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Red Willow Spirit: Standing In a Sovereignty of Spirit

But for the presence of a single tree long since felled by wind and weather, these images could have been captured today instead of six years ago.

The sky is gray and lowering, snow already descending upon the peaks behind a veil of clouds. We even had snow here at their feet this morning, although to forecast was for once entirely accurate in predicting that snow would turn to rain.

And save for the left tree in the middle ground, now tumbled to the earth beneath it, the foliage looks much the same, a base of green nonetheless ignited now by plenty of golden flame.

Time was, the first snow of the season always came in October. It wasn’t unusual to have it arrive in the first half of the month, either, although we were more likely to get real accumulations in the latter half. I still remember one October, probably more than a decade ago now, when a late-month storm delivered snow measurable in feet, plural. We spent an afternoon on the ATV, plow winched to the front to clear paths for walking and driving, dogs chasing joyously behind.

Last year, though, the mercury was still rising into the upper eighties at this point in the year.

We have watched our weather change for decades now, and climate with it, but here at Red Willow, the past seven years have been marked by an accelerating rate of transformation that is occurring, and visibly, in real time. It’s sobering to realize that you are witnessing something that is, in generational terms, already irrevocable. The questions that remain are the extent to which its pace may be halted or at least slowed, and what limited capacity exists for reversal.

For the most part, we will see neither in our lifetimes.

We work to change it anyway.

Two years ago, we had hope that there might be just enough institutional conscience to work for such change on a societal level. The intervening events have taught us that this hope is now an utterly false one, nothing better than the wildest of pipe dreams. Should cooler heads eventually prevail again before the country dies in the same colonial throes  in which it was born, much of the damage will be too great to undo.

All that will remain to us is to work for that which can be altered for the better, and to adapt to that which cannot.

For our peoples, this has never been in question. We have future generations to protect.

We have an earth to protect, too: our mother, our womb, the place from which so many of our peoples come, the land to which we are bound and that binds itself to us. It is a relationship less symbiotic than simply familial — the land is our relative, and the sky, the sun and wind and storm, the animals and the trees and the spirits of the plants.

My own lands are long since lost to me, not merely the collective ones from which distance separates me, and time too, but also the land on which my individual childhood was spent, lost to the collective generations before, lost now forever to the grasping colonial interests of factory farming. This my home now, too, invited by one of this place’s own and adopted by the land, if only in a manner of speaking. It and I do not belong to each other in the way that it and Wings do, but in exchange for my willingness to protect it, the land and its spirits tolerate my existence here, even welcome it after a fashion. It is, perhaps, that recognition of blood, of a relative, however distant, that binds us in common cause. Wings, of course, is born of this place, of the earth and the waters, and its spirit and his are bound up and braided together in ways that can be neither broken for good nor breached from the outside.

On this day, much like the one in these images from a half-dozen years ago, the skyscape reminds me of the places and spaces of home, lands of great waters and heavy storms. I feel safe, sheltered, secure beneath such skies. I feel at home. For me, one of the great gifts of this place is that, while the storms and clouds are less frequent, they are still very much a part of it, essential and elemental, as much a constituent part of its identity as the fiery foliage of fall and the glowing amber light and the snows os the winter still to come.

I said yesterday that here, we take the point of the aspens and the other trees, that we follow their lead and refuse to be turned by the outside world before our time. Such thoughts are always much on our minds this time of year, given that only yesterday the outside world persisted in its celebration of a genocidal invader, or in its reaction to him, or both.

Of the trees in the foreground above, only the trunk on the right remains, along with the smaller sprouts that have yet to prove that they can withstand change and time. The beautiful old tree on the left, gnarled with an elder’s wisdom, stands no more, felled by age and time, wind and weather, and simply the way of things after enough generations have passed. Survival does not mean immortality in the literal sense.

But the roots remain. Next to it, a seemingly broken-down tree that we all thought was dead has taken on new life, flowering in spring, leafing in summer, flaming in fall, and standing in a sovereignty of spirit in winter. All around both, new shoots rise, mimicking their elder’s colors if not yet its size and shape. This younger generation has survived these last harsh winters and more recent drought, too.

So it is with us. Our numbers, in relative terms, are few. The conditions that face us are mostly daunting. And yet, the roots remain; our spirits rise; our bodies stand strong in spite of it, or perhaps at least partly because of it.

We, too, are standing in a sovereignty of spirit.

~ Aji












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