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Sacred Places

PINE CREE PARK, SK

Reid Dickie

1995-2010

“Sleeping on the Continental Divide.”

 “Coulee: from the French couler meaning “to flow”, is the term used for a channel down which melted snow and rainwater flow. Some coulees are very deep and wide, others only a few feet deep and so narrow that only a single human on a horse can ride through.”

Sharon Butala

            Most of the sacred sites I have reported on occupy the highest hill around with amazing vistas in all directions. Pine Cree Park is an exception in several ways. Laid out at the bottom of a deep coulee (the steepness of the access road is about 60 degrees prohibiting large trailers), shrouded in verdant pines, pick any of the two dozen primitive campsites and you can hear the laughing water of the South Fork of Swift Current Creek as it passes beneath the boughs. The Creek burbles out of the top of the coulee about 2 km away and eventually drains into Lake Diefenbaker near Beaver Flat.

Pine Cree Park inhabits the eastern foothills of the Cypress Hills and sits almost exactly on the Continental Divide. If you stand on the one side of the creek you are on the Hudson Bay watershed into which all rivers, including the creek, eventually drain. Step across the creek – it’s only a few inches deep – and you are on the Gulf of Mexico side of the divide where all rivers drain into the warm gulf.

            With its good supply of water, game and protective, towering pines, this coulee was a favourite wintering spot for aboriginals, including Sitting Bull and his tribe, Crazy Horse and his people and millennia after millennia of wanderers. Thousands have overwintered here. Choirs of coyotes still serenade each night, since year 2000 bison once again roam the hills above the park. A mysterious and quite visible aura hangs over the intimate little place.

            This is my favourite camping spot on the prairies for its beautiful and unusual natural setting and long use. The old trees in the park are protective and add to the sheltering effect of the coulee. Thunder is amplified as it echoes off the coulee walls. Rain and windstorms pass over the coulee, tearing up trees and crops above but barely rippling the sides of my tent. Long into the night coyotes enchant the darkness.

            Good hiking boots to protect you against the prickly pear cactus are required to hike up the wall of the coulee. Access from the south end of the park offers a worn two-track trail through tall grass which ends with a spectacular view of the rolling hills that sweep westward and upward into the Cypress Hills. I often did my morning warrior tai chi atop the couleeside then would sit on a well-lichened stone as my morning prayers and songs arose spontaneously within me. I wrote of the experience, “A sense of wonder and secret joy carries me along, my body now just a device through which the Universe speaks. The intent of the earth is evident in my being; my feelings arise naturally in this nurturing space.” The park is one of those in-between places that shamans love and in which they thrive. 

            I first camped there in 1995 on my initial journey of discovery into the Saskatchewan Holyland. At the time I was reconnecting with the Earth and Pine Cree Park offered a serene and supportive setting for my sacred endeavours. Using the rituals and practical applications of Toltec shamanism, largely from the work of Victor Sanchez, I regained my strong connections with Nature and its mysticism, which contributed to my new-found shaman’s path. I seldom camp two nights in a row at the same spot but Pine Cree Park, with its welcoming mystery and peaceful aura, enticed me to linger several times.

            I encountered elemental spirits for the first time at Pine Cree Park. In 1996 on my second visit, little hazy water spirits gathered around me as I sat in light trance by the stream. Rock elementals and some tree elementals joined them in a wispy dance of happiness. My experience with elemental spirits suggests they are be happy spirits. Generally very local and not very powerful, most elementals positively influence my mood, which Pine Cree elementals did every time I camped there.

            During my second stay in the park, I found, or was found by, an oddly-shaped smooth stone with a dull point at one end that felt very amenable to traveling with me. I had gone for a hike up the couleeside and when I returned, the stone was sitting on my picnic table, source unknown. Later I journeyed to discover information about the stone and my spirit helper Broken Fingers had me experience “stone time” and “stone space.” In my journal I wrote “stone time feels like an endless slow pulse with a glimpse of eternity now and then; stone space is a fluid pattern of lights that go on and off incredibly slowly.”  

Broken Fingers also informed me the stone is a spring-starting stone that can be used to create a spring at a certain place. He gave me very specific instructions on how the stone is to be handled to make a spring and how to hand-dowse an area to find a good spot. From his deep wisdom, Broken Fingers told me of another way to sense for a good spot using my tongue as a sensor, which I have since used for several other purposes. Amazing the information we can gather if we use all the tools we’ve awarded!

            On my 1997 trip, I stayed at Pine Cree Park on my birthday. Earlier I had unwrapped the present Linda sent along with me. It was a beautiful blue Brazilian agate, cut thin and delicate. When I cupped it between my hands, I felt such warmth and love pouring from the stone. I could feel my heart beating inside the stone. Similar stones are used by Brazilian shamans for communication at the throat and brow. At twilight, which comes early this deep, I gently washed the blue agate in the cold clear waters of the South Fork. Welling up from within the earth just over a mile away, the water has little time to warm. It is numbingly cold but I could still feel my heart beating in the stone even underwater. Now an integral part of my medicine bag, the blue agate serves a new and significant purpose when Linda and I communicate.

            My most recent experience at Pine Cree Park was in August 2010 when I spent two wonderful hours reconnecting with my old friend. That’s how Pine Cree Park feels to me – an old reliable friend, protective and welcoming. During my time there, the rain I’d encountered from Regina stopped, then resumed as I left. That’s the kind of friend Pine Cree Park has become, a gentle and comforting teacher.             

Located about 9 km off SK Highway #13, and about 20 km north of Eastend or 30 km south of Shaunavon, Pine Cree Park still offers seclusion and quiet, except on Fridays or Saturdays. Try to stay there on a weeknight or Sunday. Choose any spot and know that beneath your tent or trailer is an ancient campfire. Listen for the echoes of drums and quiet singing wafting through the trees. Hike up the steep side of the coulee for magnificent vistas in all directions. Discover the balance that comes from sleeping on the Continental Divide.

            One more quote from my travel journal to end. This is from the morning of  August 5, 1997, “What a wonderful rest! If the coyotes performed their prairie opera, I slept through it. If a passing deer sniffed curiously at my tent, I slept along unaware. If Great Spirit stopped by to smile at me, it occurred outside my knowing. I am home.”

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Filed under Ancient Wisdom, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, shamanism, Spirit

Ralph Rasmussen

               Ralph Rasmussen owned the land next to the Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy in southern Saskatchewan. He was a second-generation rancher, mainly cattle with a few acres of crop. I first met Ralph when I was on my second visit to Buffalo in June 1996. Short, straw-hatted, middle-aged, raw and rugged wearing one of those 1950s beaded belts with RALPH in standout colours, he came rattling up the hill in an old half-ton, parked and we chatted for half an hour.

            A self-avowed bullshitter, he talked about the spirit pole and the rocks as being the grave of Standing Buffalo. He remembered this place from his childhood since the family home was right at the base of the effigy hill. Buffalo is on municipal road allowance land and when they were building the road, they wanted to go over the hill destroying the effigy. Ralph claimed he convinced them to go around the hill, which is what the road does. He told me about a Mandan elder and his son who came here every summer solstice to pray and smoke the pipe. It’s Ralph’s Herefords who are leaving cow plop all over.

                                                                                                                                                               On my return visit in 1998, I ran into Ralph, playing a confused game of solitaire, at Aust’s General Store in Big Beaver. He’d moved off the family farm, which could no longer withstand the winters. When Linda and I traveled the area together in 2000, we saw Ralph in Aust’s again. He was making little pins out of dimes and gave us one. I heard a few years later he’d passed away. I have fond memories of Ralph, how willing he was to share, how curious he was about me and what I did.

            This first picture below is the current state of the Rasmussen farmhouse and yard where Ralph and his family lived, taken in summer 2010. The house is in a traditional Norwegian style set at the base of a ravine.

 

            This is some of Ralph’s rusting junk sitting next to the Texas gate into the effigy site. Besides the outhouse and the rusting Massey-Harris combine, there is a maroon Ford LTD Custom 500 with a vanity plate that says RALPHO and a bumper sticker that reads, “Eat lamb. 10,000 coyotes can’t be wrong.” The Ford seems to be settling comfortably into what could be its final resting place. At the top of the rise is Buffalo effigy.

     

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Filed under Prairie People, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan

12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY THREE

BUFFALO BUTTE CEREMONIAL SITE

August 31, 2010

“Excited to get inside”

            Val Marie, SK is a small village with a large history situated at the western end of Grasslands National Park (GNP) and offers the Park office. During my first visit to Val Marie in August 1999, I saw the archeological surveys of the park done in the mid 1980s. The woman at the office mentioned a site had been “discovered” nearby but outside the park. Robert Ducan of The Convent Country Inn can tell me more about it, she says. I introduce myself to Robert, we hit it off and 20 minutes later, we are heading to the site in his half-ton.

            Another wild desolate location! The swoop of the land south and northward away from the site is dramatic. Off down the distance, gently rolling hills spill away in all directions. To the east 70 Mile Butte, a steel-grey monolith in GNP, dominates the landscape. Ragged as a meteor, 70 Mile Butte rises against the sky with subservient hills all around bowing in homage. The site lies south of the continental divide.

Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site. Cinderblock hut and tower are obvious. Less so, the circles in the grass in the foreground. You can see a bit of an arc left of centre. At the extreme left, the geodetic survey marker is visible.

              Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site, a long high ridge, is dominated by two huge concentric stone circles, one 120 feet across, the other 90 feet across. The circles lie in a slight indentation two feet lower than the hilltop. It has a wonderfully enclosed feeling though the indentation is slight. This area was at one time on the hilltop but the land sank. Inside the circles are a birthing arc opening east, where mothers came to give birth, and a dying arc opening west, where elders came to die. These are extremely rare in North America, somewhat more common in Europe.

            The ridge displays evidence of long usage, tracing the history of the region. To the west of the circles is an area that felt like the location of several burial platforms, reused for decades, perhaps longer.  At the top of the hill next to the circle is a small oblong enclosure of stones that is a vision quest site. It opens to the south, the heat, the visions, the hope.

            There are several tumbledown cairns, two of them, I sensed, signified water and were visible from different directions. A snake effigy seemed to materialize but I will have to recheck this. It may have been state-specific. I’m certain of the geodetic survey marker from the late 1800s though.

            Southeast of the large circle is an odd rectangular shape of stones with what appears to be letters inside, maybe ME or MB, WE or BW., possibly graffiti left behind by some bored survey crewmember, North West Mounted Police officer or wandering wrangler.

            A hut made of cinder blocks next to a tall red and white tower sit at the top of the ridge. An electrical line runs over the pasture to the hut but I have been unable to discover its exact usage. Three guy wires hold the tower in place. A deer had scuffed off its antlers by rubbing on the wires, its four-prongers lay on the ground. The tower doesn’t interfere with the ambience much and serves as a too-handy landmark to locate the site. The land is rented Crown land with roaming cattle and cow plop everywhere, though I see no cattle today. The day is warming quickly.

             During the hike over two-miles of rolling pasture, I watch for rattlesnakes and notice how my mood has improved vastly from my sad morning drive. Tipi rings litter the hills. I check downwind often to make sure I am still at the top of the food chain. Up the final hill, I’m tingly with holiness, welcomed and exhilarated. I am excited to get inside.

            In a light trance, I recognize the long-time ritual use of the place as much as 9,000 years before present. The arcs are a very old aspect of the site. They are also rare. They come from the imaginal realm in my dreaming. My feeling is that the people who used them are, as a race, now extinct; lost shards of human action, their world gone, even their mythologies now mute except for these stones.

 

My rough hand drawn map of the site made after my first visit. I hadn’t added the inside circle yet. Suggests the numerous uses of the place. Click to enlarge.

                 The required presence of mind one needs at this place is intense and sharp. There is very serious and powerful intent at work here, not to be toyed with but to be respected and honored. The illusions of time and death dissolve into the present here, a perfect Witnessing place.

            “Balancing change” broadly describes the emotional temperature of the place.  All manner of flux and mutability occurred here, some easy and organic, some difficult and deadly. Transformation and transcendence are soaked into the earth under my feet. A Overhead a red-tailed hawk cries, “Every moment sacred.”

            Standing in the birthing arc I hear a vague turtle shell rattle, its dry brittle sound complements the landscape. During my 2 ½ hour stay I often hear voices traveling on the wind. Sometimes they are conversations, often a bit of shy laughter. No agony, no pain on the wind today – only the bliss of place and life. Voices often come out of the earth. I walk past a richly lichened rock and a crackle of communication arises from it, the groan of the stone. Attracted by one such voice I realized I am looking at a disturbed turtle effigy.

            Spiritually, the site provides easy access to soul via the present and benevolent spirits alive to the needs of those seekers who come here. There was a time when this place was used almost exclusively by shamans who created special conditions so people could move in and out of life in a place and fashion they knew. Shamans were born and died here, heyoka arose out of contracted consciousness to live their duality here, women who would be matriarchs were born here only to return and give birth themselves.

            Tucked between two stones in the centre of the dying arc are signs of recent medicine making: a brown and white hawk feather and a small bundle of sage bound with grass. Beautiful! 

            Though not used ritually by any present day aboriginals the place is visited by tourists, many of a spiritual nature who stay at The Convent Country Inn. Robert and Mette often speak of the power of this site to their guests. Access is now limited to hiking in, no vehicles allowed. More shamans than archeologists have visited here. Apparently, no archeologist has ever visited the site, leaving it virtually unstudied.

Prairie Rock Graffiti. Stone rectangle with initials inside. 

                I find this spot fascinating not just for its active and helpful local spirits, but for its long and varied usage. A power place re-interpreted often over the millennia, this is a list of uses from the present back:                         

                                            Cow pasture

                                            Transmitting/receiving tower?

                                            Geodetic Survey Marker

                                            Graffiti in rocks

                                            Campsite

                                            Platform burial site

                                            Turtle effigy and cairn site

                                            Vision quest site

                                            Rites of passage initiated/celebrated

                                            Rituals performed

                                            Birthing and dying arcs

                                            Big stone ceremonial circle

                                            Animal trail

            On my little digital recorder as I am leaving Buffalo Butte, my voice is quavery and hushed. “I’m alive! I’m alive! Here, there and everywhere. Linda is alive! Here, there and everywhere. Wherever there is beauty, that is where Linda lives.”

DAY TRIPPING

KICHE MANITOU  CAMPGROUND YURT #4

September 24, 2010

             My first yurt experience proved to be damp, cold, warm, fuzzy and not without many magical moments.  It rained most of the afternoon as soon as I arrived. The park gives you two keys: one for the yurt and the other for your little red wagon! Chained up to a railing at the parking lot are ten oversized red metal wagons with inflated tires that you use to haul your crap to the yurt since you can’t drive right up to it. An excellent idea! 

            Yurt #4 (of ten, three more added for 2011) at Kiche Manitou Campground in Spruce Woods Provincial Park, just a hoot and a holler from the high dunes of the Spirit Sands, is a fine little affair. Sixteen feet across with hardwood floor raised on a short foundation, the yurt has ample room, both floor and headspace, that even three adults wouldn’t feel crowded. It opens into a large dome that lets light and tree laughter in. The proportion and angle of the ceiling gives the room airiness.

            Furnished in rough hewn natural wood, heavily shellacked, the yurt has a comfy futon (my bed for the night), a lamp, a round table with four chairs, each weighing fifty pounds, a coat rack, the curtain rods, a bureau and bunk beds, double on  bottom, single on top. The beds have the hardest mattresses I’ve ever laid on. The room has a small wall heater, which ran all night and barely kept the dropping temp at bay. The yurt has a roofed wooden porch/deck with cooking area and electrical plugs. The view from the porch is spectacular with the yellowing oak leaves and the Assiniboine River flowing by below.

            The strangest part of the yurt was the diamond-shaped lattice that covered every interior wall space, even the windows. The lattice is used in the basic structure of the place but exposed 340 degrees around you (the door isn’t covered), sometimes the room would start to spin. In my peripheral vision, it would move but stop when I looked that way. Somewhat disconcerting at first but an easily-won tolerance to tacky design.

 

             When I first arrived at the yurt, I heard a sighing sound coming from under one of the three windows. After a few times, I named it Debbie as it had a definite human resignation to it. I suspect it was some communal scrapping of nature and yurt but Debbie offered her small sounds many times during the night, changing from startling to reassuring.

            Coyotes gave several insane choir recitals in the night, making me laugh every time. It was the full moon and I was sorry I wouldn’t see it for the rain. About 5 o’clock I got up for a pee and the clouds parted and the full moon shone heavy and gorgeous, illuminating the area around my yurt with a mix of shadows and sensation. A little smile from Linda. Beautiful!

            Yurts are for non-campers who still don’t mind smelling of wood smoke for a few days. The accommodation for the price – $54 all in – was more than fair, for a family, very economical. It would be most enjoyable on warm summer days and nights. The view of the stars off the porch would be grand.

             To make moonlight hikes on the Spirit Sands much easier with a place to come home to, I thought I would try to book a yurt there every full moon next summer. This can be done online starting in February. From Mongolia to Manitoba, yurts are funky!

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Filed under Accommodations, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, shaman, shamanism