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Red Willow Spirit: Stillness In the Storm


There is a line that I recall from a childhood of immersion in a religion not our own, a fraction of a verse rooted deeply in the colonialism of forced conversion . . . and yet, excised from the rest of the verse, it’s a line that speaks of, and to, great immanent spiritual power.

Be still, and know that I am God.

“God” is not a word that Wings and I use, preferring the ancestral names of our respective languages and traditions. Certainly, the god of the Psalms is not ours; we understand our cosmic creator spirit in a very different way. But the inherent power of Spirit is something that speaks to our peoples on the most elemental level, and in our way, it’s an equally elemental part of our daily lives.

Indeed, the elements themselves are Spirit . . . and spirits, and the essential powers of both cosmos and cosmology.

Here at Red Willow, the storm is its own force and power and spirit, one that is welcomed for what it brings: nothing less than life itself, rain in summer, snow in winter. Irrespective of season, it’s the gift of water, and thus the gift of life — of breath, of birth and rebirth and the endless sacred hoop. In the high desert, one does not reject the rain, however and whenever it chooses to come.

And our storms here are often powerful. Rain is sometimes measured in inches, snow often measured in feet. Or so it used to be, before climate change found purchase here and began to unfurl its effects in real time for us to watch.

At times, it feels like watching Mother Earth disintegrate in slow motion, collapsing around us even as we stand by helpless to catch her, much less to rebuild her. That will certainly be the case if we don’t get precipitation soon; snowpack is nearly nonexistent, the source upon which our whole small world depends here in the rest of the year for water.

And so on this day, we await the promised storm with breath held and senses taut, waiting, waiting, for the clouds to move close enough to matter, for that first small flake to spiral earthward.

In the waiting, there is a stillness like no other.


It seems unlikely, in a way — all this roiling activity going on in the heavens, as the clouds do battle with the light. And in warmer seasons, the quiet is most often scarce; monsoonal rains are spun by the winds in a furious dance, accompanied by the drumbeat of thunder and the tinnier percussion of hail. But in the winter?

The winter storm is the original quiet storm.

Oh, there are winter gales, here, too, howling winds and freezing rain and sleet and enough fury to animate the heart of the ice monster, the cannibal spirit of my own people’s ways that stalks the winter dark. Now, with climate change well upon us, thundersnow is no longer a remarkable event here in the lands of the red willow; each of the last four or five winters has had its own occurrences. [In the lands of my own home, surrounded by the big waters of the Great Lakes, thundersnow didn’t even have a name; it was just something that happened. Here, it was until recently vanishingly rare, but no longer.]

But here, the storms of winter are more often silent. In years past, when the skies would regularly deliver snow that collected in feet, not inches, our small world here would be still for days on end: The quiet would begin even as the snow was still some distance off, the clouds moving in to cover the land like a blanket. The snowfall itself had its own muffling effect, softening edges and cushioning impacts. And after? When the accumulations stand three feet high and the drifts deeper yet, there is precious little traffic to break the silence.


For now, we wait. Yesterday seemed to herald a change in the weather, the clouds amassing to the west over and over, as though gathering their strength before moving in to cover the land in white. Today, though, the clouds departed, leaving skies bright blue and sunny, a high temperature of fifty-five. On this night, it’s hard to believe that the snow will arrive.

Of course, in this place, we know better than to bank on either outcome. The weather here has always been extreme, moody and capricious and perfectly capable of confounding every forecast. That’s a year-round phenomenon in this place, and one only exacerbated by the vagaries of climate change. But even if we cannot fully believe, there is still a place for hope, and even faith: In the quiet of the evening, as the mountains turn blue and the skies go from red to black, it’s possible to imagine that, in the dark hours, that white blanket might finally descend.

If indeed the forecast proves true, we should awaken tomorrow with at least some snow on the ground. And if predictions hold, the quiet will continue throughout the day, as the clouds move in to wrap us in the stillness in the storm.

Hope, yes; faith, possibly; but a few prayers might be in order this night, too.

~ Aji










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