July 26, 1998
“The petroglyph grabbed me as soon as I approached.”
A red-tailed hawk cries over Coal Mine Ravine as it sails on the warm July updrafts on my first visit here. Standing next to a large carved stone, I recognize this as a dreaming place and a teaching place, a place to seek inner wisdom and outer knowledge. A powerful and majestic Buffalo spirit pervades the site.
Jutting three feet out of the ground is a huge well-lichened boulder coming to a rounded point with a flat side facing the rising sun. Carved on the flat surface is an elaborate design of cups and grooves. A deep vertical groove divides the surface with branches running to each side. Two circles divided by a line and the pocks offer an enigmatic message. Walking slowly around the stone, from a vantage point behind and to the right of the stone, a magical thing occurs: the stone takes on the shape of a buffalo charging out of the ground. The image is so clear it stops me in my tracks. I notice later as I leave, the image becomes clearer the further away you are from the stone! Plains creation legends say the buffalo arose out of the ground and was made of stones.
The little gully where the stone rests since dropped by a glacier offers a vista of rolling prairie, farmland and mixed pasture. Below is Eagle Creek Valley, an old run-off channel. Around the stone the usual Saskatchewan flora abounds – prickly pear and pincushion cactus, sagebrush, foxtail, reindeer moss, wild rose, wolf willow and an array of yellow, white and purple wildflowers. Tiny white mushrooms grow on the abundant cow plop, the empty shells of dry purple puffballs crackled in the breeze.
Around the edge of the gully, a large well-used buffalo rub stone looms, its aura one of physical relief and extreme pleasure, the earth around it packed hard by centuries of hooves. I climb on top of the rub stone and sit, open and communing with the place. I hear satisfied snorts and bellows announcing an unknown buffalo communication.
Both stones invite physical contact. I sit and lean my back against the carved stone and immediately feel safe and protected. All seems possible here. Those who came to seek their visions here felt this same safety, the same potential. This is an ancient place, which hosted shamans and vision questers; lonely people searching for the comfort of Spirit found it here. As do I. In light trance next to the stone, I feel the wind blow through me and hear ancient buffalo hides flap against tipi poles. The familiar bliss courses through me.
A large portion of the stone is underground. Based on the digging the archies did around the stone, they estimate the carvings to be at least 1500 years old. In front of the stone was a foot of post-contact offerings, under which a six-foot round cobblestone circle sat. Beneath that, layers of pre-contact offering were found. Nearby there are two other carved petroglyphs, neither as obvious as the petroglyph stone. As a ceremonial site this place harbours a very deep past.
Its ceremonial use isn’t surprising when you consider Eagle Creek Valley has offered up plenty of strong evidence of long usage. Tipi rings, fire pits, buffalo jumps, petroglyphs, effigies and possibly a medicine wheel dot the valley and surrounding hills. On the approach to the buffalo stone, there is a series of seven tipi rings in a row going up the side of a small incline. These are pre-horse rings when they were set in lines to advantage the breezes that blew up the ravine. Post-horse tipi rings are in a circle to create a horse corral.
Fewer than 50 people live in the village of Herschel. SK making their large and well organized Ancient Echoes Interpretive Centre and Tea Room even more impressive. Tours to the petroglyphs are organized solely through the museum because it is on private property, a fact I didn’t know on my first visit. (By the way, I highly recommend the saskatoon pie at the tearoom!)
How does the centre interpret the legacy carved into a rock on a lonesome wind-swept hill in the Bad Hills of central Saskatchewan? One explanation suggests it is a ribstone of a buffalo with the long central groove representing the spine, the branches are ribs and the divided circle symbols are cloven hooves. Another pair of carved hooves were unearthed lower on the rock. The cups represent many or plenty buffalo. That is the hunting magic spin.
The stone and the site have been used as a teaching place. Along the crown of the petroglyph stone are a series of carved indentations representing the moon phases, one of them connected to central groove. The seven stages of life may have been taught here, according to the interpretative centre.
Plenty of things to see and do for history buffs in the Herschel area
Many signs of recent medicine making dot the site. Coloured offering cloths hang from nearby bushes. At numerous places around the pasture, sticks with red, yellow, blue and white ribbons accompanied by a large flat stone with a line drawing of a human being are stuck in the dry earth. Some have bones and sage bundles as well. I later find out these are markers for teaching tribal children from a nearby summer camp about their culture.
I bask in the peaceful warmth of the big carved stone on a Saskatchewan hill, settled and happy. I find Spirit here. I am home, again.
Currently I am working on a three-part series of articles called Sacred Places and Consciousness. The series examines the changes in consciousness that occur at sacred sites and how to access sacred consciousness. I hope to have the series done in the next three weeks. Sacred Places is the most viewed and most revisited page on my blog. Thank you for sharing my journey. Humbly, Reid.