Tag Archives: ojibway

Gathering Moonlight at Spruce Woods Park

Reid Dickie

“The moon’s a harsh mistress, it’s hard to love her well,

The moon’s a harsh mistress, the sky is made of stone,

The moon’s a harsh mistress, she’s hard to call your own.”

– Jimmy Webb

These are the buttery days of a new ancient summer. In their fluttering perfection, butterflies dot the world. Their true colours range from solid black through red, orange, yellow to iridescent blues, always stoned on some intoxicating nectar or other. Dragonflies have started to appear; mosquitoes aren’t far behind. Such was the world I entered Monday when I checked into Yurt #4 at Spruce Woods Provincial Park for a two-day stay.

Ensconced on my deck facing WNW, the temperature around 28 degree C, I have found a little Eden. The late afternoon breeze plucks music from the oaks and cottonwoods along the Assiniboine River, which I can see shining below. A dozen kinds of birds twitter in the trees, their songs striving to capture the counterpoint of the afternoon. They are successful every moment.

A huge yellow butterfly with blue trimmed wings dances above my glass of wine. Unable to resist, it lands on the rim, sips delicately and does a backward somersault off the glass into its fluttery world. My plan is to await dusk then hike out on Spirit Sands to watch the full moon rise over the dunes.

The day is cooling perfectly as I head out to Spirit Sands about 9:30. The golden sky deepens to red then crimson then purple and darker as I surmount the log ladder up the dune face. Arriving at the place on the dunes Linda and I always visited, I hear voices among the trees below. The last of the humans are clearing off the trails. I am alone.

As I await moonrise, coyotes howl in the west and are answered by others in the east. The flies and mosquitoes find me extra attractive with my coating of sweat from the hike. As a slight evening breeze cools my skin, a pale glow on the northeastern horizon heralds the full moon. It swells into view bulbous and red, and I am filled with bliss and gratitude for this witnessing.

I spend an hour watching the night deepen and the moon whiten. Hiking back during the very last moments of twilight, the shadows are flecked with occasional fireflies. After decades of gathering moonlight, the long-fallen bodies of blown-down trees shine like silver. Standing armies of wolf willow glow eerily in the moonlight.

Back at my yurt I light a fire and watch the stars come out. Hundreds of fireflies flicker on and off in the trees around my yurtyard. Fireflies are a positive sign of a healthy habitat. Crickets and choruses of frogs, the small cries of night birds, crackle of the fire and rustle of the constellations harmonize around me.

After a long sound sleep I awoke Tuesday to another perfect day! I took a drive to the nearby Criddle/Vane homestead (blog post to follow), toured the area a bit, lunched at the Robin’s Nest in Carberry where I see the temperature to be even hotter tomorrow. The Robin’s Nest is a quaint little restaurant and motel along the TCH. I recommend it for its good country food, friendly staff and it’s now licensed.

Back at Yurt #4, the drone of a bumblebee intoxicates me in the heat. A red-headed woodpecker taps out a secret message on the trunk of a gnarly old oak. The park is still and quiet today with just the warbles and sighs of the denizens. The day wears away and night captures the land. Like stars, the fireflies are continuous tonight. Everywhere I look I see them, flitting through the treetops or winking shyly from the pitch-black understory.  As I stand, a firefly zips by my face exploding like a tiny flashbulb.

Crickets and frogs keep time with the pulse of the night and, later, dozens of coyotes in all directions create an exhilarating aural experience making it sound like the whole world is composed of nothing but coyotes and their haunting theories. Another thoroughly restful sleep ensues.

Crews continue working to bring Spruce Woods Park up to its standard before last summer’s flood. Today as I was pulling out I noticed the road to Spirit Sands was cut and a large culvert was being inserted under the road. The ditch along the highway is being worked to remove some of the flood cake that still coats parts of the park. Daily horse-drawn covered wagon rides to the dunes and punch bowl begin in July and summer nature programs are scheduled. So whether you are gathering sunlight or moonlight, the park’s numerous trails await your hiking boots and your curiosity. (Take water. Do a tick check.)

Two other things to mention about Spruce Woods:

  • Turkey Vultures: from my deck I saw several large black birds soaring high on the thermals when I arrived on Monday. I took them to be ravens due to their size. Later they soared lower and I saw they were turkey vultures with their stubby necks and bright red heads.  Abandoned farm buildings around the park make excellent nesting places. I also saw turkey vultures perched on the roof of the ruins of the Lyon’s mansion just outside Carberry north of the park. The old house would be a perfect site to raise their bulky young. I will keep an eye on both locations to see where they are actually nesting. I have blogged about turkey vultures and the Lyons house before;
  • Sundance: a large sign at the Epinette Creek turnoff pointed toward a sundance being held this week in the park. Sundance is a days-long ritual of sacrifice and transcendence where prayer, piercing and offerings of flesh open the path to personal healing. The public is welcome, however, please remember, no drugs, no alcohol at sundance. A step-by-step guide to the daily ceremonies for this particular sundance are here.

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Filed under Ancient Wisdom, Birds, Carberry, Day Tripping, Natural Places, Parks, spirit sands

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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Filed under Sacred Places, shaman, Spirit

12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY 1

MEDICINE ROCK

 August 19, 2010

“I am afraid to touch it”

             I’m not sure how I first learned of Medicine Rock but I’ve been drawn to it in the past without success finding it. Four fruitless searches for the site – twice on my own, once with Linda a couple of years back, once earlier this summer – turned up nothing. I was beginning to think Medicine Rock didn’t want me to find it. That happens. But this time – aha! Fifth time is the charm. I have help this time. After four failed attempts, I find someone who actually knows where it is and can direct me.

Medicine Rock festooned with foliage and the offerings of countless generations.

            Harry Harris at the Alonsa Conservation District gives me immaculate directions to Medicine Rock, which deliver me there lickity splickly. I’m good at following good directions. East of Riding Mountain and south of St Amelie, MB I drive on good gravel that becomes not so good gravel that becomes no gravel at all, just dirt. The Mighty Avenger gets a good prairie trail workout heading into the bush then further into the bush then just a little further into the bush then a bit more bush, all the while churning up a fine black dust behind us. Next to a rough hand-painted sign leaning up against two oak trees, a path leads into the bush. Medicine Rock, at last!

            I smudge with sweetgrass in the car, get out and stand in the wonderful silence.  I wait in the warm afternoon for a slight loosening of the contraction of being we all have and can feel as tightness just behind our eyes. Until I feel the knot loosen a bit, I’m unsure if I am welcome. I wait.

            Turning, I see, 40 feet down the road I came in on, a half-grown black bear. It stops, looks at me and sits down. I say, “Holy shit, there’s Bear.” Bear is one of my power animals. Then another half-grown bear comes out of the woods, yawns, sits down and paws the air next to the first. I get into the car and wait for mama bear to show up. The two cubs eventually amble across the road and into the woods away from Medicine Rock and me. A few minutes later mama bear bounds across the road after the cubs, paying no attention to me but certainly knowing I am here.

            I am thrilled to see one of my power animals as guardian of Medicine Rock. The powers of courage and strength radiate from Bear, appropriate since many of the travelers and hunters who left offerings here over millennia sought those same powers. I wait in the car, alert, quickened by the knowledge I am not at the top of the food chain, a situation that occurs about frequently enough. In a while, I re-smudge and emerge into the afternoon to wait for the welcome. I feel a prickle down my spine and my face tightens into a big smile. I am welcome. Everything feels fine. I walk the short path to Medicine Rock singing my power song.

            Medicine Rock is a huge boulder, six feet high, ten feet across and eight feet deep, nestled in an aspen and oak glen twenty steps off the road. It is thickly garnished with verdant and wild foliage that grows from tiny cracks and narrows shelves on the rock. Encircled by dense growth, riff with elemental forest spirits and tangled in the music of aspen, oak and lark, the old stone is alive, its heart beats once every century. Content, it radiates power. Immediately I am brought fully into the moment, humbled, in awe of the ancient stone. I am afraid to touch it. I tremble.

            Walking around the stone on a recently mowed area, I hear a red-tailed hawk overhead, ever-present frequent guardian of sacred places. When I ask the old stone if I can take a few pictures, there is subtle acquiesce from Medicine Rock that escapes the grasp of language. Most inner events at sacred sites are state-specific, that is they exist only in one state and cannot be translated easily or at all into another. At this moment, my physical sensations are shivery and lightness, emotionally I feel very balanced with little bliss currents pulsing through my awareness.

            One of the on-site signs explains the Ojibway legend of the mischievous little people who inhabit both the material and spirit worlds. Medicine Rock is thought to be a gateway between realms. To keep the little spirits from becoming malevolent, tobacco offerings are left on the cracks and crevices of Medicine Rock. I leave one of my hand-made feather flyaways on a bush near the old stone, sing my power song again and thank Spirit for getting me here.

            Medicine Rock gives me a little gift. Just as I am about to get in the car to leave, I look down and there is a round piece of chert on the ground, about the size of a loonie and covered in little black polka dots. I pick it up and it’s a small scraper with evident chipping along one edge to make it sharp. It is small enough for a child’s hand, perhaps learning the life skills. I ask the scrapper to travel with me and it agrees. Thank you Medicine Rock.

             (Over the past few hours while researching and writing this report, I have wondered where the little scrapper might be. I have lost track of it. Searching for something unrelated just a few minutes ago, I accidentally picked up my briefcase by the bottom, spilling its contents all over the floor, scrapper included. Wonder spawns wonder.)

Side view of Medicine Rock

             I drive away elated and fulfilled. Since this is my first visit, I came with no intent other than to discover and explore. My experience at Medicine Rock is worth all the attempts and now becomes another useful part of my personal mythology. As a shamanic resource for me, Medicine Rock generates enormous strength, which I can now access to augment Bear’s contribution. When I need to return, alone or with a spiritual ally, Medicine Rock is an easy site to reach in dry weather, impassable when wet. The road leading into the bush just past the bush through more bush is black dirt, zero gravel.

 DAY TRIPPING

ASSINIBOINE VALLEY ARBORETUM

 July 28, 2010

            On this warm July evening along Highway 83, the wide Assiniboine Valley a few kilometers south of Miniota, MB offers its beautiful vista including several fields flooded by the river. At the south end of the valley, just off the highway, I discover the Assiniboine Riparian Forest Centre, an endeavour of Manitoba Hydro’s Forest Enhancement Program.

             Situated on the high banks of the Assiniboine and not flooded, the Centre covers several acres with dozens of varieties of trees and bushes, all well planted, mulched with straw and very healthy. Over 600 trees were planted in 2008 with more added this fall. Each variety has a written description and picture of it when mature, easily read from the winding well-maintained pathway among the flora. Along with Manitoba’s familiar coniferous and deciduous trees, the arboretum features many fruit trees, berry bushes and some hybrids.

            A maintained pathway, accessible from the arboretum, offers a pleasant stroll through the forest along the banks of the Assiniboine, a river with many secrets along its wide valley. The trail has benches and picnic tables, school and public tours are offered. The Riparian Forest’s grand opening is set for Spring 2011.

           

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Filed under Parks, Sacred Places, shaman, shamanism