The Chiaroscuro: Of Light & Dark in the Storm’s Path
With the thunder rolling through the mountains and the raindrops splashing against the dusty ground, there’s no doubt it feels more like the middle of July than the middle of May. We have our fingers crossed that the last few days unseasonal storms will provide some much needed moisture rather than triggering lightning set forest fires during what is normally our driest season. The nearly black clouds roll across the Gila, even as sunlight spills through and around them, creating a fascinating display of light and darkness upon the green and gold curves of the land. This natural chiaroscuro plays over New Mexico’s water and earth in an annual demonstration of wholeness, not of contesting opposites but the complementary parts coming together to create a greater beauty than either alone could engender.
As odd as the weather may be, the plants still seem to know what month it is and are coming out in their own steady schedule. Down by the river, the wild roses are beginning to bloom — their vividly pink petals unfurling slowly, a few more each day, and their scent wafting up and down the river on the breeze. Gold and orange faced Monkeyflowers, lavender petaled Veronica and white sprays of Watercress grow from the riverbanks while the creamy lily-shaped blossoms of the Yucca adorn the stark cliff-faces and rocky mesas. Come evening, the rich, nearly overpowering scent of Wild Honeysuckle and Canyon Grape flowers drifts on the cooling air, drawing us all outside to breathe deeply of the sweet, almost intoxicating aroma.
Everywhere I step, I’m greeted by the colors and smells of Spring. The great sheltering canopies of Gambel Oak and Canyon Walnut rear up from the hillsides, providing a shady haven even in the hottest of weather. At their feet, Pink Penstemon, Purple Vetch and Wild Skullcap proliferate and spread among last year’s slowly composting leaf litter.
On my frequent walks I almost always carry my large gathering basket, its strongly woven interior easily holding the many bundles of herbs I often harvest when out. I also wear my curved gathering knife (a sweet gift from Wolf) with its intricate damascus blade that’s perfect for cleanly cutting through even a thick section of plants. Rhiannon often accompanies me and together we hunt for the sweetest greens and newest flowers, crawling under fallen trees and climbing up lichen-kissed rocks.
No matter how many times I explore the same area, I’m bound to find something new — a clump of red earth, a rust colored crystal, just opened blossom or a small splinter of bone. Even the shades of earth and dirt change with season and weather, in the same way that the other colors and textures of every bit of the natural world are constantly adapting and shifting in relation to the rest of the whole. We as humans often want to hold onto what we love, whether child or place or era — to keep it safe, pure and unchanged. And yet, through the complex evolution and interplay of life in the myriad forms of soil, rocks, rabbits, butterflies, anemones, salmon and eagles we can see that vitality and loveliness are rooted in dynamics and relationship. Always moving, always adapting, always becoming.
In truth, beauty is not ephemeral, it doesn’t mysteriously disappear from humans at age forty or fade with the plant’s shift from flower to fruit to seed. It is constantly growing, changing, shifting. We are born, we age and die and become the soil, only to begin again. Every part of that process is beautiful and filled with the potential for grace and growth. In the light and the dark, in the blooming and the seeding, in storm and stillness, the land remakes and rebirths itself, and we along with it. In the chiaroscuro is the dance of life
Categories: Sense of Place