Monthly Archives: December 2010

BE HAPPY! Reid’s 2010 Year-End Review

           I begin my year-end review with a picture taken New Year’s Eve 2009, one week after Linda died. Snapped by dear Kenny at his celebration, people who saw the picture thought Leonard Cohen had attended the party.

         Alas, it is I, the horrors of the recent past inscribed on my face, a small attempted smile, sad eyes.  Since Leonard Cohen is 14 years my senior, I guess I got a little behind in my Fountain of Youthersize. I will conclude my year-end review with a picture from New Year’s Eve 2010.

TRAVIS

            When a good person dies, their benevolent energy is released into the world. It hovers nearby, surrounds those the deceased loved and provides angels to ease their grief. Evident angels bring casseroles and pies. More subtle angels appear seemingly by coincidence. You can recognize them because they always turn up in a timely fashion and they always know what to do. Travis was one of Linda’s angels.

            A licensed massage therapist, Travis was recommended to me in early January to iron out the tension and kinks my body had accumulated over the past few months. The moment I saw Travis I knew he was an angel, an Old Soul come to help. That day I received the best massage of my life. He knew what to do, what I needed. The subsequent seven massages he gave me became increasingly healing. While I tried to come to some kind of reckoning with my state of shock after Linda’s death, Travis kneaded and stroked grief out of my body with kindness, compassion and love. His hands found the pain of grieving my body held and gently, with coordinated breathing, released it, leaving me more relaxed than I’d been in months, unbound, at home in my skin again.

             It is a luxury to be understood. Not only did Travis recognize the needs of my body by relieving its tension, he realized my mental condition and offered solace of the most intense kind. Soul to soul, a bond formed between Travis and me that silently acknowledged the pain and the process required to survive it. In that bond, hope took root, was nurtured, grew and helped me immensely with proactively processing my grief for Linda.

Travis. Can you see the light behind his eyes?                    Click any picture to enlarge.

           Travis showed me grief wasn’t new to me. I had grieved for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and pets in this life and others. Death is necessary. We are all tomorrow’s food. Grief ensues. I knew the territory and I knew the steps. I printed off the 10 steps of grieving, tacked them up at my desk and used the list as a map to figure out how to get through this.

            Travis returned to Vancouver in late March to his family and to pursue his career there. We have kept in touch in many ways. I have a feeling Travis and I will be reunited soon and he will again act as a catalyst to propel me fully into my new life.

THE DISTANCE

      The distance: just over 27,000 kilometres in 6 months from mid-May to mid-November, averaging 150 kms a day all over southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The vehicle: The Mighty Dodge Avenger.

The Mighty Avenger

      I am proud to report that at age 61 I have never owned a car or any motor vehicle in my life. I drive but choose not to. I am independent. This summer I needed to be mobile, to escape this hive and haunt the blue dome that nurtured and inspired me growing up in little Shoal Lake. I needed the elbowroom, the mental room to deal with my grief over Linda’s death, to run the grieving steps in a wide-open space that I knew and that knew me. Enterprise offered me a great deal on a month-to-month rental with plenty of free kilometres. I could not resist and didn’t. The Mighty Avenger arrived in my life. A little sporty, a little daddy, peppy and utterly reliable for the ensuing thousands of kilometres we spent together. We were a team.

   The Mighty Avenger at Pine Cree Park, SK, the farthest west we traveled this summer.   

            At the end of July, Mother Enterprise decided the 2009 Avenger had reached it rentability zenith and was ready to be sold, put out to pasture. Just like me! A lovely irony! I will always cherish and admire how the Mighty Avenger easily contributed to my personal mythology as I created a new life for myself, how every mile it accommodated Linda’s spirit and all the wild spirits we found along the road.

      We’d been comrades in kilometres from Bannock Point Petroforms in the east to The Convent B&B in Val Marie, SK in the west. We’d driven PLP to Wpg during the Once In Fifty Year rainstorm in late May, basked in the heat next to an ancient dancing ground at the top of the highest hill around, maneuvered the blind hills and vales of the Missouri Coteau and the sharp curves of the Canadian Shield with aplomb and dodged most of the gophers we encountered. After traveling 1800 km with me in the Avenger and driving part of the way, my friend Chris can attest that the Avenger is a most amicable driving machine. The Avenger is a mighty sweet ride! Arriving at Enterprise, I turned in my reliable friend, anxious about its replacement.  

The Mighty Avenger and I stopped on a tablerock on the Canadian Shield. 

      Little wheel spin and spin, big wheel turn round and round – it was another Avenger! Same design, same colour but a year younger, fewer kilometres, just a kid really. I would more than double the 14,000 km it had already gone. The myth of the Mighty Avenger lived on as we prowled the prairie hill and dale together.    Our adventures are recounted in most of the 12 Sacred Places reports 

      However, after six months and one week, it was time to say adios for good to the Mighty Avenger. I had extended the rental for three extra months and never regretted a mile of it. Over the summer, I kept all the gas receipts from the Avenger but never totaled them. I waited til just before I gave it back to add them up. Not to say it was hard on gas, it wasn’t but the whopping total made our parting much easier!

      My friends keep asking if I miss the Avenger but I don’t. I enjoy the slower lifestyle, the pace of walking, being patient, it’s familiar. I do miss one thing about it though: hearing the great break in “I’ve Got You under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra, arranged by Nelson Riddle, really loud going 110 kms an hour down a perfect highway aimed at the vanishing point.

ON THE ROAD

CHRIS

      When traveling any path, it is essential to have as many allies as possible in as many different worlds. I am blessed to have my young friend Chris as a spiritual ally. We’ve been friends for 12 years, grown together spiritually, traveled together, aided and abetted each other’s development and personal evolution. We are Old Souls, the ones who find each other in times of need and know what to do.

      If you have followed 12 Sacred Places, you have heard of Chris often enough to make you curious about him. In addition to being an effective and respected therapeutic drummer, imaginative musician, Old Soul and a fine writer, Chris is a deeply spiritual man. He is an embodiment of Universal Love. It shines from his eyes. Time and again when we talk of our lives and our challenges, Chris distills everything to Love for which he is a positive change agent and future attractor. His smile inspires hope.

     Over the years we’d discussed traveling together to the sacred places I told him about. This was our year. Starting solstice sunrise in June (Day 6 of 12 Sacred Places) we spent five blissful days together on the road, traveling through southwestern Manitoba into southern Saskatchewan visiting a dozen ancient places, contacting local spirits and getting grounded. Total kms of shared driving:1867 kms.

      To have an intent then watch for both the intended and unintended to occur is the heart of every sacred journey. Chris and I began our June journey with a simple intent: to humbly visit sacred places seeking grounding and discovery. Although I had driven this path many times, the journey was new to Chris, but being Old Souls, together we cleared the path to our intent. The journey gave both of us the clarity, courage and strength necessary to deal with our life changes.

        Sometimes Chris liked to get out and run along side the Avenger. I always waited for him to catch up when I left him in the dust.

All Mod Cons

       The town of Boissevain, MB in the southwestern part of the province is served by twin water towers, the tallest things in town. Of course, one is hot, the other cold, as you can see.

  BEST HIGHWAY: MB Hwy #68 west of The Narrows 

         Manitoba highways are still superior to Saskatchewan in some areas. The best road was MB Highway #68 west of the Lake Manitoba Narrows. Smooth and easy, no patching and few winter lumps. Infrastructure cash flowed like water this summer with highway construction around every corner of my travels. Brand-new sections of TCH between Portage and Brandon are so smooth they resemble runways and flight feels inevitable.

WORST HIGHWAY:  SK Hwy #18

          The worst is easily SK Highway #18 which I drove three times this summer. Seemingly, I just couldn’t get enough of it. Along the US border west of Estevan the highway dissolves into something the road map calls “thin membrane surface.” It means 100 yards of gravel, 100 yards of broken pavement, 100 yards, of not so bad pavement, back to gravel, no gravel and so on for miles and miles. Some of the most spectacular scenery in Saskatchewan, a dozen ancient holy places, constantly changing landscapes and geology and a broad assortment of rural eccentrics can all be found along Hwy #18 but I still don’t recommend driving it. You can deek in and out of many of these places from much better, more drivable Hwy #13 to the north.

      Curious Cowboy Picture

      On my second visit to Val Marie, SK in August 2001 I met a local woman named Lise Perrault.  Besides collecting original volumes of western writer Will James and offering interesting well off the beaten path tours of the mysterious Frenchman Valley, Lise was a painter with a unique folk art style. Her depictions of the prairie she saw every day and the critters who roamed it brim with simple honesty both in subject and style. Lise is in a personal care home now and her paintings have largely disappeared or been sold by her family.

      Today the Val Marie Museum retains two of Lise Perrault’s most evocative works. Painted in 1982, one is a hilly and treed vista that may have been the lowlands of the Cypress Hills just west of here.

           The other, from 1998, depicts two cowboys shaking hands in the middle of the prairie. Nothing in the picture suggests the men’s motive or meaning, no points of reference. There is amicability between them but mystery as well.

           It made me think of Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx’s well-spun cowboy story. Proulx writes mainly about Wyoming and Wild Westerners, so Val Marie, with its similar landscapes and lifestyles, could well have been a place she visited, saw Lise’s picture and got the notion for Brokeback Mountain. I asked several people in Val Marie if they knew of a visit by Annie Proulx. No one had. I’m probably just adding on here.

 Best Accommodations of the Summer

       I stayed in 30 different hotels, motels and inns over five months this summer, returning to a few of them several times. Quickly I realized there are two completely different business plans going on in hostelry. Most of them rent rooms for people to sleep in. Sounds right, what they do. A few others, the really good ones, sell sleep. They rent rooms too, but they also sell sleep. Big difference. That accounts for the hundred-dollar price gap between the Ramada Inn in Weyburn and Barney’s Motel in Brandon.  

       Ramada in Weyburn is Best Accommodation of the Summer thanks to their $4000 Simmons industrial mattresses that feel like you are being held in the hands of God, stylish and sophisticated décor, pool and hot tub, great continental breakfast, tremendous highway and railway view and a good night’s sleep.

      Also in Weyburn, the Canalta Inn is a runner-up. Next door and related somehow to the Ramada, Canalta Inns, an Alberta company with hotels in the three western provinces, offers almost comparable accommodation including a hot tub and wonderful wet steam room. They, too, are selling sleep.

       Adding charm to the mix, I recommend The Convent Country Inn in Val Marie, SK. An actual convent, saved from demolition at the last minute, is now a serene yet playful bed and breakfast run by wonderful people. I first met Robert and Mette Ducan over ten years ago not long after they had opened their venture. With years of experience behind them, they are expert hoteliers now. Here is a hot tip for recent empty nesters ready to take on a new adventure: The Convent is for sale! The all-in price is reasonable and the location exceptional. This is a Do Not Miss opportunity. Investigate.

The front entrance of The Convent Country Inn. The red brick has a beautiful patina, the renovations retained the serenity of the building and most of the interior design including the chapel. It’s for sale! (The building isn’t tilted, my picture is)

 

Worst Accommodations of the Summer

       A shoo-in, a hands-down winner for Worst Accommodation of the Summer: Miniota Inn, Miniota, MB, a shrinking village at Highways #83 and 24. What makes it a winning loser? Let me count the reasons. Comprised of either six or eight seedy rooms, the joint is just an excuse to have a pub to service the eight local alcoholics all of whom howled late into the evening. The room reeked of cigarette smoke and when I asked the guy at the desk, so to speak, for non-smoking, he said, “Oh, everybody smokes.” Ah, I was in the wrong town.

      Nonetheless, I stayed the stinking night on a flat saggy mattress below a rendering of Michaelangelo’s Creation on black velvet (truly) which was not bolted to the wall yet survived pilfering, that’s how bad it was. Adam appeared to be wearing jockey shorts. I wondered what velvet delights haunted the other rooms of Miniota Inn and shivered.

      Wait! There’s more. Miniota Inn wins again! A double winner! Add in Worst Restaurant Service of the Summer! My evening meal in their restaurant was reasonably easy and edible, breakfast more of a challenge. A hobbling, elderly man, I guessed in his mid 80s, was the morning waiter and cook, again so to speak. Morning clientele consisted exclusively of working and retired guys getting away from the wife and kids early to spend a few minutes of mindless camaraderie with men of similar destiny. The demands of the morning men were simple: coffee, cream, sugar. Luckily, for the waiter coffee is self-serve at the Miniota Inn giving him time to sit and wheeze. When I ordered toast, a completely new order of expectation, confusion and amusement kicked in. I eventually made my own toast when he brought out the toaster for me to use. This is somewhat of a default win for Worst Service since I thought the toast I made was just fine and I smiled when I brought it to my table.

      Wait! Even more? Yes! Miniota Inn is a triple winner! Not only was the inside ambience and décor of my room toxic in so many ways, the view out my window was Worst View Out a Hotel Window of the Summer. Here it is.

 Any guesses?

      Strangely, the lawn surrounding Miniota Inn is actually a miniature golf course. This structure suspends a swinging pole over the hole (Par 3) as its challenge. I shivered imagining the view out other windows here. Nutshell: Miniota Inn – don’t stay there.

          Runners-up: Barney’s Motel, Brandon, MB for the red ants in my room (Day 8 of 12 Sacred Places has the scoop on Barney’s); and Whitewood Inn, Whitewood, SK for dilapidation. The room was rumpled and over medicated. Their hot tub had a foot of what looked liked creamed corn in the bottom of it and nothing else. Their pool was jittery and toxic but alas, their dry sauna worked up a sweet sweat for a travel-weary Joe. Still, don’t stay at either of these joints.

Big Beaver, SK

            Situated SSE of Regina about 10 miles from the Montana border, Big Beaver claims a population of 20 people. At its height in the 1920s, Big Beaver boasted 300 people, a six-room schoolhouse and four grain elevators, including, in 1925, the biggest inland grain terminal in the British Empire. Today, serving the hamlet and area is Aust’s, a classic country general store. Their motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Aust’s, one of two businesses in Big Beaver, offers the full gamut of merchandise. Groceries, farm supplies, stationery, clothing, garden supplies and a myriad of merchandise fill three large joined wooden buildings. Each room has its own distinctive odour, rich and rural. There is even a “coffee shop” with classic advertising and a few locals who love to jaw with strangers.

             My first of three visits to Big Beaver was in June with Chris. As we pulled up, I commented we would buy something completely unexpected and we did. See us sporting our new Big Beaver t-shirts.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Texaco Sign 

      This sign has a nostalgic meaning for me. My dad was a Texaco consignee (he delivered gas to farms and stations) for 10 years in Shoal Lake, MB. I grew up there and worked with him, even delivering fuel myself when I got my license. Dad wore a Texaco uniform and cap that featured the big red star with the green T emblazoned on the white circular background. The slogan of the day was, “Texaco. You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.” I saw this perfectly restored sign in front of a business on the outskirts of Dauphin, MB with the threatening sky beyond.

Best Music On The Road

Dave Matthews

Big Whisky & the Groo Grux King is Dave’s best music in 5 years.

Tom Waits

Joni

Frank Sinatra

Van Morrison

Martin Sexton

The Hip

Chris Scholl

CELEBRATION OF LIGHT AND LINDA

Leonard Cohen

Classic Country Vols. 1 – 4

CLASSIC COUNTRY

CLASSIC COUNTRY 2

CLASSIC COUNTRY 3

CLASSIC COUNTRY 4

 

Traveling Companions

      No matter who or if anyone sat in the passenger seat, Linda rode with me every mile this summer. We developed a loving contraction, for lack of a better term, where she watched over me, softened my loneliness, understood what I needed to do and believed it would be done.

      Webbed Flight, my spirit helper and guide, traveled most of those miles with me as guardian, less for me than for deer on the road. If I was approaching a deer, Webbed Flight gave subtle but firm notice of it. I dodged three deer that way this year. Sometimes he even predicted roadkill deer. Some of the sacred places resonated deeply for him.

      In addition to Chris, I was blessed to have several other organic beings share the road with me this year. Old friends joined me on some of my jaunts about this summer, like Terry, dear friend from my hometown. Together we explored eastern Manitoba in the Whiteshell and Pinawa area. I have known Terry for 50 years, both of us are mostly retired and we “pick blueberries,” our name for driving around, getting out of the car, exploring and just generally living. Easy company, fine sense of humour and long shared history make Terry a welcome passenger anytime. This is Terry’s picture of a metal sculpture in Pinawa.

 

      My good buddy Mitch comes from Emerson, MB (named for Ralph Waldo Emerson), which I had never visited til this summer when he gave me the guided tour one hot August afternoon. With his great memory for detail, I got the inside scoop on Mitch’s youth in his little town. It felt very similar to my upbringing in a similar environment, familiar, friendly and warm. We visited historic site Fort Dufferin, or the remains of it, just north of Emerson on the banks of the Red River. The site resonated strongly for both of us. Mitch’s diverse background meant he had a story about something along the way nearly every mile. We explored north as well, venturing out to Hecla Island, which was new to both of us. Very enjoyable company with fascinating stories. 

      Another friend from my youth, Susan, met me for lunch several times in Minnedosa, MB this summer. We ventured into Brandon one Sunday for lunch then toured around south of Brandon where I first lived. Sharing comparable life situations, it was terrific to have her company, familiar and easy, comforting and true. 

Working Up an Appetite

Off by itself under a tree in Rounthwaite Cemetery southeast of Brandon I found this simple epitaph.

 KEN WILBER

    No, this isn’t Ken Wilber. It’s a large knot on a tree bending toward the trail around Marsh Lake, an oxbow of the Assiniboine River in Spruce Woods Park, MB . Linda and I discovered this on our first hike there years ago. Pucker your imagination a little and it looks like a face, the North Wind in fact blowing down the trail! I just couldn’t review the year without mentioning Ken Wilber. Done. You can watch Ken stop his brainwaves on my blogroll. You really can. Similar reason to mention: Bill Hicks.

HONOURING LINDA

 

            Honouring and memorializing my beautiful Linda took three significant forms this year, all of them tremendously satisfying and healing for her friends and me.

 The DickTool Kit

             Thirty-five years in the making, nine months in production, The DickTool Kit, a compilation of Super 8 film, video and audio created between 1976 and 1984 by Linda Tooley and Reid Dickie, became reality this year. Linda and I had often talked about putting the old video art we did in our youth onto a DVD and giving it to friends. The actual DickTool Kit turned out to be more comprehensive. The limited edition of 100 Kits wound up consisting of four DVDs, one CD, a 64-page book I wrote describing The Kit’s content and some memorabilia from IF…, our vintage clothing store, all tucked into a metal box. Over six hours of DickToolery!

            Operating both as an archival project and homage to beautiful Linda, The DickTool Kit celebrates us when we first fell in love and how we used the enormous creative energy our union ignited. As it says in the accompanying book, “These are the images we chiseled onto the cave wall and lit with a tiny flickering fire.” How wonderful to be able to share them with our friends and family decades after they were created!

          I first approached Video Pool, the Winnipeg artist-run video production studio, about converting our analog video tapes into digital files on February 3, 2010. Rick Fisher, technical head of Video Pool, was open and very responsive to the idea. My good fortune continued when a young technician named Nicole Shimonek offered to work on the project. Together Nicole and I spent 73 hours in the studio over the next five months viewing, deciding, tweaking and digitizing the DickToolery on the tapes.

            After we created master copies, the DVDs and CD in your Kit were printed and duplicated by Ironstone Technologies who came highly recommended by local musicians and artists. I was not disappointed. Bryan Buchalter and his crew did a fine job.

 The whole kit and kaboodle.  The DickTool Kit and all its components: metal box, book, fours DVDs, one CD, IF…memorabilia

            I had considered various materials and styles as the Kit’s container but it was love at first sight when I saw the windowed metal box at Mayer’s Packaging. Although slightly larger than I needed, the metal box eventually offered a snug fit for the DVDs, CD and book with the addition of the soft foam insert. The metal box gave me the name for the compilation, as it resembled a tool kit. 

            After several months researching through the vast files Linda and I kept about our art endeavours, I wrote the 64-page book in the Kit. The book contains details about all the individual works on the DVDs and overviews of the CD and IF you have to get dressed in the morning, our vintage clothing store. In the envelope at the bottom of your Kit you will find several pieces of memorabilia from IF… which I discovered while researching the book. The introduction to the book gives a feel for the times and the lifestyles we were pursuing.

            I hired June Derksen of Junebug Designs to design the book. She did a great job of retaining the aesthetic of the video works in printed form. Admiral Printing completed the book. All production services and materials for the Kit were purchased in Winnipeg. After gathering all its bits and pieces, I assembled each Kit myself by hand, numbering and signing each one.

           A gift to family and friends, The DickTool Kit cannot be purchased but you can see 22 of the videos from the Kit on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/DickToolCo More videos will be added in January.

The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back

             Linda’s favourite place was the Spirit Sands in Sprucewoods Provincial Park. We hiked there dozens of times over the years and discovered our special place at the top of the dunes overlooking the spruce forest below and the prairie beyond – a grand vista. This is where Linda requested her ashes be scattered. She gave me a short list of people she wanted to attend and all but three were able to come.

            It was hot and windy on Sunday, August 22 when we trekked out to Spruce Woods, our convoy of three Winnipeg cars meeting Linda’s cousin from Regina at the site. At the Spirit Sands, I had hired a private horse-drawn covered wagon and driver to carry us all out to the base of the dunes, below our special place. The private wagon left the parking lot of the Spirit Sands at noon and waited for us at the dunes while we did the ceremony.

Covered wagon ride out to the dunes.

            Chris and I had done several recon missions to discover the path of least resistance up the dunes to the site. We found several routes to the top depending on abilities; some of the angles are quite steep. Usually the Sands are 5 to 10 degrees hotter than the lowlands around them. Today it’s 30 degree C with a south wind blowing, the opposite of the prevailing northwesterlies that usually shape the dunes. In spite of that, everyone made it up the dune just fine.

            Our special place has a 360-degree panorama that encompasses three different types of prairie terrain. To the east and below the high dune is a green aspen forest against the rich dark green of the dense spruce. To the south, the forest opens into savannah with the distinct wagon trail disappearing in the distance. Behind us, to the north and west, stretches the desert, red and changing, muscular and soothing. 

            Once at the top of the dune, each of us spoke of Linda, remembering her, letting her go. Each of us spread some of her ashes in a shallow trough in the sand. Fittingly, I added the ashes of our dear old cat Teedy in with Linda’s. The light wind that blows almost constantly across the sand will do the rest. I intend to join them someday. A fine place to spend eternity.

The ever-changing vista. Late autumn view from our special place of the aspens, now bare and white, against the deep green of the spruce.

            My plan offered two possibilities to get back to the trailhead/parking lot. Riding on the covered wagon was a popular option in the heat.  Linda’s cousin, our dear neighbour and I hiked the trail back. It was an enjoyable and familiar walk for me, made special by the company and the occasion. The hike is mainly through mixed forest and savannah with a few moderate climbs and quite enjoyable.

            Our return to Winnipeg featured a stop at the Summer Shack in Carberry, just north of the Spirit Sands. Linda and I feasted on their chicken burgers and chocolate milkshakes after most of our Sands hikes. The traditional was well upheld as we all had some form of chicken. For details on Spirit Sands and Summer Shack, see Day 12 of 12 Sacred Places.

A Celebration of Light and Linda

“From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

            Kenny suggested last January that I have an event honouring Linda. “Rent the Park Theatre,” he said. The idea appealed to me but seemed a daunting and hazy affair in my state of shock. I filed it on my mental priority list for future consideration where it waited until one day in late August while driving out there somewhere when it all came together in my head. Even the name, A Celebration of Light and Linda, came to me though I didn’t know what the light part would be.

            On September 11, I booked the Park Theatre, an innovative conversion from movie theatre to popular multi-purpose venue, for the evening of Tuesday, November 9 for the Celebration, giving me two months to plan it. Suddenly I was an impresario!

             I had the first part of the evening: a screening of Stadium Trash, a 50-minute sampler of DickTool videos from the Kit edited into fast television format and shown on the big screen at the Park. Nicole and I had come up with the new Stadium Trash. The original was half as long, submitted to Video Culture Festival in Toronto in 1983 and was one of three finalists in the General category. What to do for a second half?

            I knew of Wild Fire, a local fire dance troupe, through Chris who does live drumming for their performances at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. He said they had a blacklight show that would work for the event. I connected with Stacy from the troupe, she “got it” and our show was on the road! Wild Fire worked up a completely original 31-minute all-blacklight show to mostly original music by Chris. I never attended their rehearsals. Instead, I tried to be a mystical muse, evoking, believing. My basic direction to Wild Fire was: create a sense of wonder and send them home talking to themselves. No pressure, kids. Using a jungle theme – minimum clothing, maximum body paint – the five-member troupe excelled. I had a show.

 

    Images of Wild Fire’s performance at the Celebration

         Invitations went out to about 140 people, in Winnipeg and elsewhere. It was a hard one to turn down as we had about 110 of our closest friends at the Park for A Celebration of Light and Linda. I greeted each one personally, did a 15 minute monologue on stage (which I secretly enjoyed much too much) and presented an evening of unique entertainment, something wild, retro cool and future primitive all at once.

photo

 Detail of Wild Fire performance (time exposure)      

     My wonderful creative friends came together and made it possible for me to enjoy the event and my guests worry-free. Our friends enjoyed seeing Linda and I as young people, in our late 20s and early 30s, in Stadium Trash. For the Wild Fire performance, loud recorded music accompanied live by Chris and two other drummers throbbed through the Park, the darkness glowed with mystical figures inhabiting an arcane unknowable place where they held us transfixed for half an hour. Now and then during their show, I could hear Linda laughing in my head. She was having a ball, as was everyone else in the room. I know for a fact they did send some people home talking to themselves.

Five old buddies from high school around me at A Celebration of Light and Linda. “First you’re green, then you’re grey.” – Joni Mitchell

            At the Celebration, I reconnected with old friends I hadn’t seen in decades, had my picture taken with no less than FIVE of my high school friends who came to the Celebration, made new friends, young friends who keep me alive and interested and, best of all, Linda was well celebrated. The response afterwards was often astonishing. Here are a few quotes from emails I received.

“Great commemoration of Linda and your creative project.
Dancers were a marvelous addition and reflection on the novelty and creativity of your video art.”

“Thank you for the wonderful party last night. Suddenly I feel 25 years younger!”

“What a fabulous tribute to your wonderful lady and we could
all feel the unique love the two of you shared, through your videos and through your commentating.  We certainly felt her spirit there and you did a wonderful job of arranging that whole scenario at the Park Theatre.”

 “It was a wonderful experience. You could feel the love you had for each other, as you created your life together. I felt so energized by the end of the evening. I found it very inspirational. Linda would have loved it.”

 “Her memory will live forever in the hearts of us ‘peggers and hearing that she loved Winnipeg so much has made me open my eyes to the idea to try and appreciate our city and see it the way Linda may have.”

 “I always knew that Linda and you were quirky.”

            Quirky, indeed! That we were.

Wild Fire dancers and drummers pose with me after the performance. I’m the one in the suit. More photographs from the Celebration  http://www.flickr.com/photos/56088356@N02/sets/72157625302256879/

             The Celebration was an amazing emotional high all evening for me, buoyed by the love and respect of so many friends gathered in one room for one purpose. The high lasted for days. Linda and I had often imagined the party that unites our diverse group of friends and here it was happening around me! Well documented in both still photos and video, the Celebration will soon be distilled into YouTube format. More vintage DickTool videos will be added as well.

         When our videographer for the Celebration took ill, we lucked into Scott Carnegie of MediaCircus.TV who documented the event superbly. Here’s how Scott described the night on his website which includes a testimonial I did for him http://mediacircus.tv/2010/12/a-surprise-night-of-tribute/?utm_source=MediaCircus.TV+List&utm_campaign=4de10bf03f-MediaCircus_TV_Newsletter_November_2010&utm_medium=email

KENNY

              You’ve seen his name pop up here and there in my year-end review. Kenny worked with Linda for 15 years in retail and in the City of Winnipeg Film Office. They were an accomplished and amazing team. Kenny loved Linda beyond how best friends love each other. He loved her like family. It was a beautiful relationship. Loss has made Kenny and I true brothers. We have grieved together, understood and loved each other and always tried to find be happy in the warm afterglow of Linda’s life and love. Kenny is yet another Old Soul in my life. I am so blessed.  

 TAKE TODAY

           Okay. After a year of consciously driving my grief process over Linda’s death and reporting it willfully and honestly here and face to face with many friends, where do I stand in the big picture? Am I floundering at the deep end of the pool or floating blissfully on the the sunny surface?

          A fine friend sent me a quote by Gail Caldwell telling a friend about not knowing what to do or how to do it after the death of her partner. She writes, “He was quiet for a minute, and then he said something of such consolation that I will hear him saying it forever.  ‘You know, Gail,’ he said, ‘We’ve been doing this as a species for a long time.  And it’s almost as if – it’s like the body just knows what to do.’

           We do know what to do. Grief was not new to me, as Travis pointed out and, though intensely personal, I was able to put my grief for Linda into a larger context, follow the 10 steps of grieving and push push push it all summer. Although I have found much acceptance, I have not fully resolved some of the steps but at least I’m aware of them and how they effect me.

        I have never been alone on this journey. Never! I have found enormous clarity and inner strength from the shamanic work I have practised for 16 years, from the spirits I am connected with, from my wonderful extended family (The Four – they know who they are and that I love them all dearly), from old friends and new and all of Linda’s many angels. Thanks to all of you, I am doing well.

         Most of all, my dear Linda watches over me. always near. Her message to me in our many communications this year has always and ever been simple and direct, though sometimes not particularily easy – be happy! Be happy! I try to live that.

         On Boxing Day last year, the day after Linda died, in my journal where I’d written thousands of words about the past two months, all I wrote was that old 1960s nugget: Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Its truth rang loud and clear for me every day this year.

            Be happy!

                  Reid

As promised, Kenny’s picture of me New Year’s Eve 2010

         

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Can you feel it out there moving? Reid’s 2010 Year-End Review is On The Way!

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Reid’s 2010 Year-End Review Happens Here Tomorrow!

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All Mod Cons, Old Souls, Going The Distance, Ashes to Ashes: Find it all in Reid’s Year-End Review Coming Friday

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Reid’s 2010 Year-End Review: Coming December 31 featuring the Mighty Avenger and Frank Sinatra, spiritual allies, wild epitaph, massage, hot tubs, Big Beaver, Brokeback Mountain and the best and worst highways and hotels. If you subscribe to my blog I will inform you the instant it is uploaded.

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Peace in your heart creates peace in the world! Be happy!

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY TWELVE

SPIRIT SANDS

 July 18, 2010/October 4, 2010

“Their exotic nonchalance and their nearness”

As you can see, Spirit Sands were an endless source of inspiration for Linda’s keen photographic eye.

         Located in Spruce Wood Provincial Park south of Carberry, MB, Spirit Sands is actually the remains of a huge delta of sand and silt created by a glacial river that drained into Lake Agassiz for millennia. Sometimes called the Carberry Desert, today a few square kilometers of open sand remain, creating constantly shifting dunes, incredible vistas and a divine connection.

July 18, 2010 

            Typically, on the first day of a five-day trip into the mystical prairie, I hike the Spirit Sands. So begins this journey. With the first few syllables of my power song, I am welcomed once again at Spirit Sands in Sprucewoods Provincial Park. Another perfect hot summer day so I am stripped to my walking shorts, cap and hiking boots with my trusty walking stick, a gift from Linda, in hand.

            The number of times I hiked here alone and with Linda is close to one hundred. This is the piece of the prairie with which I am most familiar and which changes most rapidly due to the movement of the dunes.

            The hike begins in the mixed forest of spruce, aspen, old oaks and brush. The first significant and very healthy spruce I encounter is The Sentinel, distinctive against the blue sky as it splits into two trees halfway up. I acknowledge The Sentinel and proceed.  With the wet year, the ground is ablaze with blooms. The juniper berries, used to flavour gin, are already ripening on the creeping junipers that dot the park. The shiny silver wolf willow bushes and the ground-hugging bearberry with its glossy Christmas-green leaves flourish in the porous sand.

            Some of the early hills are quite steep which is when the “ten steps, stop and look back” rule kicks in. Knowing my limits is one of the important lessons Spirit Sands has taught me. Acting my age is another way to say it. Looking back on the trail is something few hikers think to do. Where I have just passed looks utterly different from the other side. There is always a new landscape behind me despite how eager I am for the one ahead.

            The trail splits after the first rest stop hut. The varnish on the wooden seats of the hut is gnawed and raw. Some critter probably gets high from chewing the varnish off the wood, porcupine maybe. I take the trail to the right that leads to the high wooden observation deck that offers a 10-mile view and, a little further down the trail, my sacred place. Eighty-three wooden steps take me from one level of the desert to the best view so far. 

            The view from the deck is spectacular. To the west glows blue Marsh Lake with its painted turtles and knotty-faced trees, an oxbow of the Assiniboine River which is wild and high this year with the rains. Past that, Hwy #5 and the rolling overgrown dunes in the river valley. To the north and south, broad green vistas of the valley beyond which gleam vile yellow canola and something an evil green. To the east, the glorious red sands of Spirit Sands. Once covering thousands of acres, the dunes are overgrown now, leaving a few square kilometers of open sand. This view beckons you toward the high dunes, luring you with their exotic nonchalance and their nearness. Around me the air thrills to the acrobatics of hundreds of dragonflies. The Dragonfly Days of Summer have come early this year. There is more of everything this wet year.

            Despite the sensual completeness of the view from the deck, it is overarched and humbled by a vast impossible blueness in which clouds slowly explode. The clouds throw down massive shadows that churn across the land, warming and cooling, switching insects on and off, caressing the velvet hills and fine red sand. From the deck, I watch the edges of the shadows arrive and depart for miles in both directions.

            Some water, a few cashews and almonds, warrior tai chi and gratitude to Spirit for bringing me here, for even allowing me here, and I am ready to move along. My gratitude is huge for I found my sacred place here, the one place that resonates just for me. It is in the transition zone between the forest and the sands, an area just below the observation deck, sparse in flora, mainly decaying rampikes and harsh mosses but rich in direction and purpose. Shamans appreciate and seek out these in-between places, places of change and opportunity, where the energy is always mixing and moving.

            After my first year of hiking here in the mid-1990s and Spirit Sands helping me with my shamanic development, I felt it becoming a sacred place for me, a growing part of my personal mythology.  To that end, I wanted to build a circle of stones in an off-trail place where I could do personal ritual and feel at home. On my next visit, it took me longer than it should have to realize, this is a desert. There are no stones in a desert. I had a backup plan.

            I journeyed on this topic several times after that, finally getting the idea I should let the Sands point out a place for my rituals. With that special intent in my mind the next time I visited, I walked the trail solemnly and openly. Past the observation deck, I began to sense something moving with me, muscle energy crossing my path. At a small rise in the trail, I looked left and saw two well-defined animal trails coming into a gully below the trail. They rose up, crossed the trail and converged between two tall spruce trees into another gully a hundred yards away. I followed the trail, looked into the gully between the trees and, a little right of the bottom, there was a circle on the ground! Not a circle of impossible stones but the most possible circle for the site.

Aerial view of Spirit Sands shows how large the open dunes once were and how overgrown it is today

           Eroded up through the sand and glowing from years of gathering moonlight was the circular root system of a long dead creeping juniper, which grows in round shapes in the park. Defined not by an outer edge but by the spokes of the roots, it felt like a perfect inside out circle for me. I asked the local spirits for permission to enter and was welcomed. At the heart of the circle, where the tree had once grown green toward the sun, a rush of energy poured forth toward me. I knelt among the brittle roots and wept in gratitude. I had come home.

            The gully where my place sits is about 50 feet deep, the sand somewhat overgrown with mosses, small tufts of grass and a few junipers. The rim is lined with old spruce, most past maturity in their final years until some wild northwesterly blows them down like their prone neighbours. Limp skinny aspens whisper along the south rim, spruce and blue sky fill up the rest. The animal trail diverges as it crosses the bottom of the gully, leaving two separate cuts in the sand that disappear over the rim. I stop here almost every time I visit the park.

            On this hot July day in 2010, I doff my cap, shirt, knapsack and stick as I descend into the gully. Pausing to sing my power song, I feel welcomed again and enter the circle from the west as usual. Next to the centre of the circle grows a little pincushion cactus, cautiously pushing its tiny, needle-whiskered greenness out of the sand. Because pincushions produce one or two blooms atop the cactus, a nut forms there and usually just falls off next to the plant, causing clusters of pincushions to form like at the one o’clock position in my sacred circle.

            Rattling to the four directions, I sing my power song, pray and dance with the wind. Spirit moves through me and I am entangled in the branches of a long-dead tree, laughing. At the heart of the circle, where the tree once grew, I leave an ovoid opalescent stone Linda gave me to cure for a few days in the sunshine and moonlight over the full moon. The plan is to pick it up in five days on my way home from this journey.

Long view of Spirit Sands transition zone between mixed forest and sand dunes. 

           Leaving my sacred place, I don my cap and smile. How peaceful I feel, how joyous, how mobile as if my personal evolution is speeding up, some invisible change is occurring. It isn’t unpleasant; it feels natural, even and easy. Since my place is off the trail, crossing the brittle land back to the trail means careful slow steps, dodging pincushions, which usually don’t survive being tramped on.

            Shortly I arrive at the long log ladder to the top of the first dune. The day is hotter and muggier. The Sands are usually 5 to 10 degrees hotter than the land below. I start to climb, ten steps, stop, look back. Beside me, the big bluestem grows in tumps up the dune face. This view of Spirit Sands still gives me shivers regardless of how often I see it. The Spirit Sands Effect is restorative, where an easy connection to Spirit occurs that allows me to pass both ways – Agape to Eros, Eros to Agape, The One into the Many, The Many into the One. Chris mentioned he felt this aspect of the desert strongly when we hiked here a month ago.

            I wend my way under a large copse of tall willows to the left of the ladder entrance. Sheltered out of the wind and sun, I do sacrament and rest, breathing the thick air of a muggy day. I am utterly at peace, at home.

            Above me is the bench of a large dune that opens onto the largest expanse of sand. I climb to it, take off my hiking boots and socks, fling open my arms to the sky and let the breeze blow through me. When I am ready, I do warrior tai chi at the edge of the bench. From a distance, I look like small mysterious punctuation, an unsettled hieroglyph against the sand.

           After hiking here several times, Linda and I discovered a lovely place that became our special spot together on the dunes. Shoeless, I skirt the bottom of the two dunes to the left of the ladder and climb the steep slope of the second last large dune right to the top. Next to a small outcrop of bush, we’d take off our shoes off, dig our toes into the sand and admire the incredible place around us. Situated right at the edge of the dune, it overlooks a spruce and aspen forest, mottled green and dappled with the silver of deadfall. To the right is open prairie, the twin tracks made by the covered wagons that deliver tourists around the Spirit Sands and Punchbowl are prominent. Behind us and away the red sands stretch. This is where Linda’s ashes will be dispersed later this summer along with the remains of our first cat, Teedy. Together they can blow forward and back across the dunes. Eventually my ashes will join them in the eternal dance. What a place to spend eternity!

October 4, 2010

Email to Chris:

            Two intense experiences on the Sands today: I was able to sustain my attention in the causal realm for many minutes, maybe seven or eight. Previously I have only had short peak experiences there. I came out of it feeling light and free having touched the scene of freedom and the source of creativity. Not long after that as I topped a rise, a bald eagle was soaring directly above my head. I looked up and began to spiral with the bird who conveyed a direct and clear message to me: you know everything you need to know about what happened this summer, go home, sit down and write it! It couldn’t have been any clearer. Both these events occurred as I was heading back to the parking lot after spending a couple of hours on the dunes. I did touch that limitlessness as you suggested. My Spirit is full and smiling. I’m living that same dream!

* * *

         What Eagle didn’t make clear was what format to use to write about my summer and the distance it went. I chose this familiar form, sharing it with friends and family, people who will understand and people who won’t. Eagle was right. I did know everything I needed to write this. Thank you for reading it. I appreciate and respect any comments you may have.

        One year ago today Linda transformed from this world into the next. This hardly seems possible, but as this series indicates, I have become accustomed to embracing new realities over the past two decades of my life. This year I faced a complete change of lifestyle, nothing is as it was or ever had been for me. My innate creativity has helped me conceive of and create a new reality, new lifestyle for myself. This would not have been successful, or even possible without the generous assistance of my family and friends. From gentle touches and taunt hugs, from truthful hugs and knowing smiles to just holding me, I have been loved and understood by so many. I thank you for your part in my healing. You made a difference.

   Merry Christmas!

          With love and respect,

                                  Reid

 DAY  TRIPPING

 SUMMER  SHACK, CARBERRY, MB

All summer long

            Nearly every time after Linda and I hiked the Spirit Sands we drove north to Carberry and had chicken burgers and chocolate milkshakes at the Summer Shack. Our hill and gully hikes worked up two good appetites. Situated on Highway #5 (Check) the Summer Shack is a little fry pit that caters to locals in a paper plate and plastic utensil manner surrounded by over-shellacked, rustic, bolted-to-the-floor ambience.

           Carrying on the tradition (and as homage to the inventor of the chicken burger – the Earl of E coli), the small coterie of souls who spread Linda’s remains on the dunes this August had some form of chicken afterwards at the Summer Shack. (Ordering tip: ask for extra mayo and lettuce on your chicken burger, to fend off dryness. They are a little conservative about that out there in Carberry.) A huge air conditioner above our heads vibrated the whole building while effectively providing coolness.

               Of course, I would recommend the Summer Shack. It is three miles off the TCH and well worth the jaunt. Open only summers as the name implies, you order at a wicket and, miraculously, your food arrives. 

 

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12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

DAY TWELVE

Griswold United Church,  Griswold, MB

            On this day, the most humble of churches. 1897 and 1898 were busy construction years in Griswold, west of Brandon on #1 Hwy. Both the school and this church were built in those two years.

Griswold United, similar to small parish churches dotting Scotland and England, is a Hobbit-like place tucked away in a sleepy little hamlet slowly being dusted away by the prairie wind. Around it are towering protective trees that lean in mothering mode toward this elaborate pile of stones.

Earth hugging, it feels like the rocks rose right out of the ground, shook off the sod and assembled themselves into this expressive and timeless heap. The deep-set windows have simple tracery.

Study the rear wall in this picture. It is a mass of solid fieldstones, unbroken by an opening. Notice the myriad of colours of the stones, a patchwork quilt of geological time.

The gable ends of this church are adorable. The vibrant blue fish scale shingling under the eaves sets off the stark white bargeboard with its small triceps that culminate in the sunburst pendant and the cross finial creating a sensation of ascension. Every elevation has some form of buttress to support the enormous weight of the fieldstones. This is a very ancient sacred site.

Watch my short video about this church.

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY ELEVEN

BIG BEAVER BUFFALO EFFIGY

July 19, 2010

 “Twinges of sweetness emerge in me”

            The highest hill around offers 360-degree exposure to the blue dome, a dancing ground overlooking vast rolling prairie dotted with farms nestled in coulees, scant bluffs, patches of hardpan and the crawling shadows of clouds. Half a mile further down the road I came in on, Saskatchewan ends and Montana begins. To the southeast, I can see the Big Beaver border crossing into the U.S. The vista includes a buffalo jump about four miles west. To the northwest is Buffalo Gap where the bison herds passed through to drink at Cow Creek. To the east is the large campsite where nations met for countless generations.

             This place protects the only known buffalo effigy in Canada. Forty-five feet across and twelve feet high, Buffalo is clearly laid out in stones, now half buried in the hard prairie dirt. A spirit pole has coloured cloths blowing from it and there are tobacco offerings on the stones, both signs of recent medicine making. The hilltop is strewn with tipi rings and a larger ceremonial circle to the southeast. Here I can sit on one of my favourite sitting stones and stare off down the distance. Sitting Bull visited this site many times for ceremonies to pray for the return of the buffalo to feed his people.

Spirit pole with cloth offering cloths next to Buffalo Effigy,  facing north and the road I came in on.

          On my way from Turtle effigy (see Day Nine), down a dusty good gravel road south of Big Beaver, SK, through a barbed wire gate, up an incline, over a Texas gate and at the top of the highest hill around waits Buffalo Effigy, peaceful, desolate, quiet. Approaching holiness, I feel tingling in my back and hips and the tight grin. The day remains hot and perfect. I smudge and do sacrament in the car. I will visit this place three times this summer, making about a dozen visits since the mid-1990s.

            I begin singing my power song as I approach Buffalo, circling the stones in a halting dance. I am recognized and welcomed. Penetrated only by the buzz of flies, zizz of wind through grass and, occasionally, the shriek of a red-tail hawk, the cone of silence descends over Buffalo. I am enclosed.

            A common experience every time I have visited Buffalo is a great sense of loss and sadness, the haunted echoes of a specie brought to the edge of extinction and the unbidden change that wrought upon the indigenous people. My personal loss makes this encounter more intimate for me now.

  Stone by stone representation of Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy. Liver stone just above left front leg.

         I dance freely sunwise around the effigy, singing my song, being present. My prayerful circles result in an invitation to sit on Buffalo’s liver stone, naked and only in the sunshine. Buffalo’s liver stone is about two feet long and a foot wide, black and mottled with orange lichen.  I pray til the cloud passes, strip and sit on the hot stone, which burns for a couple of minutes. More heat. I sit with my legs pulled up and my arms around my knees, eyes shut.

           I feel the stone rise several feet off the ground and we float there wavering in the breeze for several minutes. Heat pours down on me, the wind blows through me, I am loved, not alone. Filled with peace and purpose I recognize what is happening to me. I am purging more grief, twinges of sweetness emerge in me, be happy.

            After a few more blissful minutes curled on Buffalo’s liver stone, I give gratitude to Spirit for bringing me here today and moving through me once more.

            Standing  a little wobbly, I pull on my shorts and slowly walk once around Buffalo. Buffalo’s generosity reinforces the healing from Turtle. I am a lucky lucky man. I am living a dream.

            I retrieve my offering box from my medicine bag and leave some homemade tobacco mixture as an offering on the large stones next to the spirit pole, which stands a few feet away from Buffalo. The cloths wrapping the pole signify past medicine making by others at the site.

       Stock picture of Buffalo clearly shows the outline and the large liver stone in a dry short grass year. Spirit pole is to the right of the effigy.

             I am still amazed at how willing sacred places are to contribute to my spiritual development, to sense what I need and point me there. Today was an excellent example with love and healing from both Turtle and Buffalo coming in full measure. The ability of sites to abide healing on such a personal, intimate level bespeaks their long use by shamans and, in my case, continued use by neo-shamans. Spirit is always eager to pass through us, to heal us when we are in need, ready and open.

            Few sites have demanded physical nakedness from me but both Turtle and Buffalo required it today for their healing and I obliged. Only two other places have told me to be naked: the Spirit Sands on all three night hikes I have done there and the Two Feathers Medicine Wheel on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border west of Leader despite its huge red ant guardians. Unencumbered access to the whole being and the intensity of the healing required dictate the amount of skin needed.

         

Flat and patterned with orange lichen, one of my favourite sitting stones on the prairies is on a bench just below the Buffalo Effigy. The view of the rolling landscape atop the Missouri Coteau is spectacular. In the draw below the stone is the last Canadian farm. Half a mile further, Montana begins. The bench still has tipi rings.

             As I drive down the gravel road away from Buffalo, I pass a van full of people, a tour of local sights offered by the Coronach Tourism Department. Buffalo effigy is a stop on their tour. My timing was perfect but it would have been great to hear the guide say, “And here’s a naked white man floating on a rock.”

DAY TRIPPING

CRIDDLE VANE HOMESTEAD

October 3, 2010

         When well-educated Percy Criddle brought his wife Alice and his friend Elise Vane and the women’s nine children (all of them fathered by Percy) from England in 1882 he chose a quarter section of virgin prairie just south of what became CFB Shilo. He named it St. Albans and, though farming provided some income, Percy’s diverse interests included astronomy, music, medicine and sports, especially golf and tennis. Percy’s women had four more children in Canada. It was these thirteen adept, creative and hard-working children that made the place and the family a success.

            The eldest Criddle son, Norman, a noted entomologist and artist, built a laboratory on the farm to study local insects. When I visited St Albans, or what remains of it, with my childhood friend Susan this year, Norman’s lab was still standing. We opened the door and the only thing in the bare room was thousands of flies swarming and buzzing loud and crazy at the far sun-lit window. Susan joked they were looking for Norman for revenge. Another visitor told us not to go into one room of the old house as it was filled with wasps. Nature bats last.

Norman Criddle in front of his first entomology labat St. Albans. The current lab was built later.

            Besides the house, lab and a few sheds, little remains of the Criddle/Vane homestead. Walking trails take you to the ruins of the tennis court and golf course with signage filling in the details. A pleasant way to wile away an afternoon tasting Manitoba history.

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12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

DAY ELEVEN

St. John’s Anglican Church, Wawanesa, MB

          Built 1882, this wood frame church is a fine decorative example of a basic Gothic building with a side entry. Everything points toward heaven. First, notice all the openings have pointed arches; the windows have upward-moving tracery. The steeply pitched roof, accentuated by the low parapet instead of gable ends, is topped with a small cupola that has a four sided roof and louvered arcades. The metal finial at the peak moves your attention closer to heaven. The opposite end of the roof ridge sports a stylized cross.

          The chancel eaves have decorative scroll saw work and the doorway has a peaked arch. The grey shingles meld with the stark white to give the place an ethereal quality, as if you are imagining some of it.

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY TEN

MOOSE MOUNTAIN MEDICINE WHEEL

October 9, 2010

“The Ancients have spoken today”

            Older than Stonehenge, older than the Pyramids, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel is still used ceremonially today by the Nakota people on whose reservation it sits. My intuition and experience here suggest it may be 8,000 years old, an early post-glacial construction. Spirit dances here daily.

            When Chris and I went looking for it in June, it was elusive. Although I had visited here twice before in the 1990s, I couldn’t figure out where to the access the hill. I left frustrated but determined and called the Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation band office a few weeks later. I spoke with an elder about getting permission and directions to visit the medicine wheel but he said to call another time.   

            In September, I called back and spoke to elder Beverly who was very accommodating, said to come on by, her house was just below the hill. A month later on a bright Saturday morning, I headed out Highway #2 into Saskatchewan, arriving at Moose Mountain early afternoon. I easily found Beverly’s house. She wasn’t there but a beautiful young woman named Keisha gave me directions up the hill.

Central cairn of Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel

            Two wind- and rain-washed ruts lead through the grass up the steep hill; some of the inclines were 60 degrees. Over rough hills and through rougher gullies, I carefully drive, always rising toward the summit. Wolf willow scrapes against the car’s side panels.  Past the band’s Sundance site on a bench below the hill, one last surge of Avenger muscle up up up and I arrive, a hundred yards from the medicine wheel. As I step from the car, my heart is pounding, my spine tingles slightly and the muscles of my face pull back in a smile, all familiar sensations at these places.

            The day is an anomaly. The north wind pushes in a 25-degree  C day in October! The sun roams behind occasional hazy cloud. I spend my entire visit shirtless, enjoying summer’s reprise. I roll between the barbed wire strands and walk toward the medicine wheel, stopping to wait for the welcome, there it is, smile and proceed.

            Set atop the highest hill around with an astounding 20-mile view of the foothills, rolling prairie beyond and the flat farmland left behind after glacial Lake Souris, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel has a large central cairn five feet high with a “nest” in the middle of it. A single ring of stones circles the cairn and five stone spokes radiate outward. At the end of each is a smaller cairn.

Astrological alignments of the five satellite cairns around the central mound of Moose MountainMedicine Wheel  from research by John A Eddy Ph.D. National Geographic January 1977

             I rattle, sing my power song and spiral around the outside of the stone circle. Very quickly I feel peace and holiness surround me; every step, every breath, every glance is a miracle almost too beautiful to bear. I spiral in toward the centre where I am summoned to the nest at the core of the cairn. I carefully climb over the rocks to the centre. There, on a bed of rock, open to the heavens and the earth, I ask, with a wavering voice, “What?” Even before the answer comes, I am trembling and tears begin to flow.

            Spirit gave me three clear and real directions at that moment, ponder points. I heard a soft but firm voice tell me I needed to go deeper into this, control my ego and write. While my body is on its knees, a weeping bag of snot, my mind is recording those instructions, already processing, and my spirit is soaring in ecstasy.

           All three parts of my being are fully integrated and harmonic at this moment. Each transforms the others. There is no separation between body, mind and spirit, The One into the Many, the Many into the One. A state of bliss.

            There was a short addendum to the final instruction. I heard another voice tell me, “People believe you.” I was shocked. That had never occurred to me before. Other than fact-checking, I seldom think about my credibility. I just write what happens. It was reassuring to know I am believed, which is, actually, never up to me to decide.  

             Slowly, carefully I leave the cairn and lie down in the brown grass outside the site. The dry spikes prickle my bare back. Filled with gratitude, I hear Linda’s voice say, “Be happy, baby.” I am. I am.

            After half an hour of pure pleasure prone on the hillside, I rise, make one last spiral around the outer ring, rattling and singing my song in gratitude then float back to the car. I drive down a few hundred yards to a flat bench and park to give myself some time to rest and reflect.

            As I get out of the car and look up, I see, coming in from the west, a bald eagle spiraling on the updrafts. Near enough to recognize, it slowly floats overhead, re-enforcing the message just given to me at the stones. Eagle is one of my power animals whose unenviable mission it is to try to make me wise. I thank Eagle whose presence reminds me of the huge responsibility I have at sacred sites to take away their wisdom with care and passion, to unpack my experiences with love and kindness.

Beautiful, multi-hued rocks of central cairn, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel

             I have a little digital voice recorder I use to record my important thoughts along the various trails of my life. This sweet gadget later gives me a chance to quote myself. Oh, writer’s bliss! As I was leaving Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel after my experience, in a whispery, reverent voice I said into the little machine, “The Ancients have spoken today. I have the message. Thank you, Ancients. I leave more enlightened than when I arrived. For that my only way to express my gratitude is, ‘I will fulfill, I will fulfill.”

            More than anywhere else, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel spawned this series of reports. I came upon this format while pondering my visit there. For that, I am truly grateful to these old stones and their message.

DAY TRIPPING

ST. LEON WIND FARM

May 29, 2010

             Restlessness overwhelmed me around noon today. I checked the weather satellite and it looked promising so I headed out to Carman, had an unsuccessful rummage in their MCC, bought 6 fresh doughnuts at the bakery and proceeded west toward Miami and the Escarpment which loomed blue and dark on the western horizon under thin variable cloud.

            I drove past Miami and up onto the first of the three steps of the Manitoba Escarpment. Up the second level and finally atop the next level of prairie. A few miles later on the very top of the Escarpment, I encounter the St Leon wind farm, my first experience with a wind farm.  Those suckers are big! And stretch for miles and miles across the rolling hills. Dozens of them! Very strange and surreal motion relationships with the car moving horizontally and the huge turning blades right there next to the road. If Alfred Hitchcock were making North by Northwest today, he’d have a wind farm in it.

            I pass through Notre Dame de Lourdes and descend off the Escarpment into Rathwell. As imposing as the windmills are, the rolling black shelf cloud that covers half the horizon before me is awesome! I am driving right into it, cloud darkening around me. I drove 240 north to Portage la Prairie and the rain begins, buckets by the time I arrive at the PLP Horts.

            I have encountered the once-in-fifty-years rainstorm. I watch the streets of Portage fill up with water. It lets up a little after an hour and I decide to try the TCH home. I get to the rest stop just outside PLP and pull in hoping for better visibility. It eases once more. By the time I get to Elie, this storm is maelstrom proportions. Zero visibility with people still passing me! I sit on Elie’s main drag for half an hour and it lets up more. I keep driving back into it, of course. Stupid white man!

            The result of the rainstorm is flooding over a large area, especially between PLP and Winnipeg. The land is drenched with standing water everywhere. The rains that came even before I left the city meant the ditches were full, fields inundated, both sides of the Escarpment alive with ditch streams, La Salle and Assiniboine Rivers and Tobacco Creek overflowing their banks. Ah, the joys of living on a floodplain.

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12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

DAY TEN

St. Paul’s United Church, Souris, MB

          Built in 1907, this huge buff brick church stands regally at a street corner. The enormous tower with a castellated parapet, lively corbelling and tiered buttresses is well proportioned to the massive body of the place and contributes greatly to the vertical orientation of the structure. It rests on a fieldstone foundation that extends about five feet above ground. Two large parapet gables and several smaller ones adorn its roofline, a major chimney with Gothic details is a solid feature and the slightly pointed openings increase its Gothic persuasion. The front window is over two storeys high.

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY NINE

MINTON TURTLE EFFIGY

July 19, 2010

“Stoned in the original sense of the word”

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”

Sioux proverb

            Cast 65 feet across the top of the highest hill around lies an intact outline in stones of a huge turtle. Its shell is a large rock carapace out of which grows a bluff of chokecherries. While some smaller turtle effigies were markers to indicate water in the direction the turtle faced, this site, over 2000 years old, served a more spiritual purpose. This is a dancing ground, a ceremonial site.

This stock picture shows the stone Turtle effigy laid out with the pile of stones at the centre of its shell. The head is in the foreground and the body  widely surrounds the bushes and rockpile.

             I imagine the undulating hills around filled with angular tents and soft plumes of white smoke and above them, the sacred turtle. The hill I stand on and those I see to the northwest are part of the eastern edge of the Missouri Coteau. The Continental Divide passes just north of here. Below and to the south of the effigy you can see the white alkaline east end of Big Muddy Lake. Since the effigy is next to a plowed field, I always express gratitude that is remains here at all and recognize how close it came to being destroyed. I never miss the irony of our modern definition of energy as it is pulled out of the ground and stored in the oil storage area below the effigy.

            The hills around the Turtle Effigy are velvet and verdant this year with all the moisture. Sloughs that haven’t existed in decades reappeared this year. Rolling hills and the good gravel transport me to the site. That old familiar tingling in my hips and spine and the skin tightening around my face starts as I near Turtle.

            One change since Chris and I were here a month ago is the access road, then knee deep in weeds, now graded with the weeds towering along the side of the short trail up to the site. I park several hundred feet away from the site.

            After smudging myself with sweetgrass in the car, I approach Turtle singing my power song. Overhead a red-tailed hawk, eternal guardian, cries on the updrafts. I walk the outer circle of stones as I sing my power song. I feel recognized and welcomed as I stand at Turtle’s head, waiting. I am welcomed into the effigy.

                  Illustration of Minton Turtle effigy

           At the centre of Turtle is a pile of rocks out of which grows a thicket of chokecherry bushes. On the leeside there is an indentation in the tall grass. I left this indentation there a month ago, maybe it has been reinforced by sleeping deer. As happened last month, I am thrown to the ground on this spot and lay on the hot earth with the hot sun pouring over it all. Out of the wind with the grass walling me in, I am filled with amazing warmth that transcends sensation and just simply is, here and now. I feel blissful in my little space, enclosed but connected, at home, at ease.

            After a few minutes I stand, rather wobbly, and thank Turtle for the healing. It’s time to leave an offering but not before I walk back to the car and take a breather from the intensity of the place. I must be vigilant about how much of this energy I can handle at one time. Turtle will provide but in small doses.

            As I meditate on an offering in the car, the prairie breeze weaves the tall grass into a subtle floating song. A month ago, my offering was a flyaway – some beads and feathers I strung together – which I left flying from one of the chokecherry bushes on the carapace. Though tangled it still flutters there.

            Turtle indicates an offering of water would be appropriate this visit. I fill my water bottle from a jug of Winnipeg water I carry with me. Singing my power song, I approach the head of Turtle and spray water on the rocks that form its large head. Once the water is gone, I stand, eyes closed, still, silent, present, waiting, waiting.

             Turtle’s message to me is sudden and clear – be happy! It’s not a reiteration of Linda’s “be happy” but an entirely new kind of “be happy”, one that grows out of me, a happiness that burns from within me. I start to laugh and laugh. When I open my eyes three little yellow butterflies dance happily, dizzily, in the air over the grass. I start to laugh at their perfect antics and they become funnier and funnier. I am stoned in the original sense of the word.

            How seldom we find perfection yet, here, atop the highest hill within view, I have found perfection – simple, direct, unmitigated perfection. I feel the presence and love of all the generations who came here before me to pray, to worship, to seek this perfection. Laughing voices ripple up the side of the hill toward me. Now and then, a sharp keening quells the laughter and a moment of sorrow arrives, abides then passes. Perfection.

             I return to the car for a break and sip home water for the day is hot, the sun very near today. I approach the effigy again, singing my power song and am asked to attend the heart stone. Every effigy I have seen has included a heart stone placed where the heart of the animal would be. In Turtle’s case, the heart stone is a small bed of stones about three feet square on the upper left side of the form. I stand at the heart stone, waiting. I have sat on this heart stone before and been given gentle direction and urgings. This time the message is immediately clear.

            Battleship clouds have sailed by all day, their moving shadows I can see coming for miles across the rolling land. I am told to lay my naked body on the heart stone in the sunshine. I stand and wait for the cloud to pass, strip and lay face down on the heart stone. The tall grass encloses me. The energy of the stones overwhelms me, I am immersed in a heat that burns somehow outside and inside of me at once. I begin to sweat, especially my face, arms and chest. The hairs on the back of my neck bristle and I feel a little nausea arise. I realize I am also crying a little.

            In a few minutes I am covered in shadow again, present and aware, still sweating, waiting for the return of the sun. In sunshine, I roll onto my back. At that moment, I realize what is happening to me. I am purging small painful knots of grief. The heart stone is pulling me fiercely toward it. Sun and stone hold me in place, in safety. I feel relief, a lightness I haven’t known in months. Be happy.

            Turtle’s heart stone drained me of some aspects of grief I had been struggling with the last few months. Specifically, Turtle relieved me of the remorse and regret that frequently overwhelmed me. Though mild, my depression lessened significantly after this day. Nature abhors a vacuum. My sorrow was replaced with love, Linda’s love, Turtle’s love, elemental love the springs from simply being, as Spirit just reminded me.

 Incredible 10-mile vista from Turtle effigy! That’s Big Muddy Lake in the middle distance, most summers a dry white bed of alkali but this wet year filled with blue water.

            I wait for the next shadow then stand a little unsteadily. As I thank Turtle for the generosity and comfort, I look down at the heart stone and, darkening the rocks, is my sweat. As it evaporates in the heat, I feel even lighter, freer, knowing I am leaving behind something I no longer need.

            I am leaving something else of me as well. The shape of my body is pressed into the tall grass growing out of and around the heart stone, my delicate effigy carved in grass, humble, unsubstantial. 

            How did this happen? These experiences are so site-specific that it is usually quite hard to reduce them to words. It is elemental. Earth, air, water are evident elements that exist in our bodies. Fire is somewhat different, more obscure. Often this refers to the fire that burns at 98.6 degrees within us but we are able to burn in other ways. Fire connects us to more evolved parts of ourselves.

            One aspect of shamanism is the ability to create, under certain circumstances, inner heat that radiates outward into the world. When combined with specific intent, our inner heat can burn away unwanted or unnecessary parts of us, purging them, healing us. That is what happened at Turtle that hot July afternoon.

            Humans have used burning grounds through the millennia as a way of cleansing ourselves. Sometimes Nature purges imperfections from our bodies with high fevers. From my power song and my open awareness, Turtle recognized what I needed to burn away and offered the means for that to happen. All I had to do was be present, aware and open in the burning ground and Spirit moved through me. The experience integrates the three basic elements of my being: physical contact (naked on the heart stone), mental settling (being present and open) and spiritual touching (purging the grief). Such a simple technique. Call it an inner technology.

            My role in this, besides grateful, present recipient, is to integrate those three parts into a whole and healthier thing called Reid Dickie. I’m up to the challenge.

DAY TRIPPING

NEUBERGTHAL

July 13, 2010

            Neubergthal is one of the best preserved single street Mennonite villages in North America. Located southeast of Altona, the tiny spot is part of the West Reserve set aside for Mennonites when they immigrated to Canada in the late 1800s.

          The outstanding features of Neubergthal are the eight intact housebarns aligned along the street, actually Provincial Road 421. The traditional building style shows characteristic Mennonite architecture with house and barn connected. In the 1990s, local people organized to save the buildings, many of them unique in Canada. Today a fully restored housebarn interpretive centre complete with a functioning Russian bake heater offer visitors a glimpse into a bygone era and lifestyle.

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12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

DAY NINE

Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Graham and Donald, Winnipeg, MB

           Adding a delightful incongruence to an ever-changing downtown corner, now with the Millennium Library, cityplace and the MTS Centre as its cornermates, is Holy Trinity Anglican, a striking example of delicate High Victorian Gothic architecture. The third church on this site, construction was completed in 1884.

           This limestone church’s design marked a new level of sophistication of design for Winnipeg. Architect Charles H. Wheeler created the plan right down to the coloured stained glass clerestory windows. Wheeler’s other buildings include Dalnavert and the first Dufferin School.

               Holy Trinity’s many Gothic features present a medieval feeling with its enormous number of pinnacles, buttresses, gable ends, orbs and finials all intending to move your attention heavenward.

            The church was designated a National Heritage Site in 1990.

   

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY EIGHT

BANNOCK POINT PETROFORMS

August 17, 2000

“Songs spontaneously arise in me”

            The Cree call it Manito Ahbee; the tourist guides call it Bannock Point Petroforms. Whatever it’s called, this easily accessible place is ancient, alive with Spirit and a creation site. The dense forest gives way to open areas of dark, pavement-like rock. Patchy carpets of dry crackly black moss grow on the tablerock. Human, snake, turtle and other shapes are laid out on the bald tablerock of the Canadian Shield in Whiteshell Provincial Park, rocks just slightly younger than Spirit itself.

            This is where Webbed Flight, my spirit helper, lived about 1200 years ago. He is very energized every time I visit here, as he is today.

Turtle effigy at Bannock Point

         

            As I arrive, the clouds break into pieces of the sky and the day warms quickly. After smudging, I step into the fresh spruce aroma of the Whiteshell.  Immediately I am welcomed, calmed and reassured by Webbed Flight that I am protected here. I say a short prayer of gratitude and, singing my power song, walk the short path to the site. I shiver with a strong and benevolent Bear presence and with the love I feel from the local spirits.

             Creation legends say Great Spirit set the Anishinabe people down on Earth here among the rocks and trees. The energy flow from this places rushes westward. The Anishinabe followed that energy and their culture of animal symbolism diffused across the prairies. Today a reverent stillness pervades the place.

Snake effigy at Bannock Point

            I wander the site with Webbed Flight strong and available to me. He sings his short raspy song; I feel his bliss. He is home! I sense his delight when a snake effigy, short, old and big-headed, almost knocks me flat as I stand at the end of its tail, toes touching the last rock. Snakes are short power vectors that concentrate energy into intense bursts. Instead of falling, I sense flight and regain my balance immediately. Deeper in the site, the head of another snake sends me into spontaneous dancing, gesturing and singing. Movement is very important here, so much open space to inhabit with it.

              Spirits abound in all corners of the site, the edges are alive with forest elementals and at ground level there is a greenish haze from the abundant snickering lichen. Off on an enormous flat stone, a large ceremonial circle with openings at the four directions encloses trees laden with colourful cloths. Tobacco and other offering abound on the stones. How much divinity has passed through this place? How long has the human spirit communed with the Absolute here? This place has existed for but one moment – this moment!

Human effigy at Bannock Point

                    I circle it slowly, presently, rattling softly. Songs spontaneously arise in me surging out of my mouth into the warm day. My hands gesture a visual language accentuated by chest thumps. Deeply communing with Webbed Flight now, my voice becomes his, my words his meaning, my breath his wisdom. I feel balanced, a completion occurring every moment. I am ecstatic to give voice and sacred manner to the loving powerful spirit of Webbed Flight, my friend, my mentor, my guardian. I am Aspen Smoke because of him and his naming.

                Over the years, Webbed Flight has guided me on the path in my brightest moments and searched til he found me wallowing in the darkest mires. He lives again through me but never have I experienced his being with such power and clarity, such love and perfection, as I do when we share this familiar place. Here we both living the same dream.

Section of large ceremonial circle at Bannock Point. Trees hung with offering cloths

              We are the conceptualizing animal, thus able to give meaning to Nature. Here, to express the unfathomable ancientness of these exact rocks, ancestors created sacred forms and figures with pieces of old old rocks. It is impossible for us to know the lack of cynicism and trust in Spirit these people felt as they laid rock next to vulnerable rock on barren stone. It was body-to-body communing, the living earth inhabits the living body and vice versa. At the same time, Spirit rides that delicate balance, Eros and Agape, the One into the Many, the Many into the One. Other sites in this series have that same reciprocating flow.

           Rocks once touched by ecstatic shamans still pound with the power of creation, thrum with a sense of place from which creativity springs. Sometimes the safety I feel at these sacred places is almost unbearable. I am in a state of grace, liquid in the environment, welcomed, even coddled. I share this feeling with Webbed Flight and we sit together on sitting stones he first knew as a boy. As a shaman, he claims to have made petroforms here himself, imbuing them with the necessary power and symbolism.

            Roaming away from the circle, I find a small abstract design tucked under a bush. I strip off my shirt and perform my warrior tai chi around the little cluster of stones. I can’t stop smiling. Neither can Spirit.    

DAY TRIPPING

BARNEY’S MOTEL, BRANDON

August 12, 2010 

            For no discernable reason I could see, the tourist guide says Barney’s Motel was nominated as “funniest motel in Canada,” unless they meant, “But not funny, “Ha! Ha!” and you consider red ants crawling about your room hysterical fun. All rooms face the highway but there is virtually no traffic sound inside the room. A friendly park bench under the front awning offers full view and ambience of the TCH with its non-stop rush of semis, SUVs, pick-ups and sedans – my evening entertainment already in progress.

            Barney’s is the worst motel at the best location – an intersection with lights of the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 10 that runs from Flin Flon, Manitoba to Corpus Christi, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. And I am encamped here in Room 105 for the night the weather changes.

                 I saw it coming. I was having sacrament behind Barney’s as a sharp line of darkening cloud moved slowly in from the west creating a phosphorescent orange and silver sunset. That evening the arc of summer reached its zenith, acme achieved, its first and last gasp of Orgasm. The Hinge was moving. As I stood and watched the advancing cloud, a red-tailed hawk, familiar from every sacred site I’ve ever visited, cried twice over the fields. “Every moment sacred.”

              After dark, the Hinge slowly swung, bringing rain, refreshment and a spectacular lightning and roar show when combined with the running lights of the big rigs (a ride at the Ex) and the howling of the trapped but untamed horsepower under their cabs, everything backlit by the flickering lights of the fry pits along the route. I had a front row seat for it all at Barney’s. (One anecdotal scene was the truck that usually had LIGHT SPEED in huge letters along its load had LIGHT PEED instead.)

            I watched the dark silhouette of a hitchhiker become waterlogged during the storm yet, afterwards, dance in wild circles under the eerie orange glow of the intersection lights, getting a ride into the wild prairie night surprisingly quickly.

            Barney’s Motel is a landmark in Brandon. It was there when we visited as a kid tho I don’t recall ever staying there. It always had a garish neon sign but the present endeavour is rather lame.  Once a thriving concern with a reputation, fires and futility has left Barney’s bedraggled and sad. But what a location!

 

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12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

DAY EIGHT

Sacred Heart of Jesus Ukrainian Catholic Church, Rossburn, MB

           Every typical element of traditional onion-domed Catholic churches is here but modernized, either subtly or extremely. Square corner towers on the front elevation are given brick pilasters to contrast with the stucco and topped with a low drum on which a stubby octahedral dome is set.  

             The angles of the tower roofs are extended onto both levels of the spectacular façade. The jutting angular gables and heavy segmented blue-paned windows along with the towers create upward movement that sweeps heavenward past the crosses atop the domes.

             The nave is rectangular with a low-pitched roof and a series of tall thick windows. The third dome at the rear replicates the other towers. Most traditional Catholic churches have a separate bell tower housed in a wooden tiered building. Here it is given an ultra modern feeling with the steel legs supporting a caged bell with Roman arches.

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Coming Soon: REID’S YEAR-END REVIEW What a year it’s been!

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY SEVEN

THUNDERBIRD NEST

 July 31, 2007

“It amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom”

            It was the height of summer, the last day of July. A month of record-breaking temperatures and dangerous humidity was ending. Change was in the air.

            Originally, my friend Chris and I had planned a trip and hike to the Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Provincial Park but with daily humidex advisories, going to a place that was usually 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding area seemed unwise. Instead, we opted for Thunderbird Nest, an old Ojibwa site located about two hours north of Winnipeg.

            Located just west of the Lake Manitoba Narrows, Thunderbird Nest was not a new site for me. I had visited it first and twice in 2001 but not since.  Chris had never been there.

Appropriately unassuming and humble, Thunderbird Nest brought visions of healing and the future to shamans who performed ritual here.

            The Thunderbird in Ojibwa and Cree legend was a super eagle with a wing span two canoes wide capable of transforming into human form. The Thunderbird spoke thunder and lightning flashed from its eyes. Difficult to see because of its disguise as black swirling clouds, the Thunderbird fed only on snakes and protected humankind from the Great Horned Serpent of the Underworld. This area of Manitoba supports a large red-sided garter snake population. Many Thunderbird Nests are found in eastern Manitoba but this is the only one west of Lake Manitoba.

             Thunderbird Nest may have been built to attract the Thunderbird, which would reward its builders with sacred powers. Used for at least 1000 years, one of its purposes has been as a vision quest site. Secluded and in self-denial of food, water, clothing and comfort, exposed to the elements, the warrior cried for a vision to guide and protect him, longing for the Thunderbird to appear in his dream.

            Shamans frequently used this site to acquire or contact helpful spirits and experience extraordinary ecstatic powers. This is part of my silent intent for today’s visit.

            Taking Chris’ car, we head north on Highway #6 into the Interlake. The highway follows the east coast of Lake Manitoba and passes through a number of small interesting communities.

            St. Laurent, a tiny Metis community, has a small stony beach and a reputation for frequent UFO and chupacabra sightings. A little further along is Eriksdale, which boasts of being the hiding place of Stony Mountain Penitentiary escapee Percy Moggey who spent 11 months in a shack after going over the wall in 1960. A replica of his shack is now a tourist attraction with tours available!

             A few kilometers north of Eriksdale, we turned off Highway 6 onto Highway 68. The landscape changed with more rocky areas and pastures replacing cropland. There is more bush, evergreens and little traffic. The highway is incredibly smooth and drivable.

             We reached the Narrows, with its small attempt at tourist amenities on the east side. Boaters, campers and some picnickers were immersed in the heat. We slowly drove over the long bridge that connects the shores, feeling the heart of Manitou beating nearby.  A kilometer or two later we saw a sign pointing out an upcoming historic site, Thunderbird Nest. We turned south onto a good gravel road into the bush. Soon a small area opened up on our left. Thunderbird Nest was about a quarter mile down a walking trail from here. We parked. My anticipation rose.

             Approaching sacred sites, I am always filled with an awe that quickens me, that strives to bypass my senses and make direct contact with my inner being. Some sites have more immediacy but eventually all of them produce this effect. Even writing this now, I feel some of the same joy and eagerness I felt at the Thunderbird Nest, attesting to its lasting and powerful effects.

            Chris and I smudged with sweetgrass before we got out of the car. I said a prayer of gratitude, asking for protection and positive spirits to help us.

            We stepped into the day, the place. It was sweltering. The high humidity persisted but there was a notion of change in the air, something imminent.

            Chris brought a large flat drum and some rattles which he opted to leave in the car for now. Carrying just light waters, we proceeded down the trail toward Thunderbird Nest.  Large flat white stones washed smooth by repeated floods cobble the path on this peninsula, which juts out between Lake Manitoba and Ebb and Flow Lake.

         Signs leading to Thunderbird Nest suggest some of the site’s uses.

            We turned right on the lead-up to the site. A few signs along the way gave some background about Thunderbird mythology and vaguely prepared us for the site. A hundred yards from the site the trees on both sides of the trail were festooned with brightly coloured cloths, small tobacco packets on strings and a few feathers, offerings left by previous visitors to Thunderbird Nest.

            Walking slowly we approached the Thunderbird Nest. I put down my sack, shirt, hat, and paused, waiting, waiting. There is a small contraction that you can feel behind your eyes, the contraction of being. It is usually tight and tense. At sacred sites, the contraction subtly loosens. I waited for the loosening that signals acceptance of me at the site. I felt it and a stab of joy shot through me. I began smiling, a prelude to ecstasy.

            Set in a small clearing among aspens and hoary bur oak rests a shallow indentation in the ground, about eight feet across, lined with lichened flat stones. Thunderbird Nest! Doesn’t sound like much in the description, which is exactly how it should be.

            My shamanic practice resulted in my gaining a spirit friend and helper, the adventurous soul of a shaman who lived in eastern Manitoba about 1200 years ago. Webbed Flight is what he prefers to be called; I sometimes call him Duck Feet to be playful. He is a daily presence in my life and has helped me through all the challenges I’ve faced since the mid 1990s.

            One of the obligations I have to my spirit friend is to help him “live again.” This is one form my gratitude takes for Webbed Flight’s help in my life. Sacred sites are excellent places to do this, especially this one since Webbed Flight had often visited similar sites in eastern Manitoba during his lifetime. I immediately gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight who began a slow ritual that involved spiraling into the actual nest.

            What do I mean by “gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight?” A fair question since it sounds frightening, dangerous and unpredictable. Without the appropriate inner technology, it can be a harrowing exercise. Ably and confidently applied, the way of presence, intent and awareness through love and trust opens your spirit to the inorganic world safely and in a sacred manner.

            Because all depth is interpreted, at this point, words become increasingly insufficient to express the rest of my experience but I’ll try to find a few more. Physically what happens to me is I begin to speak in Webbed Flight’s language, to express what he needs to say, the prayers he needs to give, the gratitude he needs to express, the laughter and tears he needs to experience. I laughed and prayed, danced and cried. It all came pouring out of me without stint, without reserve, without embarrassment into the heat of the afternoon.

             Other expressions Webbed Flight uses are gestures that involve his sign language, which acts as visual accent to the sounds he makes. His sign language uses the right hand to touch his left forearm and hand in various places with numerous motions. He often touches his face and head for emphasis. In India, these gestures and motions are called mudras.

            Verbally and visually, I have no idea what Webbed Flight is actually expressing. What I get, what I feel is the emotional impact of his experience. In a word, ecstasy. Whatever currents carry Webbed Flight along is what I feel. From his dark sadness to his bliss, no matter what the emotional signature is, for me it amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom.

             This ecstasy is the pay-off for my years of practice, for seeking out the inner technology discovered centuries ago, adopting it, practicing it, my reward for doing the inner work. The ecstasy is extremely state-specific so to attempt a description is almost futile. Suffice it to say the ecstasy flows out of the sense of freedom and detachment found when one rests as simple awareness.

            As I am expressing for Webbed Flight I walk slowly around the outside of Thunderbird Nest sunwise. My body is loose and full of energy but calm, able to strike angular poses that seem to strengthen my connection to Webbed Flight. I spiral toward the outer rim of stones of the nest. I pause, crouch and spend several blissful moments in silent prayer.  I am sharing a prayer with Webbed Flight.

            I rise from my prayer at the edge and step, welcomed, into the Nest. Webbed Flight’s singing rises louder among the trees. I stand, alone in the centre of the Nest. Yet I am not alone. He lives again. The ecstasy flows through me, stoned in the original sense of the word. Luckily, I am familiar and comfortable with the feeling.

            I rest in that place, that place of freedom and detachment from the land, the sky and the 10,000 things arising in my awareness. I sense joy pulse through me.

            All sacred sites have spirit guardians that watch over the place. Some have physical guardians that play the same role. Thunderbird Nest has fire ants as its guardian. The ground around the Nest and the Nest itself swarmed with large, red ants. They were aggressive and attacked our bare feet and legs, nipping at our flesh. Should you injure one of them, it sprays a fluid that attracts the other nearby ants, alerting them to the interloper and signaling a mass attack. They are hard to discourage and harder to ignore but after a while, they begin to pay less attention to us. They settle a little for us. Later Chris and I compared bites – round red bumps, not itchy…yet. Mine went away quickly.

            During our time at the Nest, the sky slowly changed. Darker clouds moved in from the west. Chris retrieved his beautiful drum from the car and beat a wilderness pulse into the afternoon. At times, the distant rolling thunder was a perfect echo to his beat.

            I found the drum provided a more balanced awareness in Webbed Flight and me as I began to sing my personal power song. He and I shared the joy of the sound. In a rather mad expression of silliness, we danced an exaggerated clown-like dance with large ragged steps and fanciful yips. Later I realized this was a balancing of the coming change in the weather, where humour and fun overpower any anxiety. It worked.

            There was a moment when I looked at Chris, walking past him, that I was seeing him for the first time using the eyes of Webbed Flight. Another similar moment occurred near the end of our stay.

            Suddenly a cool breeze that felt refreshing and new on our skin swept by us. It was the first sign of a change in the weather, the harbinger. Chris and I both felt its arrival. With a glance and a smile, we instinctually knew it was time to go.

            We smudged some sage and cedar in a shell before leaving, thanking the local spirits for their protection and for the bliss we had found in this wild place. As we did this, the first intermittent rain drops began to fall on Chris’ drum, each making a hollow lonely thud.

            On the way out at the offering site, I hung a flyaway I had made with some seeds from our backyard, jute string and a red feather. I hung it next to the path, commenting that some curious raven might like the feather to decorate its nest.

            We discharged any negative spirits that may have followed us. More correctly, Webbed Flight dispelled them with jagged gestures and sudden barks.

            The rain began to fall heavier as we walked down the trail. Chris used his shirt to cover the drum til we got to the car. The cool rain felt wonderful on our bare summer backs. We toweled down and as we sat in the car, lightning flared and thunder rolled above us. It poured rain.

            Though I do not presume to know his inner life, from our discussions on the way home, Chris said he approached the place humbly seeking acceptance and worthiness. Once he found that, Thunderbird Nest welcomed him. His beaming face was evidence of the ecstasy he, too, found there.

            The rain poured down as we crossed the bridge over the Narrows and Chris pulled off the highway next to the stony beach. He needed to wash a stone in the rain and Lake Manitoba. Lightning flashed overhead as the rain pelted down. This moment was utterly alive for me, so full of energy and bliss, a coda to Thunderbird Nest and the overture to the next stage.

            Toweled down again, we proceed retracing our path toward home. It wasn’t long before we drove out of the rain and back into the summer heat as the storm was slowly coming across the lake at an angle. At Lundar, about 45 minutes later, we stopped for country coffee-like substances. As we stood in the heat, the cool breeze came by, the same cool breeze that heralded the change at Thunderbird Nest. Both Chris and I noticed the breeze and commented on it.

             The rest of the journey into Winnipeg was the usual easy conversation that Chris and I share, enjoyable, a fitting end to the day.

             The city still sweltered, not yet getting the storm that brings the change. That evening, about a quarter to twelve, I stepped out onto the back deck at our house. The sky was clear, still muggy. As I stood there, the same cool breeze came by, the very same one. Later that night a thunderstorm brought the change.

DAY TRIPPING

HAYFIELD

October 3, 2010

            I am the last person alive who ever lived in Hayfield, Manitoba.

           Hayfield no longer exists. It’s a ghost town. Located 10 miles south of Brandon on Highway #10 and 4 miles west on the Hayfield Road, Hayfield sat at the western edge of the Brandon Hills just as the hills begin their final smoothing into farmland. Hayfield was west of the enormous broadcasting tower near the eastern edge of the Rural Municipality of Glenwood. Hayfield’s population was five people: our family accounted for 60%, the hired man Lawrence Murphy, who lived with us, and Dave Rogers, who lived in only other residence in Hayfield, filled out the roster. There were more cats than people in Hayfield.

Dickie’s General Store, Hayfield circa 1955, with hand-pumped gas bowser and  me as a tyke.

          Mom and Dad bought the general store in Hayfield in 1953. We lived in back and above the store. Huge and full of adventure for a little lad, the store was a piece of wild heaven for me. My parent’s experience was the opposite. Their timing was off. Rural people were becoming much more mobile and Brandon enticed their dollars away from Dickie’s General Store. The store went bankrupt in 1957 just before we moved to Shoal Lake.

            Over the years, Hayfield General Store, built in 1906, was an important meeting place for the community. With the store and post office open from morning til night, neighbours visited while shopping, discussing issues of the day. Besides groceries, hardware and dry goods, you could have a sundae in its ice cream parlour. My father used to call the men who sometimes gathered at the store in the evenings, the Hot Stove League, no doubt due to their vast wisdom and unabashed willingness to share it.

            My memories of Hayfield are fond and full of a child’s wonder. I learned to skate by pushing a little wooden chair across a patch of ice Dad flooded in what was once the Hayfield outdoor rink. The massive open living room that took up most of the second floor was the perfect place to ride my tricycle in winter. The stage of the large old Hayfield hall was where I put on my little solo shows to a room filled with nothing but wooden planks.

             I drove past Hayfield twice this summer. This year it is, actually, a barley field.

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12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

12 MANITOBA CHURCHES

DAY SEVEN

St. Wolodimer (Vladimir) Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church,  Oakburn, MB 

            This Greek Orthodox Church was built at the same time – 1947-48 – as the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Oakburn. Not to be outdone St Vlad’s has five octagonal onion domes or banyas painted in bright silver that shine like beacons in the sun.

     The floor plan is cruciform with a chancel at the rear, this one topped with its own onion dome on a short cupola. Windows have arched tops, even the painted-on ones on the dome drums.

     Designer and builder of this well-adorned church “in the Greek Byzantine style”, says local history book Ripples on the Lake, was John Mnoholitny who oversaw 35 volunteer workers.

     The entry porch has some nice carved edgework and a bull’s eye window above it. There is a separate bell tower on the property.

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY SIX

 BOISSEVAIN DANCING GROUND

 June 21, 2010

“The ensouled sunrise and the ecstasy”

            Outside of Boissevain, MB the Lorna Smith Nature Centre sits atop a rise above the Boissevain Reservoir. This is actually a dancing ground or ceremonial site that was used for centuries. Though there are no stone designs laid out on the ground, this site is the hub of a medicine wheel, an astrological observation point based on seasonal time.

            I have visited here at various times of year and day and always felt a strong urge to experience it on summer solstice sunrise ever since I found out about this site from local historian James Ritchie in 2003. This year it happened and what better way to experience it than on a five-day sacred journey with my young spiritual ally Chris in the passenger seat. We camped the night before at William Lake Campground just east of Turtle Mountain, making our trip to the dancing ground for sunrise about a 30-minute drive. Our campground and the ceremonial site are both located on the 100th meridian, “where the Great Plains begin.”

Spirit moves through the perfection of the morning

           From this site, it is possible to see stone cairns or circles laid out across the land aligned to the sunrise and sunset of the winter and summer solstices. To the SE in the distance there is a mound with a farmhouse on it and to the SW there is a cairn of white (painted with limestone paste by aboriginals) rocks. These two points mark the sunrise (128 degrees) and sunset (232 degrees) of the winter solstice, the shortest day.

             To the NE of the dancing ground there is a pile of white stones across the reservoir and to the NW, there are a line of burial mounds. These two points mark the sunrises (52 degrees) and sunset (308 degrees) of the summer solstice, the longest day. From this one spot it is possible to tell the exact times of the solstices. This site expanded my definition of the term “medicine wheel” to include not just a stone circle with lines radiating from it but the whole general area and prominent points nearby.

            Though the sky is mainly cloudy as we drive to the dancing ground on solstice morning, a clear gap in the eastern sky hintsat a new day. The opening in the clouds persists until well after sunrise then the gap closed and the rain started just as we were leaving.

            Chris and I smudged with sweetgrass in the car and brought our awarenesses firmly into the moment making sure not to approach the site “in neutral.” This is a rule I learned when visiting ancient places where thousands of beings, organic and inorganic, have paused over the millennia. Be present and alert, engage your spirit helpers for protection and discover the site in your own way.

 

Overlooking Boissevain Reservior, the hub of the medicine wheel

         Places and times as significant as this require some guidance for their power, needing an intent or purpose. I am at the stage where I need to shed or integrate the final harrowing gasps of remorse and regret that have haunted me badly since early April. With them, the depression arose. Although I have developed useful personal resources to deal with depression, when its sources are regret and guilt coated in grief, I am much less effective. Diluting my depression is another part of my intent.

            Chris and I are the only people here. In the east, a small purple bruise is starting to appear against the late blue night. Out of the car and into the fresh cool night turning into day, I am in one of those in-between places where shamans can express themselves fully. It feels comfortable and good but I must be welcomed. I quietly sing my power song then state my intent for the visit.  I wait for a subtle relaxation of the contraction of being. Until I feel the knot loosen a bit, I’m unsure if I am welcome. Having visited the site several times over the past few years, this morning I am welcomed as the local spirits recognize my power song. I smile with gratitude.

            A promise of gold gleams on the eastern horizon. I feel Webbed Flight pass through me laterally, his way of refraining from the day. I don’t feel him again that morning. Linda gets my eyes. She sees with delight the burgeoning day.

Solstice extremes for Boissevain, MB (lat: 49 degrees 10 feet)

             The tall grass is wet with sweet dew as I kneel and face the east. I pray quietly, sing my power song in gratitude and re-intend, re-intend. Crimson hues streak the emerging gold. I am directed to a stone in one corner of the fenced meadow. As soon as I find it in the long grass, I sit there. I feel reaped of heavy remorse, guilt peels away from me and I am re-emerging, becoming, evolving. Some regret shifts away from me to the stone. I find another stone in the opposite corner and sit there. More remorse, more depression leaves me. The stones in the other two corners each liberate me more, drawing the processed grief out of me. Though drenched in dew, I feel new lightness haunt me, Linda’s voice whispers in my head, “Be happy, be happy,” always the same message. The east is almost alive with morning.  

            Chris’ experience at powerful sacred places like this one is not as broad as mine. I catch his glance across the waving grass to see him smiling, glowing in the morning. Chris is fine, well prepared for this. The thought reassures me and frees me.

            At that moment, the first rays of day reach us. In the pure love of the dawn I am ecstatic, the purview of the shaman. Light pours through me and I dance soaked with dew, laughing, flying, being. I gather the special energy of this new day in my body through my hands, eyes and face. I turn toward Chris and see he too is dipped in gold, awake, aware, alive. Behind him, the sky is grey with imminent rain and across it, a perfect, vivid rainbow. Always a sign of hope and endurance in my life, the rainbow reinforces the healing of the stones, the ensouled sunrise and the ecstasy in which I am immersed. It is impossible not to laugh in sheer joy, feeling loved and alive.

DAY TRIPPING

SATTERTHWAITE HOMESTEAD

August 19, 2010

            On Highway #5 along the east side of Riding Mountain National Park six kms south of McCreary a little roadside stop has given respite to weary travelers for over 115 years. Known as the Satterthwaite Homestead, the site contains several historic relics from the region’s early settlement.

              If Highway #5 had flashbacks, it could easily recall being the Burrows Trail, which moved thousands of pioneers into the area around Dauphin. Before that, natives used the trail for its ease, as did untold herds of bison and other wildlife. The physical origin of the trail began when the last Ice Age ended. As one of the beaches of old Lake Agassiz – cold, deep and filled with glacial meltwater – the Arden Ridge, as it is known, stayed clear of overgrowth and become a convenient path, the only high ground between two lowlands.

            Jane and Thomas Satterthwaite’s house sat right on the Burrows Trail. Built in 1895 from logs with a sod roof, it became a stopping house along the Trail. Whenever a traveling preacher came through, the house became a church. The Satterthwaite’s even built a large wood frame Eaton’s Catalogue house straddling the trail.

             What’s left of the original log house tumbles down in the corner of the yard. An approximation of it has been built on the site. A section of the original Burrow Trail with ruts cut by Red River carts and wagons is fenced off and protected. A mature garden of local flora with signage and an information sign about the Burrows and other trails through the area give the stop extra interest.

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