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Jim Vogel

La Fiesta de la Abundancia del Brillante

Oil on canvas panel with two hand-carved, polychrome wood carvings framed in antique carved wooden door jamb (framed in collaboration with Christen Vogel), Image: 72"h x 48"w, framed: 96.5"h x 57.5"w, Item No. 20775,

La Fiesta de la Abundancia del Brillante by Sage Vogel 

The entire journey to El Brillante was bitter cold. Even in my winter coat and hat, wool socks, fur-lined gloves and cotton long johns, I could not stop myself from shivering. Frigid winds prowled the overcast sky, swooping down often to buffet our cheeks, reminding us of their abiding dominion over the landscape. We stayed on the low roads as long as we could, keeping to the paths where the snow had melted away between the storms, but by late afternoon there were no clear roads left to take. We left them behind and ascended a precarious mountain trail that was hardly visible beneath the snowpack. All I could see ahead of us were white peaks and gray clouds, hardly a welcoming horizon.

I had plenty of time to think as we moved along. I wondered what I had agreed to in coming along. What could possibly await us that was worth this trying, troublesome trek? I’d attended plenty of winter fiestas in the past. Late autumn and early winter were usual times for recreation, once the cellars and coffers were full of the year’s produce and the people had some precious time on their hands. But as the hard months went on, festivities became rarer and generally less jovial.

By this time of year, the dead of winter in the middle of January, social gatherings rarely offered anything besides cañute, card games, and cuentos, storytelling. Card games did little to capture my interest, but I can say that those winter tales did indeed bring light into my life during those short, bleak days. Still, I could not yet grasp why it was worth it for us to travel for two days to an isolated village just to hear some stories. We could’ve done that at home around our own warm hearth.

Early in the afternoon that second day, when we were miles up an icy pass, my uncle pointed towards the south to some rolling hills covered in snow beyond a low valley.

“El Brillante is through there,” he told me, his breath forming plumes of condensation as he spoke, “Up past those hills below the base of the mountain. We’ll be there in a few hours.”

“Good,” I said, searching the area for any sign of its significance. I didn’t see anything noteworthy. “I can’t wait to sit by a fire and thaw out my toes. And I hope they have some hot soup waiting for us.”

My uncle looked at me, his eyes shining with bridled humor. He chuckled and snapped the reins but didn’t say anything.

We passed some houses as we traversed the valley, but no smoke rose from their chimneys. There was no sign of any people.

An hour or two before sunset, we arrived at the spot that my uncle had pointed to. Still, I could see no reason for us being there. Tired, chilled to the bone, and in a disgruntled state, I finally voiced my concerns, much too late to have an effect, thankfully.

“I’m sorry, tio, but I should not have come. This has been a miserable experience. I don’t see why we’ve come all this way, and with an empty wagon slowing us down. We could have saddled these horses and-”

“You don’t know how lucky you are yet,” he interrupted. “So I’ll forgive your disrespect just this once. You’ll see soon enough. In the meantime, shut your mouth and listen instead.”

I tried to swallow the doubts caught in my throat and did as he said. At first, all I could hear were those brisk, biting breezes, but gradually, I picked up on another sound being carried on the numbing air.

“Is that music?” I asked, turning to my uncle again, searching his eyes for an answer his smirking mouth likely wouldn’t offer.

He shrugged, shushed me, and snapped the reins again.

Soon, I could pick out the harmonic melodies of a guitar, a violin, and a powerful singer. I tried to imagine what sort of people would play music outside in such weather, but these thoughts did not last long. My uncle steered the wagon onto a sloping deer trail that crossed the road, taking us into untamed pinõn forest. I did not question him, out loud anyway.

After continuing through this uneven terrain for another fifteen minutes, we drove through a tight gap in the trees, branches scratching at the sides of the wagon and our shoulders, and out into a clear-cut area filled with chopped tree trunks and packed earth. I heard a splash as we rolled off the slope and looked down to see a large puddle. I glanced back at it as we passed, curious about its incongruous presence. I was about to ask my uncle how it could be there if everything else was frozen, but when I looked up, I was rendered speechless.

The cleared space we were on was a narrow but lengthy expanse, like a lane of sorts. It continued to the south, headed towards the base of the mountain there. At the end of this makeshift avenue, I saw something I never could have expected: green leaves. It was not the muted green of piñon needles but the verdant hues of full leaves typically seen only in the spring and summer.

As I stared at the little emerald patch ahead, I could feel my uncle’s eyes on me, and I knew what wry look was on his face without looking at him, but I could not look away.

“Told you,” was all he said.

The music became clearer with every turn of the wagon’s wheels. When we finally reached the end of the groomed passage and got a good look at the tiny village beyond, my surprise turned to shock.

All the surrounding terrain was now in shadow, but not El Brillante. The golden light of the afternoon sun was shining down onto the village through a slim gap between the mountain peaks that loomed above. This alone was unusual but had a rather obvious, acceptable explanation. What defied all reason was not the fact that El Brillante was bathed in sunlight but that its single street was lined with lush, thriving, bountiful vegetation. Trees with full foliage grew between the houses, their boughs heavy with fruit in various stages of maturity. Hearty vines grew on the walls of the homes on both sides of the village’s only street; some were filled with bright trumpet flowers while others bent under the weight of many bunches of dark grapes. Bushel baskets were in front of many homes, all filled to the brim and beyond with blushing pears and shining apples. The street was filled with the dancing, singing, music-making citizens of El Brillante, all dressed in single layers of clothing without a single coat in sight.

“How-” I began asking my uncle how this could be possible. How could these plants and people tolerate this cold? How could there be fresh fruit growing in the dead of winter? But two things stopped me from finishing my question. The first was a sudden rush of warm, if not hot, air hitting my face as our wagon moved out of the wintery shadows and entered El Brillante’s light. The second was the enchanting, captivating gaze of a beautiful young woman dancing in the middle of the street.