I have written about Castle Butte in the Sacred Places series and felt it required a video homage. My short report tries to capture the uniqueness of the butte.
I have written about Castle Butte in the Sacred Places series and felt it required a video homage. My short report tries to capture the uniqueness of the butte.
“Do not think you will necessarily be aware
of your own enlightenment.” – Dogen
My new life purpose has been revealed to me with great clarity during my travels this summer. In a few words, one part of my current life purpose is to learn and be hurled into new experiences then to report what happened with honesty, without proselytization. That is what this blog aims to achieve.
Another part is helping other Old Souls find their clarity, their purpose. Spirit has given me three incredible Old Souls whom I am honoured to assist with their life work. All men, of various ages spanning two decades, my “suns” as I have come to call them, bring vast richness, comfort and energy into my life. I thrive on that and I am grateful everyday for their presence in my purpose.
Wind and rain sculpt the soft sandstone of Castle Butte in southern Saskatchewan
Most Old Souls spend much of their life soul building; for some, life is only about soul building. This is another part of my current purpose. The long trips into the Saskatchewan hinterland have given me the stimulus, the space and the solitude necessary to reclaim my humanity, to proceed with my personal evolution in a world dead set on stealing my humanity from me. Since shamanism begins at Nature mysticism and moves outward from there, my time surrounded by raw Nature enchants my soul, quickens my evolution and drives my purpose. I get healed! I get happy!
People I encountered this summer have surprised me with their understanding and acceptance of my spiritual needs. I think of octogenarian tour guide from Coronach, SK, Tillie Duncan, who told me she meets people all the time who do ritual at these places so “you’re not the only one, Reid.” I was heartened to know that bit of information and humbled by her gracious silence while I did my small rituals.
At Jack’s Cafe in Eastend, SK, over a long breakfast as I scribbled in my journal, I noticed a 30ish local couple across the aisle eying me repeatedly. When they rose to leave, she came over and said to me, “Are you a cop?” I smiled and said I wasn’t. “Well, you got something, some kinda power.” Her husband stood behind her, nodding and smiling strangely. “Do I make you nervous?” I asked. They agreed I didn’t. She sputtered a bit and said, “You make me feel…” She was grasping for the word and surprised herself it was so simple. “You make me feel happy!” We all laughed and I told them it makes me happy to make them happy and to have the best day they’d had in a long time today. I’m sure they did. He kissed her as they were leaving, giving the old town codgers gathered in Jack’s for their morning coffee something else to gossip about.
Weathered farm house built about 1905 in Big Muddy area of southern Saskatchewan
I get enormous satisfaction knowing that I have incited several people to travel to sacred places this summer, to personally explore themselves within the context of ancient aboriginal holy sites. For some, it has been life-changing. I hope to get permission to share a few of their stories with you on my blog.
I plan to keep the mighty Avenger for a few more weeks as I have a long list places to visit and record around Manitoba. Thank you for watching my videos and being my passenger on some of my travels. Many more miles ahead, the curious and the arcane await us. Stay tuned! Be happy!
I’m just back from a eight-day ramble on the prairies, mostly in the Missouri Coteau and Cypress Hills areas of southern Saskatchewan. I visited half a dozen new sites, revisited some familiar ones, shot almost 2 hours of video (expect plenty of reports from afar as a result), met wonderful new people and spent time with some old favourites. My intuition quickened, Spirit whispered through the trees in Pine Cree Park and Old Souls aided and abetted me along the way. My reward for the 2800 kms and ensuing events is serenity, a renewed sense of purpose and a bolstering of my humanity. You get what you intend.
The trip began with a perfect Saturday at the Regina Folk Festival with Linda’s cousin, Mike Panko and his beautiful partner, Brenda. Mike’s an Old Soul and a ton of fun. Here’s Mike and me at the fest.
A day of great music culminated with an energetic set from k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang closing the evening concert which also featured Taj Mahal. k.d. is in fine form these days with a new band, high energy, great new songs from her Sing It Loud CD (buy it if you haven’t already) and a back catalogue that would be the envy of any singer with perfect pitch. The show began with the lead-off track from the CD called I Confess, to my ears a Roy Orbison homage of high order. (That was one of the Tunes of the Tour as was Moonglow because Wendy Thomson performed it beautifully with the moon rising above her on the second floor balcony at The Convent in Val Marie. Both tunes sift through the inattentive spaces in my mind as the miles go by.) k.d. covers two songs on the CD and performed both of them: Heaven “by that great country band, Talking Heads,” as she introduced it, led eerily, perfectly into a new arrangement of Hallelujah; and she swung the Little River Band hit Reminiscing. She sang Miss Chatelaine, Western Skies, ending the show with a rockin’ version of her now-evergreen Constant Craving. To end the encores and evening she sang Neil Young’s Helpless.
After a restful night on Mike’s futon and a long, leisurely breakfast with him and Brenda, I was westbound onto the Missouri Coteau. The Coteau stretches from the northwest in central Saskatchewan south between Moose Jaw and Swift Current into South Dakota. It’s the next step up on the prairies after the Manitoba Escarpment and features lots of hills and gullies, some of Saskatchewan’s best scenery and worst highways, friendly people and endlessly changing vistas that surprise and enchant the curious seeker. It’s one of my favourite places to drive. The highways are lonesome and long, the sky runs ahead of me just as far as it extends behind me and there’s enough room to think, to evolve, to expand my awareness and discover what’s there. I head south from Moose Jaw to Assiniboia then west toward Pine Cree Park, my camping destination for the night.
Located in the foothills to the Cypress Hills between Shaunavon and Eastend, over the years Pine Cree Park has sheltered my little tent more than any other campground on the praires. This is a shot of the South Fork of Swift Current Creek, which runs right through Pine Cree Park; its pleasant burble can be heard from most campsites in the park.
Set in a deep mysterious coulee on a Continental Divide, Pine Cree Park is a truly rustic camping experience. There is no other like it in southern Saskatchewan. Soft-shell camping is encouraged, the park is non-electric, the width of the road and bridges prevents any unit longer than 28 feet from using the park and weight restrictions on the bridges apply. It gets extremely dark. Great for stargazing. Here’s another shot of the little stream through the park.
The little park has custodians this year, something new. Joan Hodgins and her nephew Darcy tend the park and live in two trailers just at the entrance. Both wonderful helpful people. I bought a generous tailgate load of firewood for $5 delivered. Joan offers outdoor programs at the park and both her and the lad demonstrated a great love for and understanding of this sacred place. Joan helped me understand the significance of a gift Spirit gave me just after I arrived in the park. I will have a video report on the gift soon.
The next night I moved from soft shell camping to luxury on the prairie, staying at The Convent Country Inn in Val Marie. A former convent saved from demolition by Robert and Mette Ducan about 15 years ago, this is my favourite bed and breakfast out there. Other guests included Wendy and Eldon Thomson from Saskatoon who’d also attended the Regina Folk Festival and were out for a drive on the Coteau. Up on the second floor balcony, Wendy serenaded us with her lovely singing and guitar playing until way past dark. The balcony affords a wide view of the Frenchman River valley, Grasslands National Park beyond and the star-filled night sky. The Convent is for sale, a bargain at $525,000. Video coming soon. UPDATE: Watch my video tour. Here is a picture of me in front of The Convent.
The next day I took the eco-driving tour of Grasslands National Park. There is some development occurring in the park. A small, primitive campground has been set up at the Belza Place which has a vast view of the Frenchman River valley, and closer to the prairie dog Dogtown, another development is being built. Spend a couple of minutes with the prairie dogs in GNP. Here’s a shot of the vista from the Belza campsite.
After a night at the Stage Coach Motel in Willow Bunch, I took a private tour of the Big Muddy Badlands offered through Coronach Tourism. Tillie Duncan, who’d lived in the area her whole life and knew it like the back of her hand, was my guide. She took me through the Sam Kelly Caves where outlaws like Dutch Henry and Butch Cassidy hid the horses and cattle they rustled back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We also visited two sacred sites that were new to me: a ceremonial circle and a turtle effigy, both high atop a butte on the Giles Ranch which is private property and accessible only through guided tours. Though elderly, Tillie was spry and full of vigour, offering countless entertaining anecdotes about the area. She still farms 13 quarters, growing durum and lentils this year! I recommend her highly for the Big Muddy tour. Here’s a shot of me taken near the turtle effigy.
A night in the Country Boy Motel then I re-explored a couple of the accessible sites Tillie had shown me, like the 1902 Big Muddy North West Mounted Police barracks and the family cemetery of an early pioneer, James Marshall, all with magnificent vistas of the huge Big Muddy valley. I revisited Castle Butte and took some great video of the place. Again coming soon to a blog near you. The only rain of my eight-day journey occurred Friday morning when I awoke in Weyburn. By the time I got to Manitoba, the sun was shining again. I was thrilled to discover Hwy #5 through Spruce Woods Park is now open and the park is slowly getting back on its feet. This is my report on the park’s current status.
I arrived home feeling rejuvenated and fully in touch with my humanity. The mighty Avenger and I will travel the prairies for another month. There is always room in the virtual passenger seat for you. Hope you are up to the drive all the way “out there” and back. Come on along.
June 20, 2011
“Enticed back, fulfilling an unspoken responsibility.”
I wrote about Castle Butte in a post called Local Knowledge. Castle Butte, a quarter of a mile around and over 200 feet high, is a huge, ever-eroding sandstone monolith that stands like a sentinel over the vast distance of the Big Muddy Valley in southern Saskatchewan, a prominent landmark for millennia. Many times, I’ve stood next to Castle Butte and gazed down the miles-wide valley, its stratified walls burnished by afternoon sun. Since the valley has filled up over the past 8,000 years, I imagine it five times deeper, engorged with torrents of cold glacial runaway meltwater, carving a new language in a system of channels across the land, its syllables the unstoppable will of gravity driving fresh water toward a warm and welcoming sea. The same water chiseled Castle Butte’s precious shape.
This picture shows the butte holding a cloud.
This year, like last, I visited Castle Butte with my friend and spiritual ally Chris. Just like the returnees I write about in Local Knowledge, we were drawn back. Our detour due to flooding allowed the chance to visit the butte. We were eager to return and happy the gravel road through the valley was easily passable. My experience with Chris defies the reports in Local knowledge since we were alone both times we stopped there. This year, the butte’s sparse greenery is lush from the rains, as you can see in my pictures. When it rains heavy, the butte looks like a fountain.
These four pictures show the streams of erosion on one small face of the butte.
This picture shows one of several pinnacles that Castle Butte sports.
A hoodoo, sculpted by the elements, at Castle Butte.
This is the view across the Big Muddy Valley from Castle Butte.
Castle Butte stands as mute witness to its wild, watery genesis but a full participant in its saga of erosion and change. The wind and water still etch their calligraphy into its soft, willing sandstone, the people still return and all the while, Spirit aids and abets our needs. Majestic and mysterious, Castle Butte waits.
“The true wealth that North America offered, wealth that
could turn exploitation into residency, greed into harmony,
was to come from one thing – the cultivation and achievement
of local knowledge. It was in the pursuit of local knowledge
alone that one could comprehend the notion of a home and
its attendant responsibilities.”
– Barry Lopez
from The Rediscovery of North America
“We have not yet discovered America.”
– John Hay
from A Beginner’s Faith in Things Unseen
“A place we know calls for the beloved to awaken and come home.”
– Christopher Scholl
Many times, I stood next to Castle Butte in southern Saskatchewan and gazed down the wide Big Muddy Valley, its stratified walls burnished by afternoon sun. Since the valley has filled up over the past 8,000 years, I imagined it five times deeper, engorged with torrents of cold glacial runaway meltwater, carving a new language in a system of channels across the land, its syllables the unstoppable will of gravity driving fresh water toward a warm and welcoming sea. The same water chiseled Castle Butte’s precious shape.
Castle Butte, a quarter of a mile around and over 200 feet high, is a huge, ever-eroding sandstone monolith that stands like a sentinel over the vast distance of the valley, a prominent landmark for millennia. I have stopped there many times and seldom have my visits been solitary. Castle Butte attracts an array of humanity. Spelunkers explore the narrow shallow caves cut by water through the guts of the butte. The curious seek out Castle Butte, usually tourists lured by travel brochures. Most prevalent visitors in my experience are returnees, people whose early lives began on this same prairie under an enormous sun.
Yes, here they are again, returnees, often trailing disinterested families. Enticed back, fulfilling an unspoken responsibility, the returnees stare up at the sultry muscular shape of the butte against the blue dome, dreamily remembering some event or epiphany the butte shared with them. Each brings with them their eroded piece of the rock, their memories and their own worn shapes against the sky.
Local knowledge lives in Castle Butte. Across decades, a magnetic force attracts people made wise by the butte in their formative years. Its changing form looms large in their definition of home. Terry Tempest Williams asserted, “Home is the range of your instincts.” To which I add that pairing instinct with local knowledge gives us the certainty, not the mere potential, but the certainty of adaptation and survival, not only here but anywhere we call home.
Part of the responsibility of calling Castle Butte home is to return, like pilgrims, to be present once more, to “show” new family the place then realize Castle Butte’s meaning is so ineffable, so sublime that neither your words nor their presence here will interest them. Unlike you, they are inadequate to the local knowledge; their instincts are out of kilter here.
Local knowledge doesn’t only exist in the sparsely populated rural landscape. It feeds urban dwellers in a more intense version which, coupled with a pantheon of human-induced rules, provides the necessary adaptation tools for most of us to survive in cities. Yet we blankly walk through this local knowledge, unaware of it or any of its manifestations. Instinct is keenest when we are mindful. Try this: for one day, every time you walk into a shadow, notice what building or tree or whatever caused the shadow. Suddenly you’ll know where you are.
Every acre of virgin prairie from Vita in southern Manitoba to Grasslands National Park in western Saskatchewan possesses the original voice of the land, the local knowledge. The winds that blow over the land are given voice by the buffalo rub stones and wallows that are the anomalies and the vocal cords that produce the true language of the prairie. Undisturbed tracts of vitality, uninterrupted evolution, the barks of the prairie dogs, the rattle and hiss of the rattlesnake and the silent spinning of the wolf spider still echo in our ears gone deaf from listening only to our own cleverness.
We are trapped in the process of naming, which both connects us to and separates us from the world. Our naming is merely a way of talking, a doing where not-doing is required. Because it makes us comfortable we confuse the name with that named, identify with the thought not the thought-about. The reliance on identifying and defending this word magic is amplified in the volumes that fill libraries and bookstores, words scrawled on blog walls and our own fear of silence and solitude.
Ancient shimmering places, like Castle Butte, cannot make reason or ego feel safe. They can only slake the soul, making it feel at home. Beyond our clamorous superficial culture lives the real depth of soul, of growth and evolution, of discovering America. After a few days in the wilderness, your dreams change from urban scurrying to a more peaceful pace. Accompanied by dramatic increases in quantity, vividness and context, your wild soulful dreams convey caring concern for all beings. This led ecologist Robert Greenway to suggest our culture is only four days deep. Or four days shallow.
We have discovered its coal, oil, water and forests but the North America that lives invincibly inside us still calls for discovery and understanding. North America is an inner space. If we seek the sacredness it promises, inner work is essential. North America will sustain us if we listen for its wisdom by being patiently quiet. Be still long enough and the wisdom wells up into your consciousness. Then you’ve truly begun to discover home, like the returnees with their local knowledge of Castle Butte.