PINE CREE PARK, SK
“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.”