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July 31, 2014

Cape Breton - Fun In Louisbourg

By Maryanna Gabriel

Everybody here speaks funny. There are twangs and brogues that are mind boggling to track, sometimes an Irish lilt and at other times a Newfoundland accent, a hint of French, a hint of Boston, was that a Scottish word? They say the word car like that guy from “This Hour Has 22 Minutes”, hey wait a minute, that show is filmed in Nova Scotia. “It’s Acadian,” someone said to me. Right. I could see there was no point in trying to analyze the dialects. Apparently I have an accent and I sound like I am from another country.

Fort Louisbourg
The Cabot Trail that circumnavigates Cape Breton Island, ribbons 
Period Costume
through highlands bordering spectacular ocean scenery. The famous drive has brought me to the town of Louisbourg a UNESCO site. Originally this place was peopled by the Micmac but in the 1700’s the Fortress Of Louisbourg was built where the French and the English duked it out. The town was a source of wealth from the fishing industry and was also strategic to controlling the St. Lawrence. As time passed the town was abandoned and pilfered but when the cod fishing industry died out Parks Canada provided jobs to the local townsfolk in the restoration of the heritage that is here. I sauntered into the Visitor Center
Lace Maker 
having no idea what to expect. I purchased a ticket and was transported by bus to where the scene was brought to life by people dressed up in period costume involved in the activities of the day and role playing in the streets with park visitors looking on. One may walk into the buildings to find the rooms restored and furnished with bakers working, maids, cooks, soldiers, and varying other townsfolk. Activities that were going on included musket and cannon firing, fife and drum playing, school children being taught or trained in
musketry, rum tasting, lace making, lyre playing, restaurants serving salt cod to candle light on pewter ware and all kinds of activities. Everybody was having a great time. The mood of fun and play was infectious as the past was brought to life. It was fabulous. Later that evening I went to hear some music. Man, can these people party! Tap dancing, Irish drumming, spoons, fiddling with the bow fraying before one’s eyes as reels and jigs were played with the same melange of musical styles as the dialects, a rich history to draw from as the dark nights were sung and danced away. My heart has been captured by these warm people and this historically alive place.

July 29, 2014

Cape Breton Island - Cheticamp & Gampo Abbey

By Maryanna Gabriel

“Great is the matter of life and death
Awake, awake
Don’t waste time.”
Zen saying on the dining room bell at Gampo Abbey

Dramatic Cape Breton Landscape
I rested a time on a really nice beach where the Northumberland Ferry came in from Prince Edward Island and then drove to Cape Breton noticing that the English words were translated into Gaelic. By the time I got to Cheticamp I could see I was in the heart of Cape Breton. Here French replaced the Scottish Gaelic. I stopped to buy some handicrafts made with hooking and I was shown the photos of the elderly women who made them, in their eighties, doing 144 stitches per square inch. It made me feel comforted somehow to see their work, kind of like a group of benevolent grandmothers practicing so much patience with the wool. That night a fierce wind came up with lashing rain. It gave me a sense of how dire the weather can be. The houses reminded me of the photos of Newfoundland, kind of placed like blocks without a lot of form or colour on a treeless landscape. I had it in my mind to go to Gampo Abbey which is the home of Pema Chodren because before I came on this journey I had had a psychic reading and I was told to come to the place, that I would love it. Pema Chodrem is somebody who I have a great deal of admiration for and I have read a few of her books. If you don’t know, she thought she was happily married and came home one day to be told by her husband that he was leaving her for his secretary or some such thing. The hurt and pain that came up was so intense that she sought refuge in Bhuddist teachings and now, as her life has turned out, she is a tremendous tour de force in translating tenets to the western psyche. She is apparently shortly to appear on Oprah which would be interesting to watch.
Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton Island
I thought of her as I drove the dramatic Cape Breton landscape feeling a tremendous peace as I summoned all that I had learned from her. She is very good about self-acceptance and also about sitting in ones kind of muck or pain and amplifying it to try and bring it up and out much as one does with homeopathy. She taught me the practice of Tonglen which is a way to deal with one’s own pain by thinking of all of the people who have ever experienced this emotion and then using the breath to wish compassion and freedom from suffering for all sentient creatures. I deeply respect this ancient system of wisdom. The drive to the abbey was dramatic and sweeping, certainly an amazing location for contemplation. When I arrived I was intentionally early, I wanted to study the place. It was immersed in silence. I was comfortable with that. I found the Stupa Of Enlightenment where relics of the famous Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche rests. It said if I walked around the stupa three times I would be blessed. I did so reading the 59 slogans such as “Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow.” Feeling like I was doing a bit of alright, the very second I was finished I was stung by a wasp. I burst into laughter. Next time, say it with flowers.          
A Monk Gives Us A Tour - The Sanctuary Of Gampo Abbey

July 26, 2014

Epiphany On Prince Edward Island

By Maryanna Gabriel

Trying to reach the future through the past
We are still trying to carve tomorrow from our tombstone-
This was not meant to be a sad song,
I have sung too much of that before,
Right now I only want to be with you,
Until the morning dew comes,
I want to take you to the island,
And trace your footprints in the sand.
The Island sung by Celtic Thunder

Me And Prince Edward Island
 I am an island girl after all. I feel a novel coming on. Do I write of the low, flat, green landscape with acres of potato plants in blossom under a clear blue sky? Or of the Confederation Bridge which is the “longest bridge over ice-covered waters in the world at 12.9 kilometers"? Or of tall, formal, churches, lovingly cared for and surrounded by tombstones? Or the plethora of white houses with green shutters? Upon driving the Cavendish shore I found the ghost of myself walking here. Pictured, is all of us in the van camping on Prince Edward Island, a proclivity that seems to run in the family.
Our Family Camping On Prince Edward Island

I finally found Green Gables past the Lake Of Shining Waters and although the entrance had changed it was as I remembered it. I walked Lovers Lane and the Haunted Wood which took me to the homestead where Maud lived with her grandparents. As I returned, two busloads of people from Japan arrived. After Pearl Harbour a young Japanese woman translated
Anne Of Green Gables and because of her, the book became compulsory reading in the schools in Japan. It was much loved there. I wondered what they were thinking?    
In Cavendish, opposite The Anne Shirley Motel, I found L.M. Montgomery's final resting place. Her grave is well tended. She is clearly honoured and cherished. Later that evening, after cleaning the red dirt streaked across my feet and calves, I read more of Mary Rubio's excellent biography. 
Green Gables Just As I Remembered It

Lucy Maude Is Cherished
I was determined to understand how the story of her life ended for it seemed to me in my travels that so much was not said, as if her memory and what happened was being protected from the prying eyes of the public by those that spoke of her, not just for her sake, but for what has happened with the heirs. It all seemed so mysterious. As I read it seemed much was omitted but still the hints brought a clarity and I found myself deeply taken aback. It is a ripping read, rife with embezzlement, deceit, indiscretions of the worst kind, the covering up, the dysfunction, bromides and laudanum, and varying drawbacks of fame and fortune. Maude's heart was most certainly broken by those she loved. I think we can all relate to that. Those that loved her did not know how to help her, or withheld how to help her, or abetted her in the path she walked in the end.

Truth comes out. It always does. Even in the Victorian era. The soul needs the truth and without it there is no point. She had so much soul. She seems so much a part of me, my childhood, so much so that I feel I know her very well. It was like getting to know the truth about a very dear friend and my heart goes out to her in her sorrow and incredible deep grief. She was just plumb worn out in the end. H
er writing sustained me as a young woman growing up, along with many other authors. I read the Anne books, the Pat books, the Emily books. I found therein a model of womanhood which seemed gracious and spirited to me. In my return to this place of my childhood and to this author who has brought so much joy to so many, I find I am in an epiphany about my own life.

I have understood in a kind of inward gestalt I did not even know was needed or that I was seeking, 
 a validation for the challenges that my own journey has presented to me. It is an exit I found and walked through long ago. In spite of the strange and heartbreaking things people do, the path that was mine to walk has been true. I feel a profound peace. I have had a conversation or two with the ghost of Lucy Maud offering to her prayers in gratitude for all the love her writings surrounded me as a child growing up. I owe her. I whisper to her that love is who she really is, that she did do it all just right and to please lay the burden down. It feels like she agreed and her ghost let go and took flight. I did not know she would be the agente provocateur for putting my own ghosts to rest. 
Do you think I could do a
Julie Julia
thing with this? Maryanna Maude. Hmmmm. It is as though her story has not really been told. It is so much more interesting and engaging than the Anne story. She is a complex and compelling woman who is to be admired for what she achieved at a unique time in history. I bet Meryl Streep would do a bang up job. Maybe she is looking for work. I'll give her a ring when I get home to discuss the script.

July 24, 2014

New Brunswick Ghost Dance

By Maryanna Gabriel 

     “Ghosts dance on the edge of my vision.
They follow me, stalk me, then vanish when I take notice. 
I turn quickly when I see them flirting with daylight
in the corner of my eyes, but I am too slow.”
After River by Donna Milner


My Brother & I - Our Home In Moncton 1959
I must have missed something. The first language of New Brunswick appears to be French. Even the signage. You know when Tim Horton’s says “Toujour Frais” it is official. I found myself in a private campground relieved to be able to put my feet up and read. Although there was no one around me I felt as though I was being watched. I must have drifted off. When  I awoke darkness had fallen. With the clarity of perception one does not permit the day-time mind, I sensed I was either on or near, a graveyard. Something caught my eye.

Ooooooh. Little lights. Eerie. I rubbed my eyes. I rubbed my eyes again. Lots of lights. I saw I was surrounded by little fire flies. Somehow, after that I slept - the sounds of “poing” from some frog creature assailing my fraught senses. Gratefully I pulled out of there the next morning.
I Return 2014 
By the time I got to Shediac I felt better. I bought a lobster and turned my van southward and nosed into Moncton. Somehow I found our former house. It looked just the same. How remarkable. Even the trees were the same.

I stared up at the window of my old room as tears came to my eyes. Realizing it was just memories I was looking at there, I knew I would not see myself looking back. I walked in the blazing summer heat to my friend’s old house and then found the route to my old school. Mission accomplished.

My heart full, I drove out of Moncton, and feeling an inward anticipation, I headed toward the Confederation Bridge that is Prince Edward Island.

Waving For The Past: I Am Top Right - A Day With My Family In New Brunswick

July 21, 2014

Saguenay & Gaspesie

By Maryanna Gabriel

Northern Quebec in the Saguenay region is famous for Lac Saint Jean with over 250 miles of sandy beaches. I did not feel drawn to the area and so therefore I departed. I arrived at the St. Lawrence crossing of Riviere-du-Loup. On the ferry, there is a bar and free internet. Being from the Pacific Gulf Islands, these are noteworthy points. In Riviere-du-Loup I was intrigued to see that heritage has taken cute to a whole new level. I loved it. I immediately felt revived by the light, aesthetics, and the openness of the area which I felt I was missing in the north.

Sculpture of Marcel Gagnon
I have learned to travel at night or early in the morning so as to enjoy a road less travelled.  When I stop to shop, the grocery stores make me weep with the appetizing array of wonderful food. The choice of wine selections in the gas stations makes my jaw drop. How come we can't get this? The Gaspe is incredibly photogenic. I include here artwork by Marcel Gagnon of Saint-Flavie. He is clearly prolific and artistry just seems to flow out of him.

The Roche Perce was a surprise because the Gaspesie has been relatively uncommercialized but this town felt like a New Orleans Mardi Gras. There was music throbbing and people amassed in the streets, as the bars overflowed, the traffic crawled and the sun beamed.

I have tried not to have expectations about what I am seeing but I did not understand that the Gaspe is a beautiful and memorable coastline that is superlative. This really is sublime. I seem to have come to waves and a high tide which means I have finally arrived. Hello Atlantic.

Roche Perce

July 18, 2014

A Day Off In Saint-Andre-Avellin

By Maryanna Gabriel

Virgin Mary In The River

I love it here. I really do. I feel at home in Quebec, probably because there is so much character in such an enchanting and interesting way. I am continuously delighted. It just feels comfortable. I find when I speak I have to elongate and draw out my vowels in order to be understood.

Right now I am camped on a very Wind In The Willows river. The washrooms and picnic tables are the most beautiful blue. Lexie stares at the water as if expecting a raft of chipmunks to sail by. I walked through the town, Saint-Andre-Avellin, and I pass by a statue of the Virgin Mary poised dramatically in the middle of the Riviere-Petite-Nation and I enjoying some beautiful French architecture as I stroll.

A funny thing happened. By the side of a parking lot, I found a poem by L.M. Montgomery blowing around called "A Day Off". Isn't that the funniest and most peculiar coincidence? What are the odds? I include an excerpt....

“… for a golden time forget,
Task and worry, toil and fret,
Let us take a day to dream..."

French Architecture For Sale $349,000

July 17, 2014

I Lived On Lac Saint Louis

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Je me souviens"
(Quebec license plate)

Myself As A Baby On Lac St. Louis With 4 Generations

I was born in Montreal and lived in Baie-d’Urfe on Lac Saint Louis. Why I don’t know. I cannot ask my mother what my father was doing but I do know my mother loved it here. I can see why. Tres charmant. Here is a photo of me, playing with my grandmother’s bracelet, with my young mother, grandmother and great grandmother on the lake. 

This country is my home and I discover many
 My Grandson Owen, A Few Days Old
rooms in this house within the provinces. The rooms hold memories. Time seems to fold in on itself and starts to run together like a dream. Am I the dreamer?

Here is a photo of me with my grandson. He is playing with my necklace. It is remarkable that he is doing this for he is only a few days old. 

Happily, I stopped to see a vet and now I have medication for Lexie that keeps ticks off of her. This is very good.

The route east is a maze but somehow we are finding our way. 

July 13, 2014

Lucy Maude Montgomery

“… a daily escape from a world of intolerable realities.”
Lucy Maude Montgomery Journals

L.M. Montgomery Museum, Bala, 
So writes our famous Canadian author in her journals about Bala, Muskoka in regards to an adult novel she wrote during her summer stay here called “The Blue Castle” which is set here in Muskoka. I write to you from the roar of Bala Falls, a sound she loved to listen to according to her journals. The Sunday morning church bells have just rung much as they would have in 1922. A plaque commemorating her is outside the charming lakeside manse called “Roselawn” where she stayed. The family took their meals in the house across the street. This house was eventually purchased by Linda and Jack Hutton who have since renovated and restored it. It is called the Lucy Maude Montgomery Museum honouring this woman who is a national treasure. I was fortunate to visit the museum at a quiet time and enjoyed a private two hour tour from Linda Hutton who is extremely knowledgeable about Maude (she apparently did not like to be called Lucy). There is an extensive and impressive collection of memorabilia pertaining to Maude’s life and it is clear Linda Hutton is a passionate and dedicated curator. What I was more interested in though was finding out about Maude’s personal life, one we tend to associate as being synonymous with that of her famous character Anne. In reality Maude had many challenges that clearly greatly burdened her shining and bright spirit. Much more is known of her since her journals have been published along with a carefully constructed biography by Mary Rubio called “Lucy Maud Montgomery: A Gift Of Wings.” Linda Hutton comments that we probably would not have had such a collection of writings had Maude been happily married for it is clear that her writing was a way for her to
Curator Linda Hutton With Vintage Fridge
escape. She wrote of a life she would have liked to have had, this much is clear. Part of the problem was a condition we have only recently understood which is bipolar disorder. This condition gravely affected her Calvinist Presbyterian husband. There were times when he could barely function, his moods were very black, and at one point he was committed to a sanatorium. Maude bore the costs through her writings and shouldered extensive responsibilities for the family. At one point, her publisher Mr. Page, told her he would not publish “Further Chronicles Of Avonlea”, copied the book, then published it without her knowledge or permission. This was after she had made him quite a wealthy man through her immediate and popular success with earlier books including “Anne Of Green Gables”. As a result she took him to court but it was many years before the case was resolved with minimal financial compensation as the legal costs were so high. In addition, her children were greatly affected by all of these circumstances and her eldest son, after many unscrupulous acts of character, she eventually disinherited. My heart went out to her for on the one hand she was remarkably successful at a time when it was difficult for  women in the literary arts and yet on the other hand she was besieged by heart breaking and insistently wearing travail. I purchased her complete and unexpurgated journal and it is remarkable that as a younger unmarried woman, she purchased a camera and tripod and set up a dark room. We have these photographs today as she pasted them into her “grumble book” which she called her diaries. Apparently Maude called this area a “fairy land”, I can see why, and her connection to Ontario is very strong in addition to Prince Edward Island. I first read Anne Of Green Gables when I was eight after my grandmother bought me the book when we went to visit her house in Prince Edward Island. It is a comfort now to look forward to more reading and from an adult perspective in the days ahead as I drive towards this beautiful and famous island that also was her home. 

July 11, 2014

Deep Roots In Ontario

By Maryanna Gabriel

"My paddle keen and bright, flashing with silver...
... dip dip and swing..."

Pauline Johnson

A bear lopes across the road as sunlight sparkles through pine trees, the lovely blue of Lake Superior beyond. I am surprised by how huge this great lake is and how sparsely populated. Wawa, is cold and mist is everywhere. Lexie barks at a stuffed moose and I finally convince her to calm down. It all feels so Canadian in a cliché way then I realize with a start that I have on a red fuzzy jacket with a black moose pattern and smile that I fit right in with the “scene.” I admire the Ontario architecture, the use of stone, brick, white covered porches, mansard roof lines, the graciousness of the designs. I hear whippoorwills, loons, and “dee-dee-dee” coming from birch bark forests. Lakes and rivers abound and varying plaques resurrect memory of coureurs de bois Raddisson and Groseillers of Hudsons Bay fame, martyrs Father Brebeuf and Lalement, and here explorers Thompson and Mackenzie passed. I learn “massassauga” means river mouth in Ojibway and in Parry Sound lives the Massassauga Rattler and Hog Nosed Snakes.

I have deep roots in Ontario. My ancestors pioneered here and an aunt who I loved dearly had “the happiest years of her life” in Georgian Bay. My curiosity piqued I hop on the ship with a shallow keel that tours the 30,000 islands, a UNESCO heritage
Bala, Muskoka, With My Grandmother
biosphere, and where Tom Thompson painted. The water level has dropped considerably because of irrigation and a number of other factors. What are lovely dots of islands with unique granite formation transition into a jaw dropping showcase of wealth with so called "cottages". I rendezvous on the Muskoka River with my daughter and meet a very special friend in Bala who I have known since I was five. This area is one of the reasons for my trip and why I have returned. I love that new threads of the present are being woven into the fabric of my past.  I will be heading into Algonquin Park and puis la belle province.
Algonquin Park With My Grandmother

July 6, 2014

On The Fly Through Manitoba

By Maryanna Gabriel

I am noticing that there are no points to pull off and no means to access water. I stop at a provincial park and they ask what kind of pass I would like. I said I just need some water for my dog thinking this would be easy. No. I had to go down and purchase water at a nearby town. As I turn around their booth I see an outside tap. I really hate that. I drive further. I see a campground with a lake and then notice the road to it is completely under water. Good thing I looked. There is no sign or barricade and I could have easily driven into it. I decide to head for Spruce Hills Provincial Park, well past Brandon, thinking this was far enough inland from the flooding. The highway sign says “Campground Open” so I drive the 30 km to it. Right before the park entrance there is a road barricade. The Assinaboine River is swollen dangerously. I hear that campers are being evacuated. I turn around and wonder that there is no stop for water in this park either.
No Parking In "The Park" - Pelicans At Spruce Hills 
Can those be pelicans I am seeing… how very odd. I am, according to the signage, not permitted to stop in any of the byways unless I have a “Vehicle Permit” which the sign continues to say is available at local stores. Great. I am in a park but I am not supposed to access it. The policy defies the definition. Isn`t this a bit of dyslexic misnomer? I travel back to the highway and feeling tired and a bit disgruntled I take the next campground exit as the sign has the same format and colouring as the provincial park sign. It`s a trick. I find myself in a private campground, the kind I loathe where one is cheek by jowl. I tell the owner that the Spruce Hills camp site has an open sign on the highway and that I am puzzled because I am not permitted to enjoy the park unless I go out to a store for a permit. She grins. "Welcome to Manitoba," she says. "They did that in the flood of 2010 too." Indeed. I park next to about 10 people in a 12` x 12` space. Men stand. This isn`t the first time. I am pretty sure it is not my stunning beauty that is causing it as it never happens when I am not in the camper. What are they thinking? I back in with an audience at which point they seem to all look up into the trees as if suddenly noticing something terribly interesting there. I manage with alacrity, getting out frequently to check my position. I digress. I make for the tap, a little wild-eyed. Women back away while children stop playing to stare. I look into the full containers and try not to scream. The water is the colour of urine. I make a mental note to give it to Lexie. I make a second mental note I now have no potable water at all.  I have a whole new set of problems given the generous diversity of god-given creation. Large flies with narrow bodies buzz bomb the van and quick and painful deer flies are also to be negotiated. The last two days I have pulled several tics off of Lexie and I just about drove off the road seeing one on my arm. I cannot tell if there are tics everywhere or if I just hit one bad patch. Going out on natural forays seems to be an act of peril. Scrubby trees replace the landscape as I drive. I pass a sign that tells me I am at the exact longitude and latitude that is central Canada. I see we are in perogie country. I hear the sound of insects pounding against the windows like something out of a science fiction movie and the heat and humidity rival a tropical country. The inside of the van is smeared with mosquito carcasses and the outside is covered in bug splatters and streaks of silt. How did Lewis and Clark do it? Meanwhile Lexie chews on a map. Fortunately it is Saskatoon and not the bit I need. I wish to leave the floods and pestilence. Eastward, ho. You might say I am on the fly.

July 5, 2014

Mosquito Jump - Leaving Saskatchwan

I learn to leap into the van at a running speed with vicious bugs coating my entire person, clicking my tongue urging Lexie in with me, doing my own version of a head-smashed-in mosquito jump. As I drive, clouds of mosquitoes get sucked out the window. Very early I make my way into the park. The road is rattling my fancy van to pieces, the gas level is alarming, and the sign says I am on a 30 km scenic ecotour. I could  not figure out where the bison were or where the tipi camping was. It seemed to me ranchers were working the land on either side of the road. After a time of this I decided, enough was enough, I am getting out. What if I have a flat? I understand that the night before has given me taste enough of what this place is about. I turn around. I pass three men with Metis-type faces and handle-bar moustaches examining what looked like dirt on the side of the road. They could have been from a heritage sepia-toned photograph. Gratefully I make my way past Val Marie as dawn advances. Lexie and I stop for breakfast and I see an antelocapre bound away with a tail like a huge pom-pom. I have heard the lower highway is open in spite of the flooding, from two reliable sources and decide to take the more scenic route. Initially it was little towns but as I progressed I saw wheat farms with huge moonscape-type vehicles transition into oil drilling bobbing donkey-thingies, miles of them, stretching endlessly, and many are in the wheat fields. Gluten-free anyone? The tall stacks blowing fire was an indication there was fracking here and I pass two of these. The ponds seem to sport the occasional reluctant duck and the air smells wrong. I start to feel an urgency to cross the border.


By Maryanna Gabriel

       "I  must not rely on what I read was the correct thing to think or do, or on what people told me
        was right, but instead, I must base my decisions about life and how to live it on my own
         experience and my own ideas about that experience."
                                   Sharon Butala -When the Wild Comes Leaping Up: Personal Encounters with Nature

Val Marie
The quality of my life has improved considerably since I found the air conditioner switch. I am developing a Clint Eastwood squint and feel I should be humming the whistle from "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly".  I am supposed to be in Grasslands but I seem to be in a Grasslands of my own making.

I came to Val Marie, the gateway to this famous park, after hours, the highway a little alarming, grabbed a pamphlet outside a park office, and wildly searched for a gas source. There wasn't one. A big truck pulls over. In answer to my query she says, "The gas station has been closed for years but we are thinking it will reopen next year. Gosh, you don't have any mosquito repellent on? Go spray yourself girl. How much did you pay for that thing anyways?" I thank her and wonder about a town that is in a god-forsaken nowhere without a gas station and then I see it. It is a kind of a private Esso station, you have to be a club member or some such thing, or maybe they just enjoy seeing the whites of the tourist eyes. I felt like my presence was an event and that the town tom-tom was beating. I am not comfortable. I hear a yip in the distance. Was that a coyote? I hear it again. Yes, it most certainly is. I decided to leave and I try to find the park entrance and in doing so I miss the turn. Roads here are on grids in vast landscapes and it seems to be a general policy to have either no signs, or sporadic signage, and never with distances. I ended up very close to the American border in a vast emptiness. Spotting a cottonwood tree I hugged the van up to it and parked uncertainly in front of a cattle guard. I was on a road but whose? It certainly felt out of the way. A pick-up pulled up. "Am I on your land?" I ask as I roll down the window. I look at the couple,  he with an Amish type beard and she with a kerchief with black and white polka dots, on a broad head of hair parted down the middle. "It looks like road allowance to me," came the answer and somehow I knew I was accepted.

Slowly I took in the vastness of the place, such huge sky, and I listen to the sweet sounds of red winged blackbirds. The sun sets and I whisper to myself when was the last time? Queenstown, New Zealand, I answer back. Far too long ago I think to myself. I grab my pamphlet trying to make sense of where I am and I see this is a federal park and that the pamphlet is helpfully in French. I read that the black and white antelope-creature is an antelocapre and that I can "picque-nique au bord de la crique." You have got to be kidding me. Quelle crique? Vaguely I wonder what cattle-guard camp dress protocol should be. After some deliberation I decide on a pariah, a kind of wrap in case I have to get up suddenly. The coyotes are silent. The sun sinks on the horizon on a vast landscape that is magnificent. 

July 3, 2014

Not A Flatlander By Nature

By Maryanna Gabriel

           "They had a pleasant ramble... over grassy dales, and camped as before, on a common..."
Kenneth Graehame - Wind In The Willows

Grateful To Find Some Trees
Avoiding such temptations as Fort Whoop-Up and Gas City Campground (I am not making these place names up) I headed for Elkwater in Cypress Hills Provincial Park. I am not a flatlander by nature. I could feel the lovely energy of this place long before I arrived. Elkwater has been here long before the park, is very small, and has a Banff-type prosperous air to it. I slept last night in a lodge pole pine forest so very grateful to find some trees at long last. This morning I tried to perk up in the lake. There is a history here. Some of the people that came and settled initially made quite a ruckus, falsely accusing the Nakoda of horse stealing and murdering them. The North West Mounted Police were called in. This is a special area that has been an oasis basically since the glacier receded. It is a "montane" environment that is a combination of prairie and upper elevation species. They say it is the highest point between here and Labrador. Really? It seems so low.... I am on the Saskatchewan border now and I am sorry to be leaving this place. Fortunately there is a bit of cloud today as I head towards Grasslands made famous by Canadian author, Sharon Butala.  

Writing On Stone

By Maryanna Gabriel

“We shall move. We shall move. We shall move to Writing On Stone.
There are many berries, especially cherries…”
Ullenbeck’s “Blackfoot Texts”

Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park
I was glad I had come. I was unprepared for the impact of the hoodoos. This area fairly pulsates. The wind and rain-sculpted sandstone has created shapes that are animate and other-wordily in quality, many with little caps. The area teems with pictographs, petroglyphs, and artifacts, testimony to the spiritual regard with which the Blackfoot held this site. It is said to be the largest concentration of rock art in Canada. I decided a tour was worth it and I took an air conditioned shuttle bus with a guide to a restricted area that I could not otherwise have access to. Camping is not what it used to be. Our guide was Blackfoot. She had a real presence and I quite liked her. She was about my age, wearing much turquoise with several long black
braids down her back that were tied together, a long skirt with cowboy boots, and a park ranger shirt. She asked that we not take her picture and warned us of rattlers. She told us that as a baby she was very sick and that the doctors could do nothing for her. Her father took her out of the hospital and held her to his skin on his chest until she was three. She thinks her father saved her. She felt that because of this that the gift of her life was even more precious. She told us how this area was very sacred and that she herself has done several vision quests here. This means going without food, water, and contact with people for four days. She says this is good to do especially when one’s life is out of balance. She described what the petroglyphs represented and that the area depicted art that was as old as 3,000 years before present and possibly 5 to 6 thousand years old. There is a famous panel that is a battle scene. In the 1800’s approximately 70,000 Blackfoot camped on the Milk River here with the Blue Grass Hills of Montana just beyond. A great war commenced with Blackfoot against the Crow and Cree. The Crow were known especially for their fast and handsome horses. The Blackfoot won the war and maintained a hold on their sacred grounds. She showed how the art in places reveals how many times a warrior shows bravery by going up and touching the enemy, not killing him, as a sign of courage and to shame the other tribe. These are vertical lines in the rock. Stealing horses was another favourite past time and a way to humiliate the enemy. She shows us a burial site and told us that the Blackfoot think if you bury a body then the soul is trapped therefore the body is left in protected
Natural Formation Called "The Table" On Milk River
rock crevasses so the soul can escape. Later in time bodies were left in houses in the open and the house abandoned. Napi is the name of Creator and the Blackfoot, like many cultures, have the same myth of the great flood. Circles on the tipis depict connection to the star people. The art narrates contact with the settlers and the North West Mounted Police who had quite a job keeping order as gold, whiskey and all the ails of civilization took hold. I am shown either a covered wagon or a Model T Ford rock carving. Horses are etched in which she said were made by the mounties a hundred years ago. I lift my head to the south and I am astounded by the formations visible from a distance across the Milk River. It looks like a temple. Beside “The Table” which I show in the photograph here there seemed to me to be rock guardians around a central plaza that rivals anything I saw in Egypt. It is all natural, nothing is contrived, or fashioned. I asked if there were any stories about the formation and she nodded but said nothing further. She said there was a thunderbird painted in the rocks there that is a meter wide. As we were listening to her the heat just came off the rocks in waves. Although I was protected from mosquitoes I found I was being molested by a small fly that bit through my clothing, my pants, around my neck, into my ear, and even in my nose. Back at the Visitor Center I gladly fork over ten dollars for some Deet and I still felt I was being bitten. I wonder what the Blackfoot used. Willow was a sacred plant for them and held medicinal properties. I read on a plaque that they regarded animals and plants as equals to human life and that these life forms were treated with reverence and respect. Down by the river the campers of the day enjoy a cool dip and signs warn to keep the gate closed so that beavers won’t get into the campsite and take down the trees. That night I feel very unhappy about my swollen and bitten body but I think of the day with wonder and gladness..

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

By Maryanna Gabriel

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
As I traveled southward, I found myself at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This is a UNESCO world heritage site, right up there with the great pyramids of Giza. My arrival coincided with a scenic railroad tour excursion so I was grateful to be entreated to quite a show, vibrant dancers accompanied by intense drumming. These are the Blackfoot and this is Blackfoot country. The site is at least 6,000 years old with bone deposits ten meters deep. Legend has it that a young hunter wanted to watch the buffalo plunge off the cliff so he went below. He was buried by the falling herd and found dead by the pile of carcasses. He had got his “head smashed in” hence the name. Some days one kind of wishes one could do over, I should guess. With my heart full, I departed, enjoying the minimalist prairie landscape with an eye to the changing light. Whenever I stopped I was completely inundated by mosquitoes. In the Milk River area I saw a beautiful deer with a white and black face and antelope type horns, a Pronghorn, I think. The occasional prairie dog stood on hind legs by the road side. This is rattlesnake country and signs were posted in warning with the plea to not run over snakes as they are a value to the ecosystem. I drove on through the shimmering heat.
Drove On Through The Shimmering Heat