Thursday, March 23, 2006

Take a little trip with me.

I was surfing around the net,the other day. I googled "Ojibway Art" and out popped a link for the Whetung Ojibway crafts and art gallery, on the Curve Lake First Nation; Southern Ontario, just north of Peterborough. That (and a small container of mementos I'd found the week before) inspired me to write about a little backpacking trip that I took, at university. Just to get the hell out of the dorm for a weekend.

I was going to university in Peterborough, Ontario; Ottonabee College ("Ought-Not-To-Be-a College", as we affectionately referred to it) at Trent University.
I guess that it had been a long week,long semester, long winter. I had a tent with me and decided to go visit a couple of cool sites that I had heard about, in the Archaeology department and/or other anthro. classes.

So; I took a bus to the edge of town (Trent U. is already pretty close to the edge of town) and started hitchhiking northeasty.

(Google map)

My first destination was the Warsaw caves; a series of glacial runoff-cut riverbanks that collapsed, or were dug down as "kettles";Trike
one "cave" is deep enough to retain year-round ice. (AnotherLink)

When my ride dropped me off, I was a little disappointed to find that the park was not yet open, but I was able to walk in and check out the caves. They weren't very apparent, on the surface, but they did open up, quickly. I was also disgusted to realize that I hadn't brought a flashlight, so I was navigating by 'Zippo' lighter. A great lighter, but not the tool of choice for cave exploration. Luckily, it was too early for the bats to have returned and the day was bright enough that I at least could track back to the surface by following the light. But; as a consequence, I didn't penetrate too far into the caves and didn't get to see the permanent ice.

After I surfaced, warmed up and ate some lunch, I started hitchhiking towards the Curve Lake (Mississauga Ojibway) First Nation.

I hitched partway and walked the last bit, into The Rez. The first place that I stopped at was the Whetung Gallery (link above). I was impressed with the wide variety of Native craftwork and fine arts from all over North America. I was especially impressed with some large, original Norval Morrisseau paintings hanging in there.

Although I was unaware of his deteriorating health, at the time (Parkinson's); there were clues in his paintings. Perhaps his ability to use and control a paintbrush had already been compromised; the colours were laid on in thick, bold layers with little or no blending. Indeed; much of the paint had been squeezed onto the canvas, straight from the tube, with some 'smooshing around'. The effect did not detract from the works. They were all the more powerful for their simplicity, and the paintings had a tactile quality that made me want to run my fingers over them and feel the paints' knobs, swirls and terraces.

TEXTURE, baby.

It was getting late. I asked a few people where I could set up my tent and someone suggested the park, by the lake, which was not being used much, that time of year. I started walking, following the easy directions I had been given. Along the way, I stopped at a store to get some water. I had neglected to bring something to put water in, so I asked the clerks if there was a bottle or something I could use. They produced an empty 1.75L plastic vodka bottle.{I didn't spend much time wondering why there was a large, empty vodka bottle in the store, then, so I won't waste any time speculating about it , now.}

It did the job and I walked the short distance to the park, quickly. Albeit with a large, conspicuous vodka bottle dangling from my hand.

There was no lid for the bottle, so it didn't go in the duffel.

I could imagine what it looked like: large, long-haired Indian in a tan trench coat, lugging a huge duffel bag and equally large, open bottle of vodka. Nobody seemed to notice, but there weren't many people around. The discomfort was a small price to pay, anyway, for dinner and breakfast cooking-water.

I found a place in the park, under some trees, and set up my tent, quickly. The sky was beginning to threaten, as I collected wood and made a small fire. I made tea and noodles for dinner and did some writing, before a light rain and darkness chased me into the tent. Because I had no lid for the water/vodka bottle, I left it by the tent door so that I wouldn't wake up in a 0.892L puddle in my sleeping bag. I could also reach out to grab a drink, if needed, in the middle of the night.

The rain remained light, while distant flashes lit the tent, and the soft thrum of thunder sung me to sleep.

I was awakened in the middle of the night.

At first, I thought it was the storm... but the sound was wrong. Whiny.


Several ATV's crested the big hill behind my tent and zoomed towards my camp.

It sounded like three or four machines. Probably the 'Trike' ATV's that were so Trikepopular with the youngsters before everyone realized they were deathtraps. {When was the last time you saw one?}

They circled my tent, once, revving their engines and shouting some unintelligible challenges, then took off down the park.

I certainly wasn't opposed to recreational violence, back then, but the thought of facing three or four ATV *ssh*les, in the middle of the night, on foreign Rez territory did not amuse me. At all.

I took the strongest, most baseball bat-like piece of firewood into my tent and tried to go back to sleep. Of course, it wasn't long before the riders came back. They circled my tent a couple times, revving and whooping while I put some pants on and prepared to face them.

One rider suddenly roared up to my door, then sped off, spraying my tent with grass and dirt. When I came out of the tent, all of the riders were tearing off over the hill, that they had first come from, shouting and revving.
Then they were gone.

I was so pissed off, scared and revved-up, myself, that I was practically vibrating. I began stomping around the tent to see how close they'd been to snapping my guy lines. Then I noticed it... or, rather, the lack of it.

My 1.75L plastic vodka bottle, containing (approximately) 0.892L of water... was gone.

I had myself one great old laugh, then. I swear, it was one of the best laughs I ever had.

In my mind, I saw it all: The stoic retrievers of the vodka would go to their rallying point to celebrate their ingenuity and bravery (maybe the closest party-house, or some fire-pit in the woods). The honcho of the group would pause dramatically, before throwing his head back and downing a huge shot of...

h2o .

I imagined a great swearing and gnashing of teeth ensuing; followed by the jeers and derision of his peers.

That made me feel much better. I went back to sleep.

Ten minutes later, two riders roared back to my camp and threw the bottle at my tent while making angry noises. They left straight away and I knew there would be no more trouble.

In the morning, I made tea and noodles for breakfast (yum), before packing up and heading down the road to find "The Teaching Rocks" (also known as the Peterborough Petroglyphs and Petroglyphs Provincial Park).

The petroglyph site wasn't that far off, but it took me a couple hours to hitch there. Once there, I was kinda hesitant to go in, because of the gate and fairly official looking closed signs discouraging entry. While I was making up my mind, a Native man in a pickup pulled over, got out and asked me what I was doing there. I explained my walkabout and desire to see the petroglyphs. He locked his door and offered to show me around. {There is a certain luck to be had, walking around in Indian Country. Remind me to tell you about the South Dakota sweatlodge, sometime.}

It is my loss, that I have forgotten this man's name and cannot find it in any of my journals from that time. He was quite generous with his time and had a good laugh when I told him about the previous night's adventure. I'll call him Joe.

Joe pointed out smaller, harder-to-find outcrops of weathered marble (also with some ancient carvings) that had been left out in the open and unprotected. He was of the opinion that this was how the authors of the carvings wished them to be; part of the earth, allowed to disappear in their time. It is a sentiment that I have heard echoed in the words of elders from all over Turtle Island, concerning: totem poles, cliff paintings, drums, pipes and bones. I think that the remains of ancestors should be allowed to rest in peace, myself. These other things will turn to dust, eventually; despite the best efforts of the curators.

As we approached the main site and the new building, Joe explained that the site was only open to the public at certain times and during part of the year, but the local traditionals were given access to use the site at any time they needed. I do not know if the situation is the same today, but it was a cool understanding. I hope that it's still in effect.

As we entered, Joe explained that the building was little more than a roof and walls, designed to circulate air to help stabilise the humidity inside.

The petroglyphs are amazing.

The panels were much bigger than I anticipated, and crowded. Many had been filled in with black sand or charcoal to highllight the figures.

[This website has some impressive diagrams of the petroglyphs, but I would take the astronomical interpretation with a grain of salt. There may be some cosmic representation on the panels, but it's hard to accept the star map idea, wholesale. I offer this link, only because of the detailed illustration of the carvings.
Update, March 24 - The Illustration on this website comes from the following source: Joan M. Vastokas and Romas K. Vastokas
Sacred Art of the Algonkians: A Study of the Peterborough Petroglyphs,
1973, Mansard Press]

I don't remember how long I was there. Not long, I'm sure; I wouldn't have wanted to impose on Joe's time for very long.

I left that place with a sense of awe that returns to me, clear and soothing, when I want it. I will have to go back there, sometime.

Joe gave me a lift to the main highway and I hitched a quick ride, back to the college.

Just the other day, my dad and I were going through boxes of old junk and I found a plastic margarine container, full of fossil shells and corals, from the banks of the Ottonabee River and I began to think about this posting.


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Jade L Blackwater said...

Thank you for sharing these adventures... I felt like I was right along for the ride. :)

Those petroglyphs must have been something to see - I'm glad that you found Joe at the right time and place to explore with.

MooseGuts said...





Hoka-shay-honaqut said...

Thank yous.