To the north and east of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Mountains loom. Technically, they are part of the Rocky Mountain chain, but I like to think of them as a little bit of heaven brought down to the earth. As the summer wanes and fall emerges, changes are taking place in the Santa Fe Mountains.
The leaves of the aspen begin their colorful transition, showering the forest floor with their splendor. Most aren’t aware that when they see a stand of aspen, they are actually seeing one living organism that has existed for possibly thousands of years, with only the emergent roots of this organism being the aspen trees that we see. A big stand of aspens is gorgeous, and it is all one big plant.
The pinon scent in the Santa Fe National Forest is pervasive, creating a clear, crisp scent that takes me back to my youth, when my Mother would take pinon branches through the house in the winter to add its natural perfume to the air. Even today, when Michael and I sit on the patio and put a pinon log on the firepit, the wonderful aroma brings a smile to my face and sends memories skittering across my mind.
The animals, sensing the arrival of winter, begin their preparations. The images of these animals are faithfully captured by Native American artists with their fetishes, painting, pottery, and other media. A chubby little rabbit, hiding from the raptors swooping above, darts from brush to brush. A furry-tailed squirrel dashes home, a nut firmly in his cheeks. From time to time, larger animals emerge to view their domain, proudly silhouetted against the nearby trees. The Native Americans interpret the spirit of each type of animal, such as the protector eagle or the fierce badger, and often express these attributes in their art.
Fall is my favorite season of the year, as nature’s beauty reaches a crescendo of color and sound. The Native Americans strive to live in harmony with nature, rather than trying to overcome and dominate it. They see themselves as sharing this earth with flora and fauna, and respectfully give thanks to the spirits of the plants and animals they harvest for their sustenance. I try to do the same with my own living spaces, and Michael and I have tried to create an oasis of safety and comfort in our living spaces. The birds and critters are frequent visitors, as we live less than a mile from a large lake, and we try to welcome them with food and shelter. The plants are carefully nurtured, yet allowed to grow in their natural form. In this manner, we try to honor Mother Nature, and model the peaceful behaviors of our Native American friends and neighbors.
Shortly, the earth will slumber for a few months, covered by snow and the darkness of short days. But this cycle of life will continue, and the snow will depart and the earth will warm once again, giving birth to new generations of plants and animals. Today, however, go to the Santa Fe Mountains (or wherever you can go to experience the beauty of nature) and take a deep breath. Look around at the wonder of the landscape, and imagine living in cooperation with the land. Watch the clouds, listen to the bird song, and feel the breeze caress your skin. Today, be alive.