Writing-on-Stone – revisited   23 comments

Posted at 6:53 am in Uncategorized

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As some may remember, last autumn, I camped the better part of a week at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southeast Alberta. I wrote about my visit here and here.

This year, with the weather unusually warm, and the campground looking so beautiful beneath a golden canopy of cottonwoods, I kept extending our visit another day and then another and another. There were very few other campers aside from a few hunters who were absent during daylight hours.

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For various reasons, I did not feel much like hiking, so spent afternoons around camp, studying maps and working on a writing project. Each morning and evening, I would walk up through the hoodoo fields to a high spot overlooking the river and canyon, and send off emails to my family and anyone else who might have written. For those interested in technical stuff, neither the iPad or the Blackberry worked down at the campground on the cottonwood flats below the hoodoo field. Up above, I was able to get a decent signal on the iPad, but not a particularly good signal on the Blackberry.

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The dogs seemed to enjoy quiet afternoons together, interrupted only by the curious Magpies that flapped from perch to perch, emitting an interesting array of sounds ranging from tinkling chimes to the zizzing of sleeping bag zippers. Sage was quite fascinated.

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As was the case last year, I felt very tired and in need of a rest. It seems to be a cumulative thing that eventually manifests after the journey is finally underway. Last year, it was all the rushing to get the farm sold and dispose of or move our belongings into storage. This year, it was closing up the old house after this past summer’s work, then getting the van ready for our journey. By the time we get to the west, i seem to need a few days of doing nothing much beyond sleeping and making our dinners. The dogs were more than happy to oblige me by turning in early each evening.

I used to be a dreamer, but now I rarely have anything memorable, which is probably just as well. For the past two years, any dreams that I had concerning Don were very disturbing – especially those that I refer to as The Hospital Dreams. This autumn, while camped at Writing-on-Stone, i dreamt of him several times, but these were better – nothing extraordinary, but pleasant in a mundane sort of way. I hope this is the beginning of a new trend – no more nightmares. The area encompassed by Writing-on-Stone was, and still is, considered to be a sacred place by the Plains tribes. It was a region where people came to hunt game and gather wild foods, but was also considered to be a place of power where one might have dreams or visions. Perhaps the power to inspire dreams lives on in this place.

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Sometimes I’m asked why it is that I prefer being out here on my own in these wild places. Is it the solitude and quiet? Is it the beauty of nature? I have no real answer other than to say that I find it next to impossible to care about what constitutes our modern world anymore. What I see about me seems to be just so much chaff and so little substance. This year’s week at Writing-on-Stone seemed to reify all that I have been contemplating this past few years. For most of the week, the place was quiet and peaceful. I met a teacher who is on sabbatical for a year. We spent a good evening talking of many things next to her campfire. She told me of how her school has been planting a tree out front in memory of each teacher who has passed away from cancer over the past couple of years, and that she doesn’t want to be the next tree. She wants to spend some time doing those things she has always dreamed of doing – traveling and camping in special places. I believe she has made a wise choice.

There was one day out of the seven which reminded me of why I can barely function within the modern world. On a Friday night, three groups of young people showed up at the campground. One group seemed reasonably normal, but one group shrieked and yelled no matter what they did – setting up tents, making dinner, jumping around up on the hoodoo field while shouting, “Duuuude! Hey, Duuude!” at the tops of their lungs. This went on all evening and began early the following morning. The third group set out with laser-tag guns making all kinds of bizarre racket as they walked through the campground to leap about among the hoodoos.

In the course of a week, I walked up and down the traveled pathway through the hoodoo field below the interpretive center a good number of times. I took note of interesting rocks and the small scarlet-winged grasshoppers that catapulted across before me. I got to know how things looked. After the noisy crowds departed on Saturday afternoon, I took note of all the fragments of sandstone that lay crumbled along the pathway – some quite large. Chunks of stone that had not been there the day before. It made me feel sad and sick, and also made me think of one of the interpretive signs in the park which says something to the effect that Native peoples approach this place with respect, often leaving offerings such as tobacco or sweetgrass. Why is it that the people of our modern society have so little respect for these wild places? Why is it that we think it okay to leave our ugly cities and travel to these natural places to despoil them? How is it that we see the natural world solely as a place to exploit? Is this how most people think now? That the natural world deserves no respect and exists only as a playground and resource for mankind? Is our modern world really such a thing to be proud of?

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Toward the end of the week, the weather began to change. Wind and rain replaced the warmth and sunlight of the previous few days. The campground cleared out so that I was one of only a few left. The hoodoo fields now looked gray and gloomy – almost reproachful. I spend my final day getting the van tidied up and organized for the next leg of our journey. It had been a blustery day with occasional showers. I was feeling a little depressed after the previous couple of days of watching the goings-on around me. However, just as the sun began to sink behind the western hills, the cloud cover cleared and amber rays flooded the entire canyon, igniting the rock formations with gilded light for a few fleeting minutes. Weighty thoughts took wing and departed as I was reminded that, in spite of all that mankind might do, the land beneath is strong and true and will outlast all.

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Written by bev wigney on October 29th, 2010

23 Responses to 'Writing-on-Stone – revisited'

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  1. oh bev, this is exactly what I needed. This is my favorite post of all time. I mean, all blog time.
    I had such little tolerance of the swoop of humanity before – now, it is just grating, and often far over the boundary of offensive. But the animals and the land and solitude, that world away from the arbitrariness of the modern human world, that’s the place that still makes sense to me.

    Beautiful heart rock, too.

    megan

    29 Oct 10 at 8:56 am

  2. Hi megan – I’m just getting ready to move on today, but wanted to send a quick ‘hello’ to you. Believe me when I say “I know.” Me too. Take care, bev.

    bev wigney

    29 Oct 10 at 9:14 am

  3. I’ve read some books where the authors tell similar feelings and stories. I hope you are aiming someday to put out a book because the truth of this, the need of humans to respect sacred places (I think our culture has always had too many who do not), the joy of nature and why it needs to be protected and how it can restore our souls. You write of this from a deep place and with the photos, it would really be a gift if you thought about a book where it is all in one place. I had never heard of this park but will definitely try to be sure someday I go there. I think the reason youth don’t seem to ‘get it’ is we don’t teach it enough. There are some though (my grandchildren) who are being taught of these things. Just not enough

    Rain

    29 Oct 10 at 9:33 am

  4. Rain and Megan said it all.

    "Kneeblood"

    29 Oct 10 at 9:46 am

  5. Perhaps this is why we gravitate to each other, fellow travelers, who can no longer function within the modern world. It is a sad state of affairs, with most of the young not really getting how fragile the earth really is. We have made a mess of both the earth and of how the young are taught. What is sacred to the generation that followed us? Or the one that followed them? I really don’t know.

    Beautiful piece of earth there, bev. I’m glad your dreams have changed. Safe and good travels to you.

    robin andrea

    29 Oct 10 at 11:29 am

  6. Some things will survive, but I have come to the conclusion that humans are pretty damned good at messing things up. Once I took a canoe trip with my father up the river that goes through my hometown. This was the same river my father had played on when he was a boy, and some parts upstream of town looked like they might have been unchanged for hundreds of years. There were huge oak trees, probably six or eight feet in diameter. I heard, for the first and only time, the slap of a beaver tail on the water, a positively prehistoric sound. I thought, “This river will survive.”

    But it didn’t. Those trees are gone now, replaced by a taxpayer-funded minor league baseball stadium. At least the carpet mills are not dumping chemicals into the river every day – only occasionally now, especially since they have sent most of their factories to China.

    Mark

    29 Oct 10 at 11:53 am

  7. there is some good river news, mark. When my love was a child, the river in his hometown was considered so polluted and toxic from the mills, you weren’t supposed to touch even touch the water, let alone swim in it or eat from it. He did investigate, of course, and found three headed frogs, multi-eyed fish, all manner of strange creatures. There are now, 30 years later, stretches of this river that are considered safe and free of toxins. Now, not pristine of course, and “free of toxins” means “at levels damaging to humans,” but still – there are some efforts towards reversal of damages.

    megan

    29 Oct 10 at 1:01 pm

  8. I’ve been remiss, not getting down to write to you when I’ve been meaning to for weeks. (Actually, months.) Forgive me. Things are cranking up here in every way. Forthcoming 60th birthday retrospective, books, commissions, exhibition deadlines, and the house in the throes of the last rush to get this year’s work done and the men laid off in time for Christmas. We’ve been here for four years this November, and come December 25th we should have added significantly to the number of finished room in this rambling pile. Bedroom… check. Library… check. Winter sitting-room… check. Summer sitting-room… check. Dining-room… check. What a relief and a pleasure it will be to set table in a room lovingly restored to splendour. And for the past months I’ve woken every morning, happy to be in a bedroom as blue as Heaven. Even on a stormy day it makes me smile.

    The photographs in this post are glorious. What amazing topography, flora and fauna. The dogs look in great shape. Clearly the three of you are completely in tune. Perfect travelling companions.

    People…. mmmmm, yes, I concur. Shrieking and screaming seem to have become the norm, and I fear not just for the very young. Fun seems to only work for these people if the decibels are cranked up to show just how much of it they’re having. And anyone who gainsays their inane high spirits is labelled killjoy! ‘Hrummmmph!’ (To quote Calvin expressing disgust!) Try not to let it get to you. The world will still turn when they’ve gone back to wherever they emerged from. Once, long ago, I was a custodian in an ancient monument. Seven long years I was the guardian at the gate of the most beautiful place on earth. (Well, it was that for me, though we all have different notions of beauty.) There were times when I had it to myself, and others when the world intruded in the rudest manner. But always at the end of the day, the yahoos left and the peace returned. Nature heals.
    There’s balm in that.

    This is clearly a reflective time for you. Thank you so much for sharing it. There ARE like-minded people out there you know. We’re on your side!

    Anonymous

    29 Oct 10 at 5:02 pm

  9. Sorry, I forgot to leave my name with the above comment. It’s Clive.

  10. reading this post confirms my own observations within the city…young people, for the most part, seem to have very little regard for anything outside themselves. i wonder how their parents so totally miss the boat? (how did my generation drop the ball in our efforts toward parenting these parents?) i really don’t understand it. i have had my own encounters with young people which ended in lectures about their disregard for public and priavate property. i am likely not the most popular woman on the walk to the bus stop!

    glad your dreams were more peaceful and you have gotten some rest. hope you’ll soon be having a great adventure somewhere else along the way! šŸ™‚

    Sky

    30 Oct 10 at 11:15 am

  11. Thanks, everyone. I have a lot of concern for what is happening to the land, the rivers, and to special places such as Writing-on-Stone. What bothers me about a lot of the destruction is that it can’t be undone and that a lot of it happens as a result of careless or frivolous behaviour. And I do wonder what has happened that many people seem to care so little for nature. What would it take to change attitudes? Will it happen in our time? I hope so.

    bev

    30 Oct 10 at 6:29 pm

  12. Hello Bev, I finally had a moment to myself and after scanning your photos read the corresponding text. I must say “Writing on Stone” is one unusual place. Just from the pictures I can tell the place is filled with the voices of a different time. It is sad that this special place is exploited by those who choose to make noise rather than listen. And yes I can relate to much of what you experienced. One line caught my attention, “Weighty thoughts took wing and departed as I was reminded that, in spite of all that mankind might do, the land beneath is strong and true and will outlast all.” Sometimes the best we can do is be true to ourselves and just walk away deriving comfort in the fact that in the end nature will reclaim what is hers.

    Be safe and enjoy your trip, and thanks for the photos and letting us follow your journey.

    armin

    30 Oct 10 at 7:32 pm

  13. Bev, this is exactly what I needed to read today, and I thank you for it. The sentence below says it all.

    “Weighty thoughts took wing and departed as I was reminded that, in spite of all that mankind might do, the land beneath is strong and true and will outlast all. ”

    If only humans would treat the magnificent living world beneath our feet with more respect…

    Cate

    30 Oct 10 at 8:25 pm

  14. Bev, What wonderful pictures you have sent us here. Sage and Sabrina look so peaceful. I love the heart rock. Nice picture of the sundown on the rocks. Those young men in the park obviously have not been taught anything about how to respect anything in the world. Some people do not feel complete without causing turmoil in their lives making it impossible for others to live in peace. For the direction the world is headed, all we can do is to live as peacefully as we can and teach others around us that want to listen how wonderful and beautiful it can be for us. I feel that for as many corrupt and obnoxious people we have out there, there are also many that still love nature and understand just how important it is to hold it close to our hearts, that said, I realize that some are a lost cause. But if we can teach just one, that is good….. Sweet dreams to you Bev and a safe drive for you and your wonderful passengers šŸ™‚ See you next time… šŸ™‚

    Kathy Demarest

    31 Oct 10 at 7:07 pm

  15. My friend,

    This piece is so lovely. Your writing increasingly glows with description, insight, poignancy and an intimacy that transcends the writer/reader boundary.

    I was moved by your thoughts as to why you are drawn to remote locations. Most of us would be challenged by the isolation and vast windswept horizons. You possess an enviable inner strength and determination that allows you to face down the willies and nightmares. Your sense that they are inevitably evolving is touching.

    And yes, I do understand your profound disappointment with humanity. I wonder, Bev, if the young people you witnessed are a product of having had it so good, been so indulged, that they are calloused – unable to encounter – the numinous offerings a place like Writing-On-Stone.

    We encounter these young people in every setting. It is sad and unsettling.

    Safe journeys, Bev. Give the pups a luvie for me :0)

    Hope your days begin and end with light like that in the last photo.

    Cathy

    3 Nov 10 at 10:14 pm

  16. As is the case so often in my travels, I’m writing this reply while on the fly – sitting in my van in a library parking lot in Kanab, UT, after camping the previous night at a BLM campground that I have stayed at before. I wish I could write a longer reply, but must take care of a few things in a short time. Thanks everyone for your comments. Cathy! You are right about how it takes some learning or experience (or something) to be willing to go out into places you have never traveled before! Especially those that are relatively far from towns or cities. I have found my comfort levels changing over time and it becomes increasingly easy. I am hoping to get a new blog post up soon. Probably mostly text and no photos as that is more difficult for me to arrange right now. I’ve had trouble setting up an account for the iPad through AT&T – rather disappointing. I may end up having to wait and do several posts once I am at the rental house in Arizona at the end of November. Take care all.

    Anonymous

    4 Nov 10 at 12:28 pm

  17. Oh, and although it probably doesn’t need saying, that Anonymous above was me. (-:

    Bev

    4 Nov 10 at 12:29 pm

  18. Good to hear that you are working on a writing project and to hear of the return of dreams that are not nightmares.

    What you described at the end of your post, the lifting of weary thoughts, happened to me today when i went from inside a building full of people to the parking lot late in the afternoon. The air was clear, as it only is after rain and high winds. The sky to the east was blue above. There were wispy white clouds in the mid sky. Below, just above the mountains, the sky was filled with dramatic billowy clouds of all shades of grey.

    As you said, the land will outlast all. So will the sky. Thank you for reminding me what it is like to travel as a solitary person through the wild lands that remain. I dream of doing that again. A few nights ago in my dreams I was climbing up dusty trails and then climbing down in a place that could have been in the American Southwest. It felt good.

    My favorite here is the photo of the heart among the stones.

    Kind wishes always,
    am

    Anonymous

    7 Nov 10 at 9:08 pm

  19. I forgot to sign in and found myself half anonymous, too (-:

    am

    7 Nov 10 at 9:10 pm

  20. Finally snatching some time to read your blog, Bev. It’s good to know you spent some healing time at Writing on Stone, and that it was good weather, too! Nice you had some solitary days there – more than just time shared with the noisy teenagers. Noticed in our local newspaper this morning that the Kemptville teen drop in centre has bought their own building and now has lots of room for kids to spread out. I’m thinking that the best way to reduce the number of mindless yahoos is to teach some of them to study nature, draw nature, write nature journals, etc. and if our life ever settles down so that we have any time to do some community service, I’d like to see if it would be possible to set up a corner in that youth centre in which to talk about plants and animals, keep a few field guides, and even run a shuttle out to Mudpuppy Night on Friday evenings.

    I noticed the heart rock right away! I hope your dreams stay sweet, your skys are beautiful, and your roads safe.

    Aleta

    aleta

    11 Nov 10 at 11:09 pm

  21. here’s a poem for your high-decibel fellow-campers, who are not just a product of the last decade:

    SHEDDING MOLSON LIGHT ON CAMPGROUD ETIQUETTE

    If I were half as wise as you must be,
    I too would try my hatchet on a tree.
    Itā€™s not enough the Province strips the slopes,
    Iā€™d tie the campground giants up with ropes
    To let them know that Iā€™m in charge down here ā€”
    A title that Iā€™d get by drinking beer.
    Iā€™d throw the cans and bottles on the ground
    So everyone would know Iā€™d been around.

    FWS, Paleface Creek Campsite, Chilliwack Lake, B.C., 19 June 1989

    fred

    14 Nov 10 at 10:17 pm

  22. Hi Bev,
    I’ve been away from the blogging world for too long and am just getting back to things. I’m enjoying catching up on your travels, your beautiful writing and lovely photos. I believe that the scarlet-winged grasshopper is in the genus Arphia. It’s probably Arphia pseudonietana, though I’d need to see the top of the pronotum to be sure.

    Doug

    26 Apr 11 at 4:55 pm

  23. Doug – Good to see your comment here today. Thanks for the information on the grasshopper. I had meant to go back and look at it and work on the ID, but as with so many things in my life, I didn’t get around to it!

    bev wigney

    26 Apr 11 at 4:59 pm

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