July 2, 2010

“The cone of silence descends over me”

            In extreme southern Manitoba, a few kilometers from the North Dakota border outside of Snowflake, MB, the prairie rises sharply into a 200-foot high hill, one of several mounds in the area, used as a landmark for millennia. This is my second visit to Star Mound, a precious little site that harbours reminders from several significant eras.

            Easy to access on a good gravel road, Star Mound offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the prairies. Rolling hills cut with treed breaks flow off to the north, shadows of massive lazy clouds slide across the land, the garish colours of the monoculture glow. Explorer La Verendrye witnessed this vista; artist Paul Kane made sketches from its summit. Instead of tractors, half tons and toxic canola yellow, their landscape had buffalo, tipis and tall rippling grass. Had they come in spring, they would have found the sides of Star Mound glorious with crocuses.

Beaver shaped burial mound, tail to left, body to right, with flagpole, sign and geodetic marker on top

           The heat thickens but the hilltop is cooler than the flatland below. The gentle slope of the hillside scoops up every little zephyr creating a constant breeze that keeps the sweat and bugs at bay. Tiny happy voices winkle on the wind.

            I wait for the telling welcome and feel it behind my eyes. I smile and rattle a small gratitude song. Stripping off my shirt and shoes, I sing my power song as I enter the site. Prominent on top of the hill is a large burial mound in the shape of a beaver, one of only two such relics in western Canada. The mound is about 8 feet high, 20 feet across and 50 feet long. Hidatsa and Mandan used it for centuries to bury their dead and hold ritual. Now it’s my turn.

            I have come with a modest intent: to encounter the local spirits and discover healing possibilities they may have. Circling the mound in a slow sunwise dance, singing my power song and spontaneously gesturing, I feel the place bring me into its deep present. The veil is thin here. The cone of silence descends over me and I am awake and alive inside Spirit once again.

            Climbing to the flat top of the mound, I lay on the mowed grass and wait, quickened, present, perfectly still. Little earth and wind elemental spirits surround me. The wind blows through me, my skin and the earth’s skin commune, the Ancients stir underground and bliss awakens in me. I burn here, languishing in pure pleasure. Ecstatic again! The bliss in this case stems from the harmonic integration of all three aspects of my being – body, mind and spirit. Here and at most sacred sites, when that integration occurs, I am healed on every level possible, including the psychic, subtle and causal realms. The simple act of integration begins the healing, thereafter my intent combines with my spirit helpers  I rise and give thanks for another rejuvenating encounter with Spirit.

            On top of the burial mound, a flagpole flies the Canadian flag, a small sign signifies the mound and a three-foot tall cement marker from the geodetic survey of the Canada-US border indicates distance to the border. Star Mound School, sits next to the mound. The school is so well preserved and furnished as a museum, you could walk in, sit a class down and begin teaching. It is an honourable reminder of the one-room schoolhouse.

            The top of the hill features several huge boulders moved in for an unknown purpose but beautifully displayed next to the school. Excellent meditation stones! On the west end of the hilltop a suspicious buffalo rub stone has been brought in and signed. Trying to figure out where the buffalo rubbed against the stone seemed too difficult. I think they positioned the stone wrong when they set it down.

            As I sit in the Avenger writing this report in my journal, a half ton truck rattles up the hillside and parks next to me. Bert Moyer gets out and introduces himself. He grew up five miles from here and farms five miles from here “but in the opposite direction.” Bert is “a reader, not a watcher. Goddamn TV!” We hit it off and spend half an hour jawing.

Star Mound School opened in 1886 and closed in 1962. Now an excellent museum, it sits next to the burial mound.

           This is the “according to Bert” section of the report. Bert says this is the sixth location of the school and points out the other five locations in the landscape. He didn’t attend this school. He tells me the hill is composed of “200 feet of bentonite and the usual glacial junk under that,” and points out the hole a few away where they drilled to get this information. Bert tells me Star Mound is one of three mounds around here. Pilot Mound to the east and another one, whose name Bert can’t remember, just across the border in North Dakota. 

            Bert says this place is respected and cherished by people around here. He’s come to clean up after last night’s fireworks display for Canada Day. “Had near a thousand people out here for it.” I am amazed! The site is virtually clear and clean but for a ballpoint pen I found in the grass. There is zero garbage anywhere on the hill. Bert will have an easy job cleaning up.

             Whether or not we fully appreciate the power of a sacred site, people often feel an unbidden respect for them, something transformational that affirms they are a human being here now. Star Mound is one of those places – accessible, holy and respected.



July 2, 2010

            Before going to Star Mound, my wanderlust takes me on my first visit to one of Manitoba’s newer provincial parks, Pembina Valley. Located south of Morden on the banks of the Pembina River, this small park once encompassed part of a farm owned by Henry and Elma Martens. The couple wanted to preserve the area’s natural elements and landscape and offered to sell the land for a park. The combined efforts of Manitoba Conservation and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, who jointly purchased the land, resulted in this lush little oasis.

           The day swelters but a sweet breeze whistles along the Pembina Valley, cooling the bare skin and keeping the mosquitoes away. Around me is an almost circular windbreak of mature spruce and blue spruce, three deep and very effective against the winter winds. I feel well tended and safe among these old trees. During my entire 90-minute stay, I am the park’s only user.

            Numerous trails of various difficulties provide wildlife viewing opportunities and magnificent vistas of the Pembina/Tiger Hill region. Picnics and family gatherings can be accommodated although no camping is allowed and the washrooms are primitive. I am lazy today so prefer the shade of a beautiful basswood and the wiles of my pen to a hike in a forest full of bugs. I languish instead.

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Filed under Parks, Sacred Places, shaman, shamanism

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