Sacred Waters, Part One

To be sacred is to be set apart. It is an active process. When applied to civic, personal, and earthly space, it is like framing a painting. A frame will make even a light switch on a gallery wall into art. More people came, for instance, to the empty space on the Louvre wall where the Mona Lisa had hung before it was stolen in August 1911 than had ever viewed the painting when it was there. It’s not the painting they were looking for, but the space it had occupied, which was now framed by history. Within the landscape, the following is an image of just such a sacred space:

Ktlil’x

Richter Pass

After a long struggle and several detours into haphazard (to say the least) development into a european-style healing spa, this sacred, medicinal lake has been returned to the Okanagan Nation. Here it is up close:

The Spots on “Spotted Lake”

Magnesium Sulfate, mostly, but about a dozen minerals overall, including titanium and silver. During World War I, an entrepreneur in Tonasket, Washington, mined the lake for chemicals, which he hoped to sell for the manufacture of munitions to be used in Europe. His pile of salts came to nothing. Since that day, the colours have taken a step down in brilliance.

Here’s a different frame for the lake:

The Lake in Its Land

The land is the lake’s frame. A lot of the confusion and struggle over the lake has been over the idea of medicine. Is medicine some kind of storehouse of chemicals, to be used however one can imagine? Is it a curative place in which settlers and travellers can soak their arthritic bones? Is it a place not of chemicals at all but of power?

It is a place of power. That’s what I meant the other day when I pointed out that humans can determine where to plant grapes by watching where salmon spawn and where the glaciers and the light flowed over and matched the contours of the land. There is a knowledge that comes from knowing a place, that supersedes all others. In this respect, Ktlil’x is a distillation of land and body, for anyone who knows they are the same, and it is possible to read the land in the same way that it is possible to read the clouds to predict the weather. In such ancient, human landscapes as those of the Okanagan Okanogan, the frames extend deep into history as well. Much of this knowledge remains. Much else remains to be rediscovered.

Next, Soap Lake, Washington, Ktlil’x’s southern sister, where Chief Joseph used to go after he was forbidden to return to his ancestors and after all of his people’s horses were turned into dog food. Yeah, they were. 3,000 of them. Soap Lake’s history has been quite different than Ktlil’x’s — or has it?

Later in the week, the first sketches of the book towards which Okanagan Okanogan is leading .

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