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Red Willow Spirit: Shadows Fall, Autumn Light

Here at Red Willow, the village now is abuzz with activity. The pole is up, firmly rooted in the earth of the plaza and waiting for the weekend’s use; the final touches are being put on the resurfacing projects on church and homes.

And the shadows grow ever longer as the days grow increasingly short.

At this time of year, the mission church casts an outsized shadow across the dusty earth of the plaza, its parapet crenellations turned darkly Gothic in the fading afternoon light. It’s fitting, as we head now into fall in this place where All Souls’ is still very much a thing, and where the ghosts of winter still walk.

For the moment, though, the focus remains mostly on the light.

Viewed indirectly, as one does an eclipse, the architecture is not merely imposing but positively forbidding. At this time of year, when the dark comes fast and silent, such shadows inspire a disturbance in the soul. They bring the night home too soon, elongating the stretch of dark; it’s possible to believe that they conceal things worthy of escape.

In the light of day, though, our small world here is bright.

In the brilliance of an autumn’s afternoon, even the church’s architecture returns to more normal scale. It is a small structure, actually; the outsized geometry of a massive cathedral is not required here. Geometry itself remains, however: The shadows of the earlier hours of the afternoon reduce the parapet to a small point, one cast in perfect symmetry against the lower crenellations of the courtyard entry wall. The bright white expanses of light that flank its shadow look for all the world like the wings of some great Water Bird, draped low but gathering, preparing to take flight. And the shadows have not yet reached the south side of the plaza, leaving the fast-changing foliage to glow like amber flame against the shimmering mica walls.

When viewed through an autumnal lens, it’s easy to see how Spanish invaders could have convinced themselves that they had found the legendary Cities of Gold: The molten shades of earth and leaves and walls alike all hold sufficient metallic gleam to feed glimmering thoughts of treasure and exploitation.

The fact of the matter, of course, is that the lands of Red Willow are treasure, of a most elemental and organic sort: the richness of micaceous clay earth that forms walls able to last a thousand years and more; the jewel tones of amber leaves above silvered bark; emerald forests blanketing the slopes of sacred mountains; and, as always, the great expanse of turquoise sky.

Before long, the feast will be over, and the harvest, too. After the requisite amount of time has passed, the pole will be cut down and hauled away in the same manner in which it was carried in and raised — by hand.  The stump will remain, for a time: a reminder that another year has passed, another feast day that celebrates the patron saint brought from half a world away even as it marks traditions far older and deeper, part of the blood and bone and DNA of this place.

And as the clouds churn and travel across an autumnal sky, as the moons wax and wane and the season rushes headlong toward winter and year’s end, the colors remain, the lines and shadows, the light and its illuminating glow.

This is the season of encroaching dark, of sharper angles and colder winds. It is also the season of an intense clarity of air and color, a brilliance not found at any other time and vanishingly few other places.

Here at Red Willow, it is a time of spiritual clarity, yes, and illumination too: When shadows fall, autumn light shows the way to, and through, the winter to come.

~ Aji








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