I often feel like spirituality is something other people experience. I’ve never felt connected to a greater being, and I wonder if my feelings about the land and nature aren’t a little forced. And when I get emotional while witnessing indigenous ceremonies, my tears are probably a whole lot of racial guilt.
Some places are so beautiful, though, that I wonder if they’re portals to the spirit. When I spoke with Svea back in Hecla, Manitoba, I was so I impressed with her open heartedness about her sacred places being open to all who want a spiritual experience. Maybe I just have to be open, too.
Here at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta, I feel once again like I may have stepped through the looking glass to a spiritual place.
The topography helps. Everywhere you look are hoodoos, geologic formations made as the Milk River has eroded the land, revealing sediment in shapes like people and tables. The Blackfoot call them matápiiksi, or earth beings.
The river itself is visible as far as you can see, a consistent, winding, pale reflection of the sky.
We were the only humans on the hoodoo trail one morning, and the land and sky beings (rabbits, deer, birds, and snakes) would not give way to us. It’s like we had to pay them homage before we could pass.
The Blackfoot believe that their spiritual elders live here, so this land is their most scared place. People occasionally still visit to leave offerings and for vision quests.
They believe that the 1 to 2,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs are messages from the spirit world, and as such the images are not static. They change with light and time to guide you.
Remains of a sweat lodge lie in the grass outside the visitor’s center, which is designed to blend with the horizontal shelves of rock it sits upon.
Tracy and I hiked to the top of the upland prairie, where winds gusted so strongly that I turned around for lower ground before I could be blown away.
The next day, Tracy obtained a back-country pass and hiked across the Milk River, up Humphrey Coulee.
Maybe he made a connection with the land that he’s been missing since we left the kayaks behind.
There’s so much to take in here that I have sensation overload by each afternoon. I woke up last night at feeling anxious enough that I couldn’t go back to sleep because my heart was pounding. Perhaps the spirits here are telling me to slow down again. Sit by the Milk River and stop trying so hard to find meaning.