In the story that tells this land, one pair of creatures that spring from the rock are the pair of Cougar and Clown. Let me show you three examples. Here we are at Kwaal on the Thompson River. This red hunk of a volcanic ridge thrusts out of the main channel of the river between Spences Bridge and Ashcroft. Nice rock, eh.
Let’s look more closely! It is a rock particularly rich with ancestral figures. Here’s the cougar, with his tongue out, at the down stream crest of the rock (behind the dead tree).
And here is the rear of the rock, where it might be expected to be giving birth:
There’s your clown. Find it? Here, this might help:
This is not an uncommon pattern. Something’s going on. Here’s the clown again on one of the small turtles below the large turtle of Turtle Mountain in Vernon, in the Okanagan.
And the main face of this old volcanic vent? Cougar man! (With a bush for an eye.)
Am I saying that these spirits are in the rock? No, this is not Indiana Jones. This is more serious than that. It’s about how to read the land if you are the land. For another example, let’s go to Gwayasdums, an ancient village in the islands at the mouth of the fjords of the British Columbia coast.
Here’s how it looked 140 years ago.
Let me show you around a little bit. Here’s a debt figure, erected after a winter ceremony debt was left unpaid.
And after the debt was paid… now she is a welcoming figure.Here’s how the artist Emily Carr painted her quickly almost a century ago.
And here is her replacement today, still welcoming guests. Wolves for breasts. Excellent! No cougars on this part of the coast. One has to make do.
The thing is, though, that she has a front and a behind, and the behind, the newborn child, is what the villagers see when looking out over their harbour.
And what is she facing? Ah, that’s the thing. One of the series of low, glaciated rocks that make up the achingly beautiful Broughton Archipelago.
In this area, villages are located where the rocks are most concentrated, in fish and human forms. Often, the forms are of a man and a woman, side by side, floating on the water and staring at the sky. My guess is totem pole carving came from paddling past these things.
Here’s the male one in Gwayasdums harbour.
The female one, I showed you above. Here is her giving birth to a kind of clown, similarly to our Kwaal cougar.
Here, closer might help.
He looks like a Siberian chieftain! Now, let’s look at him with the welcoming figure in the village…
… and in the context of Kwakwakwakw art.
Curious, no? These are just rocks, yet the correspondence with local cultures, born in their places, is astounding. Here’s a variation I showed you the other day, one of the five watching cougars of the ancient Syilx story that is my city, Vernon, British Columbia. The cougar is curled up, facing to the right of the image, with her head turned directly towards me on Turtle Mountain.
Here’s her head.
Here’s her child.
The variations in these common stories provide cultural continuity, points of meditation, and points of individuation. Tomorrow, I’ll show you how. Until then, here’s one of the other cougars (remember, there are five in the stories.) Can you see her companion Lynx being born?
Shame about that dynamite work. Have people no respect?