About Harold Rhenisch


The Mystery of Buffalo Eddy

One of the significant and unique forms of rock art at Buffalo Eddy on the Snake River looks like this:
P1920127A human figure with a triangular body. It looks like a buffalo standing on two legs to me. Now, look at this rock form above the Nimíipuu village at the mouth of Lapwai Creek, also in Nimíipuu country..
P1860057This time it looks like a womb, with ovarian tubes. Might they not be the same thing? Might not the force that combines them be like this?



Note that this abstract mathematical form has two legs, like the “human” figure above, but no other body other than a feminine pubic triangle. Only a person completely out of touch with the earth would say this is not a spiritual image. Back at the mouth of Lapwai Creek …



… we see it again. Contemporary documentation says that no one knows the “meaning” of the rock art at Buffalo Eddy, and that its significance is that it’s there. Yes, that’s significant, but as for the meaning. Look at the stone figures dancing in the scree above, and the ones below at Buffalo Eddy …

P1920160 2


Meaning is the wrong thing. There is no “meaning” here, but there is enormous presence. Another element of the Buffalo Eddy pictographs that is claimed to be obscure is the dumbbell-shaped article held by the main upper figure above. Note, however, that the large figure to the left embodies the same shape, with its arms, however, and with the circular forms at the end of their span empty rather than filled. Can they not be the same? Is the upper figure not a bear? Can body parts not be abstracted? Or dissected? Can they not have their own power? Are fullness and emptiness not powers of their own? Of course they are. Is the series of figures below (click to enlarge if you need to) not as powerful as the mathematics of subatomic physics?



Of course it is. Nonetheless, there is no saying that these are images written for humans to read. Drawing narrative from them, in our age of the world, the age of narrative, is likely self-mirroring. We can say: these are images written on rock, as are we. Whether we are the humans in these images, or spirit, ah, that is a more profound question. The answer, of course, is yes.

O Canada

Today has been a day of flag-waving and celebrations of the country of Canada. This celebration is centred around this image:


Canadian National Symbol

A Tree That Doesn’t Grow in my Country, an American retail chain, and a Chinese stick.

As images of Canada have become more nationalistic, militaristic and corporate over time, the old patriotism I once felt has disappeared, and, I promise, it was intense and proud. I have friends who claim that they realized how Canadian they were when they travelled abroad. When I travelled abroad, I realized how little I, as a man of the orchards and the grass, was a Canadian. I used to celebrate Canada as a peace-keeping nation. Now that it has foregone this role, I am left stranded. This, however, is my Canada, and one I can celebrate.



This is the oldest building in Washington, USA. It sits proudly and honoured in Frenchtown in the Walla Walla Valley. It is a Canadian métis cabin, one of the ones that survived the Cayuse War of 1848, which was, in part, a consequence of Great Britain’s gift of my country, the Columbia, to the United States in 1846. The men who built these cabins along the Walla Walla and Touchet rivers and their tributaries were Iroquois, Scots and French métis Hudson’s Bay Company men, largely from the Red River settlement in today’s Manitoba. Long before Louis Riel, the métis patriot, certainly long before Canada existed as a country and before my part of Canada, British Columbia, existed as a legal entity or even by name, this was Canada: a united First-Nations-Settler culture. This cabin represents modernism, set within the old ways. Around these cabins were the settlements of the Cayuse, Palouse and Walla Walla People, many of whom were the wives of the men who put them up. I love this Canada. It was sold to the United States. Consequently, it is a country that never was, yet which remains very much alive: a cross-cultural nation, at home in this place. That is something that in Canada’s 148 years Canada has not yet achieved, but which it retains in potential. It is to that potential that I still remain true, for that is Canada.


This is what you see when you look inside Canada’s windows in the Americanized Walla Walla.

Nez Perce Mystery of LIght

Clouds sailing across the Palouse do this.P1850322

Above Chief Timothy’s Camp

That’s not a hill of coal. It’s not burnt. It’s just a way in which the sky and the land are talking. In fifteen minutes it will look like the others. This too is part of the same conversation.



Lolo Lake Raven

Heart mysteries here. Upliftings of spirit. Moments of wonder.

Mother Earth

Mother Earth has often been equated with womanly power. That’s not really it. Here she is above the Clearwater River in Nez Perce Country, lying on her back, with her arms outstretched and her head staring up at the sky. Her arms are wings, in part, and what she offers to the earth. That’s not a human image, but not a non-human one, either. That the Idaho Government has built a road aimed directly at the gap between Earth’s thighs is, I hope, a source of humour for the Nez Perce.


Lapwai, Nez Perce Territory

It’s not just about humans. There were forms of human knowledge that predate the Anthropocene. That also was an age of men. It is still here.

Matisse and the Nez Perce

Reading the sky, I’ve just realized, is not a matter of translating the dramatic movements of clouds and light into words or ideas, but reacting to them in the manner of responding to art. This moment, in other words…

P1960203 … is like this one …


Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Open Window, Collioure, 1905. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The differences are ones of culture, not differences in kind. Translating this kind of knowledge into words is not going to lead to understanding, but it does lead to windows, which can be opened. However, they’re not the only ones. In the Matisse, the contrast between the two-dimensionality of the canvas, the scene that is rendered on it, the three-dimensional techniques of the painter and the three-dimensional brush work opens up entire universes of body-mind-spirit experience. You don’t have to translate it. You just have to enter the edge of those brush strokes. There’s life there. The same with the image below, from the Snake River in Idaho.


Note the depth of the palette of the dune forms in this ancient medicine plant field, from the sand dunes on the hill (brought to view by light-coloured weeds brought on by over-grazing) to the bunch forms of the wheat grass in the foreground, to the domed form of this sacred rock (like a sweat lodge with a mouth). The patterning opens many doors which can be apprehended and read without language. It was this presence in the earth that was one of the things that made it so hard for the Nimíipuu to accept agriculture when Henry Spalding, the missionary who tried to lead them to a gentle image of Christianity by whipping them, tried to bring them to in 1836. Putting a plow to this would have been like slashing this …


André Derain (1880 – 1954), Mountains at Collioure,1905. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

… with this…


It is an incredible degree of violence, that Henry David Thoreau equated with slavery. It was industrial agriculture which he saw as the threat to the success of democracy in the United States. In the image below, we are on the Fort Bethold Agency in North Dakota in 1941, just months before the United States entered the Second World War after pushing the Japanese into a corner with sanctions.



The image below, also from the Snake, which shows the moon trapped by a road cut (inhabited by swallows), an abandoned fence and a community of weeds, is the view from one of those windows I mentioned. This one is the window of history.


Walking back is not possible. Walking forward is. Art is a path with great potential. Hey, it might lead us here…


… to Buffalo Eddy, where Matisse would feel at home.


I do.

When Quail Leave the Grass, It’s Time to Party

P1950598Ah, the sweet berries of June!

P1950621This is the best year in a decade for saskatoons. They are so sweet.P1950619 And so juicy. Even the ground birds have left the cover of the grass for these ones.



Ain’t that the truth.

Lazuli Bunting: the Jazz Singer and His Band

Ladies and Gentlemen, the concert hall. Note that the violin is strung, and that the player has taken an unusual position.P1950785

Stéphane Grapelli wouldn’t have done it like this, but then he wasn’t a vocalist.


And Lazuli Bunting is! Each of these males becomes mature when it creates its own song.


It’s worth repeating, even if the wind ruffles the breast feathers!


The songs are learned by listening to uncles and fathers, memorizing their licks, and then combining them into a unique sequence. Applause is earned.


Darned wind. We’re still waiting for the violinist, though.


No, not him!


He’s just another vocalist. Besides, lazuli buntings are rare. We don’t want the red-tailed hawks to be getting any ideas. Oh oh!



Not to worry, he passed on. Ah, here’s our violinist!



It’s all in the balance.