I discovered the spirit of the Okanagan a week and a half ago, peering slyly out of the hills …
… and promised to go and have a closer look. Today was the day. It was one steep hill, I tell ya. Notice how the monument changes when you get up close. The pointy head crest vanishes, for one thing. More on that in a bit. For another thing, it becomes a gentler creature.
And look, it had a child. Granite is just not very stable stuff in this climate, is it!
Now, watch what happens as I close in. First, it’s Chipmunk, with a pine for an upright tail raised in warning. (As you can see from the foreground, pines aren’t very stable in this climate, either. That fallen one, just like the one on the right, are old Syilx trees.)
But then the pine travels behind the hill and it becomes a tadpole (the child of a frog) and, by the looks of that head on its tail, a double-headed rattlesnake at the same time, with its body curled around a saskatoon bush. (The double-headed serpent is a spiritual creature of the Cascadian Coast. The inland version is a two-headed rattler. They were reported to be strong here in the north of the valley.) Yes, it’s possible to be two spirits at once. It’s part of the art of transformation.
That dug up dirt in front of the monument? That is what cattle do when they’re put where they have no business being. Let’s talk about that in a few days, eh. Right now, take a look at what happens next.
See that? The snake/tadpole’s tail has now flicked the other way and it becomes more tadpole than snake! (And tadpoles are masters of the energy of transformation.) It gets even more amazing. I crossed the dead pine in the foreground and went under the pine at the right. Here’s what the monument looks like from under there.
A skull! Part human, part … cougar? Bear? I’m guessing cougar, because across the lake is Cougar Point. (Look Below.) It looks like this (below) from up here. It’s lurking, that’s what it is doing. Look at it lurk. That point it’s on, by the way, was reported to be infested with two-headed rattlers. One monster cougar, that’s for sure. (In Plateau culture, there are different forms of animals. Some are monsters who were there before the world was tamed. Long story. This is one of those.)
Now, look at the skull again (cougars leave skulls around their dens, right?)
The eye of the skull has fallen out, and is lying there in front of it, talking to it, like a man with a headdress of eagle feathers. By the way, the eagle (below) hangs out just below this rock, and hunts up here (I’m guessing that this is a female, because of her large size, but she’s not saying.)
The thing about spirit rocks is that they transform, just as Sen’klip aka Coyote transformed them once from monsters into stone. The ancestral poles of the Coast are known for these kind of transformations. Here’s one at the old village site in downtown Victoria, with a pair of living ancestors hanging out, in love, aww. You can see the ancestors rising on top of each other in the story line of the pole.
It’s the same with rock, only, well, rockier. For example, on the crest of the Spirit of the Okanagan there is a double-headed snake for a head dress. Notice that the head on the right is clown-faced. That’s a common motif. The rear side of welcome figures on the Coast, ancient figures in the Thompson River and at the head of Precipice Canyon in the Chilcotin, and more, are all clowns. There are other faces in this stone. Reading them is part of the narrative, but just remember as you do: the narrative is not linear.
Sen’klip is a clown, of course. That’s part of the deal with transformations. I don’t have a picture of Sen’klip for you that’s good enough to share, but I have a nice one of the Mrs., out to rustle up some grub for the kids.
Our monument doesn’t have Sen’klip, but it sure has that other old trickster, jack rabbit (below). In Syilx tradition, she is the grandmother of Chipmunk (who we saw as we first approached, appropriately enough under a pine, and, appropriately enough, scampering off as we got closer.) Look at Jack Rabbit here, in a ceremonial dress, with the moon above her. She was in that stone all along, until one day it broke open and there she was in the light. That’s another kind of transformation. (Notice as well how the double-headed headdress has become, at this angle, a human figure clinging to the moon. That’s Frog, who couldn’t bear to be separated from Moon…
…and leapt up, and is still clinging there
And here on Earth, too, of course. After Jack Rabbit came into the story, I walked around the monument. Look who is perched at the back of the tadpole: Owl, with her wings spread (facing away from us). Owl, is in the old Syilx story of Jack Rabbit, Tadpole and Coyote. She is plain bad news. Or is that Grizzly Bear, facing to the right? He’s in the story, too. Or both? That makes metaphoric sense.
To the north of the monument, the view changes again, in multiple ways. For one thing, the crown of the figure, as seen from below, shows itself to be a flat disk, about half a metre thick, extended behind the narrative.
Moon again, extending the narrative? Rattlesnake again? Sun? Only long study and immersion in story could say, but (below) here’s a different transformation yet (this view shows the glare off the lake, the highway to Kelowna, and the disk head on, and it’s a turtle’s head now, with the monument dragging along behind it.) How cool is that. Notice the right side of the figure…
Here’s a closer view of it. Isn’t that a giant, victorious chipmunk with his cheeks filled with pine seeds?
Or one of the marmots that lives under rocks like this (and under this one, yes)? First the profile…
Then the head shot (this image was made near the stone monster cougar across the lake):
I dunno. With floppy ears like that, it might be Jack Rabbit concluding the tale.
Well, that’s the story. You can read more of it here. Just search for “Jack Rabbit”. You’ll find it soon enough. A couple more things. First, the image below shows what the monument is looking out over, and what looks up to it.
That’s Kalamalka Lake, and Wood Lake in behind. On the foreshore is an ancient village site. Accident? Hardly. Secondly, there’s this just up the hill:
Is that Sen’klip’s twin brother Fox, slinking along and carrying a whole bunch of people on his back? It might be. That’s for you to say as you read the rock, but I will show you this, just to the north, facing the Cougar:
Isn’t that Marmot, with another saskatoon. You can bet that saskatoons feed on the manure left by the marmots who live under rocks like this. Perhaps you can see how story and landform and land become one? Oh, and just down from the village site?
The entire landscape is a story, or a series of them, constantly transforming, constantly being retold in the same forms, all of them leading to knowledge of the environment they rise from, all of them helping you find your way, which is not the way of roads or maps.
Those things don’t exactly go where we need to go. One more thing. This is Syilx land. It was stolen. It needs to be given back.
Categories: Earth, First Peoples, Grasslands, Nature Photography
I so enjoy reading your truths, ponderings, and reflections on the incredible environment that surrounds us.
It sets a pace for respect and love that many of us have allowed to be paved over.
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Thank you! Your support means a lot. I’m glad you’re on this journey with me.
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