Tag Archives: cree

Thunderbird Nest Video Report

Reid Dickie

The Thunderbird in Ojibwa and Cree legend was a super eagle with a wing span two canoes wide capable of transforming into human form. The Thunderbird spoke thunder and lightning flashed from its eyes. Difficult to see because of its disguise as black swirling clouds, the Thunderbird fed only on snakes and protected humankind from the Great Horned Serpent of the Underworld. This area of Manitoba supports a large red-sided garter snake population. Many Thunderbird Nests are found in eastern Manitoba but this is the only one west of Lake Manitoba.

 A report on a visit to the site in 2007 is posted here. This fall I returned to Thunderbird Nest and recorded this video report.

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North American Tribal Proverbs

ANISHINABE PROVERB 

“No one else can represent your conscience.”

BLACKFOOT PROVERB 

“Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way.”

CREE PROVERB 

“Never sit while your seniors stand.”

 FOX PROVERB 

“When you have learned about love, you have learned about Great Spirit.”

 HOPI PROVERB

“The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

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Five North American Tribal Proverbs

OMAHA PROVERB “It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.”

ONONDAGA PROVERB “We stand somewhere between the mountain and the ant.”

SHOSHONE PROVERB “When a favour is shown to a white man, he feels it in his head and the tongue speaks out; when a kindness is shown to an Indian, he feels it in his heart and the heart has no tongue.”

LAKOTA PROVERB “Do not speak of evil for it creates curiosity in the hearts of the young.”

CREE PROVERB “Knowledge that is not used is abused.”

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY EIGHT

BANNOCK POINT PETROFORMS

August 17, 2000

“Songs spontaneously arise in me”

            The Cree call it Manito Ahbee; the tourist guides call it Bannock Point Petroforms. Whatever it’s called, this easily accessible place is ancient, alive with Spirit and a creation site. The dense forest gives way to open areas of dark, pavement-like rock. Patchy carpets of dry crackly black moss grow on the tablerock. Human, snake, turtle and other shapes are laid out on the bald tablerock of the Canadian Shield in Whiteshell Provincial Park, rocks just slightly younger than Spirit itself.

            This is where Webbed Flight, my spirit helper, lived about 1200 years ago. He is very energized every time I visit here, as he is today.

Turtle effigy at Bannock Point

         

            As I arrive, the clouds break into pieces of the sky and the day warms quickly. After smudging, I step into the fresh spruce aroma of the Whiteshell.  Immediately I am welcomed, calmed and reassured by Webbed Flight that I am protected here. I say a short prayer of gratitude and, singing my power song, walk the short path to the site. I shiver with a strong and benevolent Bear presence and with the love I feel from the local spirits.

             Creation legends say Great Spirit set the Anishinabe people down on Earth here among the rocks and trees. The energy flow from this places rushes westward. The Anishinabe followed that energy and their culture of animal symbolism diffused across the prairies. Today a reverent stillness pervades the place.

Snake effigy at Bannock Point

            I wander the site with Webbed Flight strong and available to me. He sings his short raspy song; I feel his bliss. He is home! I sense his delight when a snake effigy, short, old and big-headed, almost knocks me flat as I stand at the end of its tail, toes touching the last rock. Snakes are short power vectors that concentrate energy into intense bursts. Instead of falling, I sense flight and regain my balance immediately. Deeper in the site, the head of another snake sends me into spontaneous dancing, gesturing and singing. Movement is very important here, so much open space to inhabit with it.

              Spirits abound in all corners of the site, the edges are alive with forest elementals and at ground level there is a greenish haze from the abundant snickering lichen. Off on an enormous flat stone, a large ceremonial circle with openings at the four directions encloses trees laden with colourful cloths. Tobacco and other offering abound on the stones. How much divinity has passed through this place? How long has the human spirit communed with the Absolute here? This place has existed for but one moment – this moment!

Human effigy at Bannock Point

                    I circle it slowly, presently, rattling softly. Songs spontaneously arise in me surging out of my mouth into the warm day. My hands gesture a visual language accentuated by chest thumps. Deeply communing with Webbed Flight now, my voice becomes his, my words his meaning, my breath his wisdom. I feel balanced, a completion occurring every moment. I am ecstatic to give voice and sacred manner to the loving powerful spirit of Webbed Flight, my friend, my mentor, my guardian. I am Aspen Smoke because of him and his naming.

                Over the years, Webbed Flight has guided me on the path in my brightest moments and searched til he found me wallowing in the darkest mires. He lives again through me but never have I experienced his being with such power and clarity, such love and perfection, as I do when we share this familiar place. Here we both living the same dream.

Section of large ceremonial circle at Bannock Point. Trees hung with offering cloths

              We are the conceptualizing animal, thus able to give meaning to Nature. Here, to express the unfathomable ancientness of these exact rocks, ancestors created sacred forms and figures with pieces of old old rocks. It is impossible for us to know the lack of cynicism and trust in Spirit these people felt as they laid rock next to vulnerable rock on barren stone. It was body-to-body communing, the living earth inhabits the living body and vice versa. At the same time, Spirit rides that delicate balance, Eros and Agape, the One into the Many, the Many into the One. Other sites in this series have that same reciprocating flow.

           Rocks once touched by ecstatic shamans still pound with the power of creation, thrum with a sense of place from which creativity springs. Sometimes the safety I feel at these sacred places is almost unbearable. I am in a state of grace, liquid in the environment, welcomed, even coddled. I share this feeling with Webbed Flight and we sit together on sitting stones he first knew as a boy. As a shaman, he claims to have made petroforms here himself, imbuing them with the necessary power and symbolism.

            Roaming away from the circle, I find a small abstract design tucked under a bush. I strip off my shirt and perform my warrior tai chi around the little cluster of stones. I can’t stop smiling. Neither can Spirit.    

DAY TRIPPING

BARNEY’S MOTEL, BRANDON

August 12, 2010 

            For no discernable reason I could see, the tourist guide says Barney’s Motel was nominated as “funniest motel in Canada,” unless they meant, “But not funny, “Ha! Ha!” and you consider red ants crawling about your room hysterical fun. All rooms face the highway but there is virtually no traffic sound inside the room. A friendly park bench under the front awning offers full view and ambience of the TCH with its non-stop rush of semis, SUVs, pick-ups and sedans – my evening entertainment already in progress.

            Barney’s is the worst motel at the best location – an intersection with lights of the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 10 that runs from Flin Flon, Manitoba to Corpus Christi, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. And I am encamped here in Room 105 for the night the weather changes.

                 I saw it coming. I was having sacrament behind Barney’s as a sharp line of darkening cloud moved slowly in from the west creating a phosphorescent orange and silver sunset. That evening the arc of summer reached its zenith, acme achieved, its first and last gasp of Orgasm. The Hinge was moving. As I stood and watched the advancing cloud, a red-tailed hawk, familiar from every sacred site I’ve ever visited, cried twice over the fields. “Every moment sacred.”

              After dark, the Hinge slowly swung, bringing rain, refreshment and a spectacular lightning and roar show when combined with the running lights of the big rigs (a ride at the Ex) and the howling of the trapped but untamed horsepower under their cabs, everything backlit by the flickering lights of the fry pits along the route. I had a front row seat for it all at Barney’s. (One anecdotal scene was the truck that usually had LIGHT SPEED in huge letters along its load had LIGHT PEED instead.)

            I watched the dark silhouette of a hitchhiker become waterlogged during the storm yet, afterwards, dance in wild circles under the eerie orange glow of the intersection lights, getting a ride into the wild prairie night surprisingly quickly.

            Barney’s Motel is a landmark in Brandon. It was there when we visited as a kid tho I don’t recall ever staying there. It always had a garish neon sign but the present endeavour is rather lame.  Once a thriving concern with a reputation, fires and futility has left Barney’s bedraggled and sad. But what a location!

 

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY SEVEN

THUNDERBIRD NEST

 July 31, 2007

“It amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom”

            It was the height of summer, the last day of July. A month of record-breaking temperatures and dangerous humidity was ending. Change was in the air.

            Originally, my friend Chris and I had planned a trip and hike to the Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Provincial Park but with daily humidex advisories, going to a place that was usually 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding area seemed unwise. Instead, we opted for Thunderbird Nest, an old Ojibwa site located about two hours north of Winnipeg.

            Located just west of the Lake Manitoba Narrows, Thunderbird Nest was not a new site for me. I had visited it first and twice in 2001 but not since.  Chris had never been there.

Appropriately unassuming and humble, Thunderbird Nest brought visions of healing and the future to shamans who performed ritual here.

            The Thunderbird in Ojibwa and Cree legend was a super eagle with a wing span two canoes wide capable of transforming into human form. The Thunderbird spoke thunder and lightning flashed from its eyes. Difficult to see because of its disguise as black swirling clouds, the Thunderbird fed only on snakes and protected humankind from the Great Horned Serpent of the Underworld. This area of Manitoba supports a large red-sided garter snake population. Many Thunderbird Nests are found in eastern Manitoba but this is the only one west of Lake Manitoba.

             Thunderbird Nest may have been built to attract the Thunderbird, which would reward its builders with sacred powers. Used for at least 1000 years, one of its purposes has been as a vision quest site. Secluded and in self-denial of food, water, clothing and comfort, exposed to the elements, the warrior cried for a vision to guide and protect him, longing for the Thunderbird to appear in his dream.

            Shamans frequently used this site to acquire or contact helpful spirits and experience extraordinary ecstatic powers. This is part of my silent intent for today’s visit.

            Taking Chris’ car, we head north on Highway #6 into the Interlake. The highway follows the east coast of Lake Manitoba and passes through a number of small interesting communities.

            St. Laurent, a tiny Metis community, has a small stony beach and a reputation for frequent UFO and chupacabra sightings. A little further along is Eriksdale, which boasts of being the hiding place of Stony Mountain Penitentiary escapee Percy Moggey who spent 11 months in a shack after going over the wall in 1960. A replica of his shack is now a tourist attraction with tours available!

             A few kilometers north of Eriksdale, we turned off Highway 6 onto Highway 68. The landscape changed with more rocky areas and pastures replacing cropland. There is more bush, evergreens and little traffic. The highway is incredibly smooth and drivable.

             We reached the Narrows, with its small attempt at tourist amenities on the east side. Boaters, campers and some picnickers were immersed in the heat. We slowly drove over the long bridge that connects the shores, feeling the heart of Manitou beating nearby.  A kilometer or two later we saw a sign pointing out an upcoming historic site, Thunderbird Nest. We turned south onto a good gravel road into the bush. Soon a small area opened up on our left. Thunderbird Nest was about a quarter mile down a walking trail from here. We parked. My anticipation rose.

             Approaching sacred sites, I am always filled with an awe that quickens me, that strives to bypass my senses and make direct contact with my inner being. Some sites have more immediacy but eventually all of them produce this effect. Even writing this now, I feel some of the same joy and eagerness I felt at the Thunderbird Nest, attesting to its lasting and powerful effects.

            Chris and I smudged with sweetgrass before we got out of the car. I said a prayer of gratitude, asking for protection and positive spirits to help us.

            We stepped into the day, the place. It was sweltering. The high humidity persisted but there was a notion of change in the air, something imminent.

            Chris brought a large flat drum and some rattles which he opted to leave in the car for now. Carrying just light waters, we proceeded down the trail toward Thunderbird Nest.  Large flat white stones washed smooth by repeated floods cobble the path on this peninsula, which juts out between Lake Manitoba and Ebb and Flow Lake.

         Signs leading to Thunderbird Nest suggest some of the site’s uses.

            We turned right on the lead-up to the site. A few signs along the way gave some background about Thunderbird mythology and vaguely prepared us for the site. A hundred yards from the site the trees on both sides of the trail were festooned with brightly coloured cloths, small tobacco packets on strings and a few feathers, offerings left by previous visitors to Thunderbird Nest.

            Walking slowly we approached the Thunderbird Nest. I put down my sack, shirt, hat, and paused, waiting, waiting. There is a small contraction that you can feel behind your eyes, the contraction of being. It is usually tight and tense. At sacred sites, the contraction subtly loosens. I waited for the loosening that signals acceptance of me at the site. I felt it and a stab of joy shot through me. I began smiling, a prelude to ecstasy.

            Set in a small clearing among aspens and hoary bur oak rests a shallow indentation in the ground, about eight feet across, lined with lichened flat stones. Thunderbird Nest! Doesn’t sound like much in the description, which is exactly how it should be.

            My shamanic practice resulted in my gaining a spirit friend and helper, the adventurous soul of a shaman who lived in eastern Manitoba about 1200 years ago. Webbed Flight is what he prefers to be called; I sometimes call him Duck Feet to be playful. He is a daily presence in my life and has helped me through all the challenges I’ve faced since the mid 1990s.

            One of the obligations I have to my spirit friend is to help him “live again.” This is one form my gratitude takes for Webbed Flight’s help in my life. Sacred sites are excellent places to do this, especially this one since Webbed Flight had often visited similar sites in eastern Manitoba during his lifetime. I immediately gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight who began a slow ritual that involved spiraling into the actual nest.

            What do I mean by “gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight?” A fair question since it sounds frightening, dangerous and unpredictable. Without the appropriate inner technology, it can be a harrowing exercise. Ably and confidently applied, the way of presence, intent and awareness through love and trust opens your spirit to the inorganic world safely and in a sacred manner.

            Because all depth is interpreted, at this point, words become increasingly insufficient to express the rest of my experience but I’ll try to find a few more. Physically what happens to me is I begin to speak in Webbed Flight’s language, to express what he needs to say, the prayers he needs to give, the gratitude he needs to express, the laughter and tears he needs to experience. I laughed and prayed, danced and cried. It all came pouring out of me without stint, without reserve, without embarrassment into the heat of the afternoon.

             Other expressions Webbed Flight uses are gestures that involve his sign language, which acts as visual accent to the sounds he makes. His sign language uses the right hand to touch his left forearm and hand in various places with numerous motions. He often touches his face and head for emphasis. In India, these gestures and motions are called mudras.

            Verbally and visually, I have no idea what Webbed Flight is actually expressing. What I get, what I feel is the emotional impact of his experience. In a word, ecstasy. Whatever currents carry Webbed Flight along is what I feel. From his dark sadness to his bliss, no matter what the emotional signature is, for me it amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom.

             This ecstasy is the pay-off for my years of practice, for seeking out the inner technology discovered centuries ago, adopting it, practicing it, my reward for doing the inner work. The ecstasy is extremely state-specific so to attempt a description is almost futile. Suffice it to say the ecstasy flows out of the sense of freedom and detachment found when one rests as simple awareness.

            As I am expressing for Webbed Flight I walk slowly around the outside of Thunderbird Nest sunwise. My body is loose and full of energy but calm, able to strike angular poses that seem to strengthen my connection to Webbed Flight. I spiral toward the outer rim of stones of the nest. I pause, crouch and spend several blissful moments in silent prayer.  I am sharing a prayer with Webbed Flight.

            I rise from my prayer at the edge and step, welcomed, into the Nest. Webbed Flight’s singing rises louder among the trees. I stand, alone in the centre of the Nest. Yet I am not alone. He lives again. The ecstasy flows through me, stoned in the original sense of the word. Luckily, I am familiar and comfortable with the feeling.

            I rest in that place, that place of freedom and detachment from the land, the sky and the 10,000 things arising in my awareness. I sense joy pulse through me.

            All sacred sites have spirit guardians that watch over the place. Some have physical guardians that play the same role. Thunderbird Nest has fire ants as its guardian. The ground around the Nest and the Nest itself swarmed with large, red ants. They were aggressive and attacked our bare feet and legs, nipping at our flesh. Should you injure one of them, it sprays a fluid that attracts the other nearby ants, alerting them to the interloper and signaling a mass attack. They are hard to discourage and harder to ignore but after a while, they begin to pay less attention to us. They settle a little for us. Later Chris and I compared bites – round red bumps, not itchy…yet. Mine went away quickly.

            During our time at the Nest, the sky slowly changed. Darker clouds moved in from the west. Chris retrieved his beautiful drum from the car and beat a wilderness pulse into the afternoon. At times, the distant rolling thunder was a perfect echo to his beat.

            I found the drum provided a more balanced awareness in Webbed Flight and me as I began to sing my personal power song. He and I shared the joy of the sound. In a rather mad expression of silliness, we danced an exaggerated clown-like dance with large ragged steps and fanciful yips. Later I realized this was a balancing of the coming change in the weather, where humour and fun overpower any anxiety. It worked.

            There was a moment when I looked at Chris, walking past him, that I was seeing him for the first time using the eyes of Webbed Flight. Another similar moment occurred near the end of our stay.

            Suddenly a cool breeze that felt refreshing and new on our skin swept by us. It was the first sign of a change in the weather, the harbinger. Chris and I both felt its arrival. With a glance and a smile, we instinctually knew it was time to go.

            We smudged some sage and cedar in a shell before leaving, thanking the local spirits for their protection and for the bliss we had found in this wild place. As we did this, the first intermittent rain drops began to fall on Chris’ drum, each making a hollow lonely thud.

            On the way out at the offering site, I hung a flyaway I had made with some seeds from our backyard, jute string and a red feather. I hung it next to the path, commenting that some curious raven might like the feather to decorate its nest.

            We discharged any negative spirits that may have followed us. More correctly, Webbed Flight dispelled them with jagged gestures and sudden barks.

            The rain began to fall heavier as we walked down the trail. Chris used his shirt to cover the drum til we got to the car. The cool rain felt wonderful on our bare summer backs. We toweled down and as we sat in the car, lightning flared and thunder rolled above us. It poured rain.

            Though I do not presume to know his inner life, from our discussions on the way home, Chris said he approached the place humbly seeking acceptance and worthiness. Once he found that, Thunderbird Nest welcomed him. His beaming face was evidence of the ecstasy he, too, found there.

            The rain poured down as we crossed the bridge over the Narrows and Chris pulled off the highway next to the stony beach. He needed to wash a stone in the rain and Lake Manitoba. Lightning flashed overhead as the rain pelted down. This moment was utterly alive for me, so full of energy and bliss, a coda to Thunderbird Nest and the overture to the next stage.

            Toweled down again, we proceed retracing our path toward home. It wasn’t long before we drove out of the rain and back into the summer heat as the storm was slowly coming across the lake at an angle. At Lundar, about 45 minutes later, we stopped for country coffee-like substances. As we stood in the heat, the cool breeze came by, the same cool breeze that heralded the change at Thunderbird Nest. Both Chris and I noticed the breeze and commented on it.

             The rest of the journey into Winnipeg was the usual easy conversation that Chris and I share, enjoyable, a fitting end to the day.

             The city still sweltered, not yet getting the storm that brings the change. That evening, about a quarter to twelve, I stepped out onto the back deck at our house. The sky was clear, still muggy. As I stood there, the same cool breeze came by, the very same one. Later that night a thunderstorm brought the change.

DAY TRIPPING

HAYFIELD

October 3, 2010

            I am the last person alive who ever lived in Hayfield, Manitoba.

           Hayfield no longer exists. It’s a ghost town. Located 10 miles south of Brandon on Highway #10 and 4 miles west on the Hayfield Road, Hayfield sat at the western edge of the Brandon Hills just as the hills begin their final smoothing into farmland. Hayfield was west of the enormous broadcasting tower near the eastern edge of the Rural Municipality of Glenwood. Hayfield’s population was five people: our family accounted for 60%, the hired man Lawrence Murphy, who lived with us, and Dave Rogers, who lived in only other residence in Hayfield, filled out the roster. There were more cats than people in Hayfield.

Dickie’s General Store, Hayfield circa 1955, with hand-pumped gas bowser and  me as a tyke.

          Mom and Dad bought the general store in Hayfield in 1953. We lived in back and above the store. Huge and full of adventure for a little lad, the store was a piece of wild heaven for me. My parent’s experience was the opposite. Their timing was off. Rural people were becoming much more mobile and Brandon enticed their dollars away from Dickie’s General Store. The store went bankrupt in 1957 just before we moved to Shoal Lake.

            Over the years, Hayfield General Store, built in 1906, was an important meeting place for the community. With the store and post office open from morning til night, neighbours visited while shopping, discussing issues of the day. Besides groceries, hardware and dry goods, you could have a sundae in its ice cream parlour. My father used to call the men who sometimes gathered at the store in the evenings, the Hot Stove League, no doubt due to their vast wisdom and unabashed willingness to share it.

            My memories of Hayfield are fond and full of a child’s wonder. I learned to skate by pushing a little wooden chair across a patch of ice Dad flooded in what was once the Hayfield outdoor rink. The massive open living room that took up most of the second floor was the perfect place to ride my tricycle in winter. The stage of the large old Hayfield hall was where I put on my little solo shows to a room filled with nothing but wooden planks.

             I drove past Hayfield twice this summer. This year it is, actually, a barley field.

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