrive in all sorts of environments.

Its colloquial name is no accident, although our peoples have our own names for it, too. Its petals resemble a brush, true, but the leaves can also be dried and ground and used for pigment. The plant is perhaps best known for its medicinal properties, however. Years ago, when I had to be on the road, traveling, for work, Wings would send me photos of it in bloom, and he would harvest small amounts for our use. When trapped in a world of hot metal boxes and asphalt highways, just the image of Indian paintbrush growing wild, free, and intensely bright was enough to brighten my own days, too.

Medicinal properties, indeed: medicine for the spirit as well as the body.

Peyote In Bloom Resized

Here, of course, there is another medicinal cactus that holds pride of place in ancient traditions — indeed, far, far older than the label of the Native American Church with which they are commonly associated: peyote. It is a plant much appropriated and abused by colonizing outsiders, of course, the same personalities and mindsets and behaviors that are invading the southern rain forests to misuse ayahuasca now. But here, as in much of the rest of the region, it has a long and storied history of sacred use.

The plant itself is beautiful year-round, but now, heading into the warmer season, it takes on a special glow: the skin plumps again, the green color grows deeper and richer, the moiré patterns on the surface flow together more elegantly. And the flowers bloom.

It seems almost odd, that a plant of such power and force should flower so delicately, tiny slender petals yellow at the base, becoming white, then a fragile pink. That is the way with most things, of course: Very little in the natural world is all hard edges or brute force, just as that which is characterized first by beauty and softness often harbors its own dark and dangerous side.

And that is, of course, the hidden aspect of the coming season: Warmth and color and lushness have their own opposing traits, high winds and monsoonal storms and sometimes, as now, a drought the cancels out all prospect of lushness, even color survives with the warmth. We will have to be careful this year; resources will be scarce, and both planning and plan ting will require much of us if we are to ensure any kind of harvest before the weather turns cold again.

Still, this Earth has survived drought before, and will again; despite our collective injuries to her, she is far stronger than we, and we are fortunate that she is. For now, she is once again in the throes of renewal, of new love and the desire, the willingness, to birth new life.

She is a passionate Earth, just coming into flower again, and our lives are better for it.

~ Aji









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