12 SACRED PLACES
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.
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.”
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.