Cryptozoology is Dead

Take a look. This is N’ha-a-itk. Maybe you’ve heard of this creature from the time when all people and the earth and the creatures were one, through the lens of a little colonial linguistic derision … the Ogopogo of legend? I was across the lake from the N’ha-a-itk a couple days ago, in such glorious light that I had to stop. I wanted to call out to all the people in all the cars roaring past this old plantation to stop, that wherever they were going was of no consequence compared to this light here with the N’ha-a-itk, but they seemed pretty intent on driving on by, and what could I do? Get arrested for looking crazy? That saddened me. The day was joyous, and, I tell you, the light is turbulent here and rarely as amazing as this, turned orange by coming in immediately above the peaks just before a winter dusk.P1130443 Legend’s the word for it. You can read about the Ogopogo critter in previous posts, here and here and here. And yesterday I told the story of how growing up in a valley in which the mountains were the sky taught me to read the rock. I tell you, this is the rock:

P1130430 We’re looking at it here from the old North-South trail, that ran up this side of the lake for 10,000 years. You can lay a totem pole on its back and get it to stare up into the sky and it’s not going to look much different.


Except totem poles don’t have heads.

P1130432Actually, there are a group of N’ha-a-itks here. Those were the southern one. Here’s the main one, hunting at Rattlesnake Island, on Squally Point, already out of the sun. A couple kilometres makes a lot of difference here.

P1130490 Here it is again, pulling back a little…

P1130491 And both of them together. The light is leaving us, sadly.

P1130493 It is a nature of respect among the Syilx people that respect given is respect received. That’s what this land teaches. That’s what they learned. That’s what I learned. There are faces on the southern N’ha-a-itk’s snout here…

…and teeth and the whole works on the northern one…

…that’s a kind of photography that is recorded in the mind, at the place and time at which it meets the earth. Place and time? They are the same thing when you think as the earth. Placing science at that intersection instead and looking for nonexistent archaic animals says a lot about science, a lot more about the people who would engage in such an enterprise, and even more about a culture that condones that degree of disrespect to indigenous people, to its own people and to the earth itself.

P1130500It’s hard to take such attitudes seriously, except they are so dangerous. When you are the mountain, you speak as the mountain and the mountain speaks as you. Anything else is a path to environmental death. The art in which that is handled is ethics. We either get this right or we are not human anymore.

Not human anymore? Challenging, I know, but I hope to explain what I mean in my next post.


Go, Ogopogo, And Don’t Come Back No More!

There is a legend from the time when the British Empire owned this corner of North America, that says that the local people, the Syilx, claimed there was a monster in the lake, much like the cryptosaur of Loch Ness: kind of a long snaky thing with teeth at one end and a tale at the other.



The wire and concrete version. Note the excellent hand-cut rubber tire look.

People are still looking for the wee beastie. Here’s a website devoted to all of that. This,  (zooming in on the image above), though, I believe:


Rattlesnake Island

According to Syilx Geography, the creature N’ha-a-itk, which was disrespectfully garbled as Ogopogo, lived in a cave beneath this island.

Now, let’s pull back just a little, and see that island in its context …


Rattlesnake Island and … A Head with a … Snout?

Let’s look a little more closely …

snoutThe Snout is a Head, too?

… and farther back …

crittersA Hump-Backed Fish?

This game is at least half as much fun as the Cryptosaur one, but it does have some basis in cultural understanding.

pink spawn

Hump-Backed Salmon

These guys used to come up here from Siberia, but were cut off when lake levels sank at the end of the Ice Age. Could the stories here be that old? Sure.

I think is an ancient way of reading the land that is caught up with the story of Okanagan Mountain. After all, in Indigenous cultures throughout Northwestern North America, the interrelation between living creatures is commonly more important than Western ideas of their species-specific independence. Here’s an example from the Vernon Museum:

arg19Argillite Carving, Haida Gwaii

Everything is flowing together. Every thing is changing into each other thing. People, too.

With that pattern of thought, I think the entire valley of Okanagan Lake was once read as a story. Here is just a brief introduction to its characters. There are many more.

okmap2Instead of Reading Constellations in the Sky…

…the Okanagan has Stories in the Land

That’s a map well worth archaelogical exploration. If re-created, it might tell of the human experience of history here and be the basis for moving Okanagan culture back into the land. Who knows what will be learned by uncovering 10,000 years of human history in this place. Who knows what novels and ecological understanding will follow. After all, the people who invented Ogopogo by mis-reading that land …


…also, eventually, created this as their crowning achievement…

Mission HIllMission Hill Winery, West Kelowna Source.

An Austrian bell tower funded by hard liquor profits and called “A family estate.”

…and this, too …

Biological Garden, University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus

That’s a blue bristle from a street sweeping machine in the foreground. The university has currently raised 1 billion dollars towards its 1.5 billion dollar goal of supporting innovation and something it calls ‘place’.

I’d sure miss the earth if it were gone. The place in the image just above has already left it.


N’ha-a-itk Family Group with Rattlesnake Island

Looking North from the ancient north-south trail.  Greata Ranch

Next: What innovation really looks like.

Ogopogo From the Air, and a Story for You

Here’s the Ogopogo, seen from the air just after Thanksgiving …

Mid-Okanagan Lake, with Ogopogo Photo: Anassa  Rhenisch.

Thanks for giving, Anassa!

For the full story of this corner of the lake, why not check out the first third of my talk a week back to the Okanagan Institute? Just click here: okokintro2, and it will come to you. (Note, I had to shrink file size, so if the images are looking wonky, do shrink your viewing screen size until they come up clear.) An intriquing view, I hope, of how a book can unfold from its footsteps as if it were always there and suddenly we saw it come clear around us, among the trees and the grasses. This project is becoming a real family affair. A photo from my daughter above, and a narrative style (in the .pdf) that flows through both pictures and text. Thanks to my wife, Diane, for pointing out that such an approach makes a far better narrative than the (wordy) essays that my love of words has carried me to in the past. I’ll have an audio version soon, as well as the rest of the talk. One step at a time!




Okanagan Lake is home to a monster called Ogopogo. He’s awfully good for tourism. What is he? A sturgeon? A hunk of driftwood? A plesiosaur? Well, maybe not a plesiosaur, not if Scotland’s Nessie is any relative. According to I Love Kelowna, the Sylix people called him “N-ha-a-itk”, or “monster”. Even Canada Post has gotten into the act:

canada ogopogo stamp

Ogopogo: The Bilingual Monster

Notice the Rainbow Tail, signifying, I think, the pot of gold draped around his neck.

Well, I’ve seen the wind work its magic on the lake in Naramata, and the sun follow its curls and twists, and look like a serpent flashing over the water, and I’ve seen this, just a little south, in Dog Lake:

Stone Dog at Dog LakeDog Lake’s Dog, Looking Across to Another Stone Dog on the Other Shore

Most maps label Dog Lake as Skaha Lake, but, still, Skaha = Dog.

And I’ve seen this, just a little south, at the ancient fishing hole at Okanagan Falls:

Water Monster at Okanagan Falls (Stone)Monster Coming Down Over the Hill to the Water

Okanagan Falls

There is a long world history of magical animals being frozen into stone at the beginning of the world, when humans and animals went their own separate ways. It spans the world. By the looks of things, it was no different here. I’m not throwing science and rationality out of the window. I’m trying to make a point about non-scientific consciousness and its ability to read geological forms in a vocabulary learned from living closely with the land.

As a warning, there is a story from Campbell River on Vancouver Island. It goes with this big rock on the shore, pretty much on the 50th Parallel:

Big Rock, Campbell River, Painted as a Salmon

Big Rock, Campbell River

Legend tells of a mythical Grizzly Bear, who disobeyed the Creator and tried to jump over Discovery Passage to Vancouver Island, landed in tidal water, and turned to stone. Pretty neat, except the story was invented by a priest, to add some colour to a letter home. The real story is that this is a chunk of a sea monster, thrown out of the ocean after a terrible underwater battle.

What if the Ogopogo’s origins lay in just such a romanticized notion, told by people struggling to understand the totally foreign land sense of the Sylix? What if the Ogopogo, really does live at Rattlesnake Island, but not as a Plesiosaur or Serpent? What if it is Okanagan Mountain itself? Maybe he looks like this:

Okanagan Mountain from Peachland

Okanagan Mountain and Squally Point, from Peachland

Here’s a closer view of the point itself:

Squally NorthOgopogo’s Head? Or is That Three Ogopogo’s?

Now, let’s look at the same point from the south. Keep the highest hill, in the middle of the photograph, in mind, and here we go…

Okanagan Mountain from Greata RanchOkanagan Mountain from Great Ranch 

Rattlesnake Island, Ogopogo’s home, is just off the point at the upper right edge of the water. The point by the island is the same one seen from Peachland to the north. The high hill from the previous shot, is the one above the tallest foreground tree in the photograph above.

And here it is, again, closer:

Okanagan Mountain Closeup from Greata RanchA Better Candidate for Ogopogo?

This one even has shoulders and fins. So, maybe that’s four Ogopogos, in all?

Hey, maybe there’s a fishy Ogopogo swimming in the water. Maybe not. But since the fire of 2003, with all the trees gone, perhaps the mountain is readable for the first time in a century.

Looks like it to me.