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Red Willow Spirit: Warriors, for Earth and Time

Pinon Close-Up Resized

For the moment, the piñon boughs remain lush, heavy with fresh green needles.

If we do not get snow soon, even the evergreens will begin to turn brown.

Christmas here was mostly a sandy-colored affair, earth the pale, wan beige of drying, dying grass, the only white visible those tiny patches of snow hidden from the sun at every hour. Last week’s dusting of the peaks is all but gone now, blown on the rage of the wind and dried in the glare of the sun, and reports are that the ski resort whose invasive expansion has so offended the mountain’s spirits has resorted entirely to making artificial snow.

If the level of traffic is any indicator (and given that this is the sole highway to the resort, it is one of the best), ski tourism this year is t be found mostly elsewhere.

Lack of snow is bad for business, yes, but for us, it’s something far more fundamental. A winter’s drought threatens the very earth upon which we walk.

Our particular small plot of land has long been known to wildlife as a sanctuary. They come from near and far, some altering their migration patterns just to touch down at our pond in summer, others newly choosing to stay permanently year-round. Nothing goes to waste here: The nest in the piñon tree above, rebuilt and refurbished every spring by members of the magpie clan who occupy it only through the early part of summer, does double duty throughout the year; at this season, it is the small birds who share its expansive space, although this yer it appears that a mated pair of collared doves, themselves an invasive species through no fault of their own, have also taken up residence in it.

Throughout the winter, the magpies have no need of the nest itself, although as the season wanes, they will begin collecting building materials. For now, they and the crows and ravens share surface space with another invasive species, the starlings, all of whom haunt the bird feeder and the grain box daily. They are joined by the occasional blackbird or grackle, but the latter have been few and far between in recent years, perhaps another casualty of our changing climate-in-microcosm.

They are not the only ones, of course, who rely upon this land for survival. There are their fellow spirits of the air, the flickers and a tiny woodpecker couple, the red-tailed pair and the returning harrier, sadly solo now. Today, the War Eagle returned: the golden eagle, a messenger, an exemplar and guide, to join me at morning prayer, a reminder that, however hard the road, a warrior keeps going.

If we don’t get snow soon, the road will become very much harder indeed.


For these remaining days of the holiday season, there will be dances and feasting at the Pueblo. These are old rites, ones whose meaning transcends the public veneer, celebration and ceremony alike to far deeper purpose than the off-date marking of a Middle Eastern man’s birth in the way of a European religious empire. The larger ceremonial season draws close, and in a matter of weeks, the Pueblo will be closed entirely to the outside world.

For now, though, the dances commence upon a dry and dusty earth, and the sun beats against ancient weathered walls, unembraced by the slightest hint of moisture. The slopes behind South House remain, for the moment, more evergreen than not — but a prolonged drought now will stunt the spring growth between the pines as surely as the runoff will slow from a river to a trickle.

If that happens, we will all feel its repercussions all year long.

For now, the best we can do is to hope and pray, to conserve where possible, to offer sanctuary to those who need safe passage. A pair of skunks have made their winter home beneath the chicken coop: natural predators of chickens who nonetheless leave all twenty-five atop the coop unmolested each night, asking only for a small quiet space in the corner, amid the straw on the ground with the structure’s wood base overhead, the better to stay warm and alive.

They have their own role to play, and they deserve survival as much as we do — indeed, perhaps far more. There’s an easy argument to be made that skunks do far better by the earth than humanity.

For now, though, the mercury rises, and the wind with it: On a day unseasonably near fifty, it feels far colder; the dry grass, long and pale gold in the waning light, bends near-horizontal at times. The forecast holds no promise until after the turning of the year, at least as the calendar marks it. And so we pin our hopes on projections for a week hence.

Pinon Skyline A

If we are lucky — if the spirits smile upon us and a wounded world holds the power to call the snow she so desperately needs, the earth may next week seem a little less constituted of ash and bone, of all that remains of the coldest fires. If so, South House may once again be limned in white, the old clay walls a richer brown for the water that soaks their surface. More important, the peaks, the slops, the spaces between the stands of pine will have what they most need at this moment: moisture, hydration, a quenching of thirst on an epic, and epochal, scale.

For now, though, we cannot depend on forecasts and models and projections that change not only by the day, but by the hour and the minute. We cannot pin our hopes on snow more than a week out. As the old world of this year walks on, making way for the new world to be born six days hence, we must make our own journey with eyes and spirits wide open to what is, and adapt accordingly.

The War Eagle appeared for a reason today. The road is long, windswept and dusty and hard as our bone-dry earth. But she needs us, and we need her.

As we turn to greet the newborn year, Mother Earth will need us more than ever.

We must be warriors, for earth and time.

~ Aji









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