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Red Willow Spirit: When the Wildflowers Bloom

For nearly a week now, the air has carried that hint of autumn on its leading edge. It’s nothing too concrete, especially in a season that swings wildly between oppressive heat with measurable humidity and the icy clear chill that follows the monsoon, within the space of a day, a few hours, sometimes even a matter of minutes. But it’s there, undeniably: In the moments that manage to dodge the storm, the air turns suddenly dry, not arid, but with that clean and crystalline feel that speaks more of October than of the dog days of August.

Yesterday was the first day in some time where there has been no real threat of rain, and despite the eventual heat, the air felt mostly clear. And still it as not enough to forestall a passing shower yesterday evening — the perfect kind of rain now, soft, gentle, just enough to wet the grass and cool the earth. Today holds out the promise of more of the same, although rain admittedly seems even less likely today than it did at this time yesterday.

We are now past the midpoint of summer, gliding ever faster along the downward slope to the cold season. Here at Red Willow, this is a time of stormy caprice punctuated by moments of unseasonal clarity. It is also, in this place, the season when the wildflowers bloom.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that nothing flowers earlier here; that’s manifestly not the case. As I noted yesterday, the trees bud early and tend to flower through most of that period formally known as spring; by summer, most trees, have long since traded blossoms for full leaf. There are a few exceptions, of course, especially with the ravages of climate change, and some now tend to flower well into June. But for the most part, the summer solstice bends the angle of the light onto a world already well green.

Cultivated flowers, too, often bloom earlier in the cycle. The same is true in those years we’re able to have a proper garden. But the wildflowers are slow to awaken, drawn less to the heat of summer’s beginning than to the cooler clearing air of its end.

And now, the golden petals hold pride of place: daisies and asters, brown- and black-eyed Susans, blanketflowers, sunflowers. The rudbeckia are thriving now, the brown-eyed Susans shown above, image captured a scant four days ago in a stand that is now awash in blossoms. And they are the brown-eyed variant here, a color so rich and deep that it’s nearly mulberry in color.

They find expression, too, in the first of today’s featured works, part of what is no matched set or series, but merely a grouping of complementary works whose surfaces stand our in sharp relief in one of Wings’s own favorite patterns, that of an Indigenous flower power. From its description in the Accessories Gallery here on the site:

Summer Wildflowers Barrette

Summer wildflowers rise from green-tipped stalks to blossom and dance in the light. Wings summons these spirits of warmer winds in this barrette, hand-milled in a random profusion of silvery petals across a gently arcing rectangle of medium-gauge sterling silver. In the center of the barrette, a single round citrine rests in a saw-toothed bezel, a small wild sunflower amid the larger blossoms. The “stalk” is formed of an elegant silver pick made of sterling silver half-round wire, hand-stamped in a repeating pattern of directional arrows alternating with tiny sacred hoops down its length. At one end, the pick is anchored by an elegant oval peridot cabochon, beautifully translucent in the color of summer greenery, set securely into a saw-toothed bezel. The barrette is 3-5/16″ long by 1-3/4″ high; the citrine cabochon is 1/4″ across; the pick is 3-7/8″ long by 3/16″ across (save at the bezel); the peridot cabochon is 3/8″ long by 1/4″ across at the widest point (dimensions approximate). Another view shown below.

Sterling silver; citrine; peridot
$775 + shipping, handling, and insurance

The barrette manifests in the greens and golds of the season, like flowers that catch and hold the sun. We have others here, too, blooms indigenous to this high-desert land of plateau’d prairies. One of my favorites is known colloquially as Indian blanketflower. It looks like a cross between a Susan and a sunflower, perhaps with a little crimson from a tiger lily thrown in for good measure.

I love the blanketflowers for their name and nature, but also for the range of color they display within their sunny spectrum: pale yellow to gold, amber to pumpkin, rust to crimson, gold-dusted coffee to mulberry wine. It puts me in mind of the next in today’s informal collection of featured works, a cuff hand-milled in the same floral design, but this one studded with stamens of many colors . . . gold, peach, sky, plum. From its description in the relevant section of the Bracelets Gallery:

Wildflowers Cuff Bracelet

Wildflowers paint a summer earth with color and light. Wings summons a profusion in soft yet brilliant shades, scattered along the length of this cuff in sharp relief. The band is formed of sterling silver hand-milled in a repeating pattern of large blossoms, each formed of multiple bold teardrop-shaped petals and arrayed in a random fashion. Across the length of the band, four of the flowers show their center pistils to the light; at each of these points is set a small round cabochon of a different color: citrine, aquamarine, amethyst, and peach moonstone. Each jewel is set into a saw-toothed bezel, creating an effect of petals within petals. The band is buffed to a high polish, allowing the flowers to seem to dance in the light. Cuff is 6″ long by 1″ high; cabochons are 3/16″ across (dimensions approximate). Other views shown at the link.

Sterling silver; citrine; aquamarine; amethyst; peach moonstone
$825 + shipping, handling, and insurance

Of course, not all indigenous flowers are technically wildflowers, although there’s a n argument, I suppose, that their very indigeneity makes them functionally equivalent. Still, these are cultivated, in the sense that the plants from which the bloom are cultivated by our peoples, the third of the Three Sisters.

I speak, of course, of the squash blossom, which is both agricultural adornment and traditional delicacy. In years past, when we could reliably plan for the large gardens we used to maintain every summer, I would periodically make fried squash blossoms — some sweet, some savory. They are a traditional Indigenous summer food across much of this land mass known to the outside world as North America.

Most outsiders, of course, associate the term “squash blossom” with jewelry, particularly the big bold necklaces for which many Diné silversmiths are known, although they have long been found among the silverwork of many traditional Pueblo artisans, as well. I’ve learned in recent years that a new theory is now accepted as fact in the colonial worlds of history and academia: that the squash blossom of Native silversmithing is not a squash blossom at all, but an Indigenous error in identifying a pomegranate flower, which was used by invading Spanish soldiers to decorate the horses’ tack.

Such folks have obviously never looked at an actual squash blossom, particularly in its earliest stages.

Once past those early stages, though, the squash blossom opens like any ordinary flower, petals bright gold and reaching with faces upturned, like their wild counterparts, ever toward the sun. Accordingly, they remind me a bit of the third work in today’s informal feature series, a ring milled in the same pattern, petals rising to meet the light. From its description in the Rings Gallery here on the site:

A Flowering Light Finger Cuff-Style Ring

In summer, the whole world blooms beneath a flowering light. Wings summons silvered blossoms into being year-round with this finger cuff, a self-adjusting ring that rests gently on the finger even as it reaches upward to touch the light. Anticlastic shaping provides graceful curves at either edge and an underside as smooth as silk. Before shaping, the hand-cut band was milled in a contemporary floral pattern, large slender petals like peacock feathers spread across its surface in a random array, rising gently to provide a textured surface. The band tapers elegantly at either end for a comfortable fit. Cuff is 11/16″ across at the widest point, and 7/16″ across at its narrowest on the ends (dimensions approximate). Side and underside views shown at the link.

Sterling silver
$375 + shipping, handling, and insurance

Perhaps because of its compact mass, this piece reminds me, too, of other, more traditionally “wild”flowers. One of my favorites has alwauys been Indian paintbrush, important to both of our traditions.

Indian paintbrush grows with abandon and in abundance here at this season; August tends to be its petals’ heyday. It manifests in a spectrum of orangey-reds, from a pale peachy shade to the brighter coral colors shown above to a vibrant crimson and scarlet. Because it grows wild, you will often see it dotting desert prairie landscapes and at the lowest reaches of the mountain slopes, sometimes tall and sparse, other times close to the ground, individual flowers lush and close together.

It’s also the bouquet Wings brought back to me when he was up in the near reaches of our backcountry, if not the very same day, then around the same time that he captured the image in yesterday’s photo meditation. Its elongated petals remind me of those found in the fourth item in today’s featured series, slender, graceful, full of dimension and depth. From its description in the Earrings Gallery:

Flowering Worlds Earrings

Summer brings us the gift of flowering worlds, alive and fertile and awash in petaled light. Wings evokes orbs and blossoms both with these dynamic earrings, near-perfect spheres hand-milled in a profusion of wild blooms. Each dangling drop is formed from a bold sterling silver concha, ever so slightly oval in shape and fully three-dimensional half-spheres. Each concha is milled in a vibrant wildflower pattern reminiscent of ’60s “flower power” motifs, each flowing petal rising in sharp relief. The earrings are domed, repoussé-fashion, to provide extraordinary depth; delicate holes hand-drilled at the top hold sterling silver wires. Earrings hang 1-15/16″ long by 1-7/8″ across, excluding wires (dimensions approximate).

Sterling silver
$475 + shipping, handling, and insurance

From Wings’s current inventory of earrings, these rank among the vanguard of my favorites: big, bold, dangling, and eminently traditional in style, with a depth and texture, a silkiness and shine that sets them apart. That very shaping, that three-dimensionality, also calls to mind another wild bloom found here, albeit not one that is formally known as a “flower.”

It’s the prickly pear, the small iteration we find in this area that flowers in delicate pink and lilac shades as well as a bolder magenta and scarlet. The ones shown above are known colloquially — and oddly, to me, but such are the naming conventions of the colonial world — as “claret cup.” I see nothing of after-dinner drinks in either their shape or their shade, but I do see tiny golden suns whence radiate layered and rounded petals of purest scarlet. They, and their paler counterparts, provide a bit of brightness, and softness, too, to what is otherwise a sharp and spiky spirit (albeit one whose soft inner flesh is useful both in food and in healing).

And speaking of its other forms, those whose flowers are less flamboyant, calls to mind the last in today’s informal series, a piece that was also the first to be made in this particular milled pattern. From its description, also in the relevant section of the Bracelets Gallery:

Medicine Flowers Cuff Bracelet

Flowers heal us, body and spirit, and teach us that beauty is medicine. Wings combines two patterns in this hand-milled textured cuff to create a bracelet of medicine flowers: petals and rain, shadows and light, all evoking a ’60s Flower Power vibe. The lines are laid down first, long slender columns in a positive/negative alternating pattern, studded here and there with raindrops. Above the lines, stylized daisy and sunflower petals blossom and dance.. The band is buffed to a soft Florentine finish, and stretches 6.5″ long by 1-1/8″ across (dimensions approximate). Side view shown below.

Sterling silver
$535 + shipping, handling, and insurance

This piece, in point of fact, combined two milled patterns, producing a studded effect involving the broken lines of still-graceful petals, an elegant and yet vulnerably earthy look. It resembled the alternating pattern of petals and spines found on the prickly pear, yes, but it also reminds me even more of a different kind of cactus, one that is medicine and sacrament simultaneously.

These months are the season when the peyote blooms, too. In this part of Turtle Island, the traditions surrounding this indigenous plant of genuinely phenomenal power are commonly practiced. Wings grew up immersed in those traditions; his father and uncle were both Road Men in the Peyote Way (also known as the Tipi Way, or the Native American Church). And now, their spines and marbled green buttons are ornamented with the softening glow of their flowers, a pale yet warm pink radiating out from a sunny golden center.

It’s fitting that the peyote should flower now: This is, after all, the season of ceremony. In this corner of our world, that season is mostly winding down now with the resumption of the school year, but there are still songs to be sung, dances to be danced, prayers to be offered, pilgrimages to be made.

And, for some weeks of warm weather yet, there are still wildflowers to bloom.

~ Aji








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