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Red Willow Spirit: Pure Gold

Bringing the Snow

In this place, February is a hard month.

March will be harder still.

These weeks sit at a fulcrum: The slightest weight in either direction can send us, often in the space of mere hours, forward into the early warmth of spring, or backward into the depths of winter. This year, we’ve had precious little of the latter, which makes the sudden swings in temperature and weather feel all the more drastic.

Yesterday began beneath skies the color of lead, a small dusting of snow already on the ground, the air punctuated by light flurries throughout the morning. Pale gold light broke through at midday, only to be replaced by new phalanxes of clouds, armor the color of weathered iron, amassing once more on all sides.  The temperature plunged, the air heavy with the feel and scent of snow that refused to fall.

And by sunset, our small world was once again pure gold, studded by long shadows and awash in molten light.

Here at Red Willow, this place of such otherwise ancient constancy, weather and climate have always been spirits of caprice. This is as true of the arc from winter into spring as it is of any other season of the year: sudden temperature inversions, fast-moving storms, morning sun turned to afternoon snow and ice and back again.

It’s hard on the body, no question, but it’s hard on the spirit, too — especially when, as this afternoon, an early wind moves in and refuses to move on. What looks out the window like a gloriously sunny day is harsh and cold, with a serrated edge.

It’s harder to do, perhaps, at this season than at any other. But here at Red Willow, if the key to survival is adaptability, the key to enjoyment is awareness: of the world around us, of the beauty in the spaces between clouds and light. It’s an active seeking of the gifts of the spirits.

Yesterday, the air was cold and sharp, with a hint of dampness to alleviate its force. Heart-shaped clouds rolled over the mountains, sledding down the slopes and rising again to float atop the peaks. As they shifted and danced, so, too, did the light, depending on its position in the sky. By afternoon, as they began to withdraw in favor of new vistas to the east, the frosted slopes glimmered pale gold in the waning daylight.

It’s a view we’ve been granted often in winters past.

Less often have the spirits themselves seemed to part the veil to show us the lodge where they dwell.

Sky Lodge

We were not privileged with such a view yesterday, and today will not bring it to us, either. A glimpse of the Sky Lodge, as this image from more than a decade ago was entitled, is a rare event indeed.

In truth, the most ethereal sunsets are mostly products of the monsoon season, summer into early fall. The most haunting dawns occur in the latter months of that same period. but there are always exceptions, and once in a while, the spirits will favor us with the gift of magical winter skies at those same threshold moments.

On that day, the clouds settled above El Salto, stretching from the more feminine peaks at the range’s northern end all the way past the Spoonbowl toward Pueblo Peak to the southern tip. But they spiraled momentarily around the head of The Old Man, the layers of rocky outcroppings that, from our vantage point, form the face of the mountain, tilted back to gaze upward at the sky.

On that day, the clouds formed their own great layered structure, an architecture of wind and ice and the most otherworldly light come together to build a lodge of pure gold.

It’s not a lodge we can enter, at least not now. But just being able, on such rare occasions, to look at it? That’s a gift, and a kind of medicine in its way.

After all, being able to live in a place of such extremes of weather and climate and temperature, of such clarity of air and power of storm, that the heavens deliver such healing beauty? That’s a gift more valuable than any amount of jewels or precious metals.

~ Aji







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