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Red Willow Spirit: When More Than the Colors Are Changing

It’s the last full day of summer, at least in official terms, but it seems that autumn has already moved fully in for the duration. At 7:30 this morning, the mercury had risen to a balmy forty degrees, which means that on a night as clear as last night, it would have plunged to the freezing mark. Now, the air is cool and crisp and dry, the air sunny and hazy with smoke but our small world here still bright.

In other words, it is very nearly the best that fall has to offer here at Red Willow, save for the marked absence of real color change in the foliage.

The reason for that is two-fold, of course: First, and most obviously, it is, or rather, it should be, too early for much in the way of turning leaves; that typically begins in earnest here only around the end of this month, which means it should just be starting now. The second factor is far more troublesome.

We do have a change in color already, to some extent, but it’s not the turning leaves of autumn that drives it. No, this is far more insidious, the color change that accompanies withering and imminent death, a product of the colonialism-driven climate change that bedevils the whole of the planet now. To such outsiders, it no doubt appears to be just an early fall; distinguishing dormancy from drought, after all, is not something on the colonial list of things to care about, much less remediate.

But we know the urgency of this shift in seasons, when more than the colors are changing.

Today’s featured images, a pair in one of Wings’s photographic series of lang standing, are among his more recent in that series, shot not quite a year ago, on October 16th of last year. He has a long tradition of shooting upward beneath our relatives the trees, particularly the aspens that share with us so much year-round beauty and proof of their animating spirits. This particular pair of photos he captured on a brilliant sunny morning much like this one, save for its now-notable lack of smoky haze. The sky overhead was a perfect turquoise, with the gilding glow of the sun shining through the leaves. At that point, the majority of the leaves were still mostly green, as indeed they are today, some three or four weeks earlier in the season this year. But there is one signal difference between what these images of a year past show and what the world presents to us now, with drought and aridification conspiring to kill of whole limbs and patches throughout the trees.

Distinguishing dormancy from drought indeed: We are watching die-off in real time as the damage shoots through even the lowest branches. And we know this is drought and not dormancy because in a healthy climate, season, and tree, the leaves turn from the top.

Still, the image above is nothing short of magic, a tall and graceful spirit gilded by the cold light — and, of course, it is a perfect example of this essential truth of autumn. Today’s featured work is an exemplar of the same truth; indeed, it’s named expressly for it. It’s a pair of earrings, one of Wings’s newest, part of an informal set of four that all share a family resemblance in shape and style, but each with its own unique spirit.

And this pair holds the spirit of a healthy fall, dancing in the harmonious world of autumn light. From their description in the Earrings Gallery here on the site:

The Leaves Turn From the Top Earrings

In the early days of autumn we are privileged to witness magic, as the leaves turn from the top and the sun gilds the trees with green and gold flame. Wings honors the fading fire of the green and the rich amber glow of fall with these earrings set with sunbursts and pendants to dance in the light. The focals are backed with a single piece of silver, the bezels and ingot work joined together atop it; hand-drilled tabs extend upward to hold the earring wires and downward to catch the jump rings that animate the pendants. The center cabochon of each drop is a bold square of electric lime jade, as brilliant as the greens of the Northern Lights. At the top, tiny round orbs of amber, like aspen leaves turned and kissed by the autumn sun, link to the lower jewels by way of paired radiant sunbursts made by hand of sterling silver ingot. The pendants are similarly hand-wrought, glowing repoussé diamond shapes forming bright Eyes of Spirit. Earrings hang 1-3/4″ in full length (excluding wires), consisting of 1″ combined settings and 3/4″ of dangling jump rings and pendants. Square bezels are 1/2″ across; lime jade cabochons are 3/8″ across; amber cabs are 1/4″ across; ingot sunbursts are each 1/4″ across; and pendants are 1/2″ long by 3/8″ across at the widest point (all dimensions approximate).

Sterling silver; lime jade; amber
$425 + shipping, handling, and insurance

This pair is a personal favorite, one that is frankly unusual for me. I am fond of greens, but of the deep jewel-toned variety: forest and emerald, deep and intense with hints of blue underneath. The green in this pair is nothing if not intense, but it’s a light lime shade, jut slightly greener than chartreuse and every bit as electric. But these cabochon catch and hold and refract the light, and paired with tiny amber suns above them, they create something far greater than the sum of their parts . . . as is customary with Wings’s work.

A word, for a moment, about the lime jade itself, though, because it’s not an ordinary stone. It’s a label used in at least two vastly different ways, to refer to vastly different materials, and the most common is not the one that describes this stone. Most of what is known as “lime jade” is in fact not jade at all; it’s serpentine, a common and less valuable substance than the nephrite and particularly the jadeite minerals that make up the category called genuine “jade.” Serpentine is, of course, a beautiful material entirely on its own, but for whatever reason, someone once decided to dye it a yellowish shade, turning its deeper, richer greens into something like a marbled chartreuse. In all honesty, it does nothing for me aesthetically, but for those who like it and know what it is they’re getting, it’s perfectly fine.

That, of course, is not this.

This is clear, hard, translucent material, one that seems dyed because of its color but apparently, as far as we can tell, is not. The most valuable form of “jade” is the jadeite variety, which includes the extremely high-grade (and extremely high-value) Chinese jade used from ancient times to now to create some of that country’s most beautiful and valuable carvings and jewelry. Most of it is a deeper green, more classically what most people think. of when they hear the word “jade.” But jade comes in many colors, and there is one variant that is a shade at once lighter and brighter, extremely translucent, known as jadeiteite (no, that’s not an error; that’s the actual spelling). That is what these stones appear to be, and they are nothing short of magnificent at attracting and channeling the light.

In that regard, a bit like the golden leaves at the top of the aspens in fall:

This is a shot of the same tree as the one in the photo above, from the same vantage point and at the same time of day, shot a moment or two later, when the sun had either shifted minutely from directly overhead or become momentarily veiled by a stray passing cloud. If the first photo shows the aspen gilded, this one shows it simply glowing, as though from within.

It’s an annual gift, this lighting of the trees, an event of longer duration and more beautiful than any holiday commercial event. They give us the turquoise blue clarity of the autumn sky adorned with amber and gold and, yes, jade green. When the aspens enshawl themselves for their final fall dance, they do so in the jewels of this place.

There may be no such joyous dance this year; may be no real turn of the leaves, either. We shall have to be prepared for that eventuality, and to find and honor the beauty that remains. We shall have to put in the work of reclamation while we do, of rehabilitation and restoration and renewal.

For whatever else happens, we know that these are the days of prophecy, when more than the colors are changing . . . but like the light at the tops of the trees, there is possibility yet, and there is hope.

~ Aji

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2021; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owner.

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error: All content copyright Wings & Aji; all rights reserved. Copying or any other use prohibited without the express written consent of the owners.