Sunday, May 20, 2018

Okotoks and Big Rock (one and the same, technically)

We stopped by the Leavitts' for lunch on Saturday (May 5th) and three generations of cousins had fun visiting together. My mom and Lavon are cousins and grew up feeling particularly close because Lavon was so much younger than her siblings. 

Lavon and my mom
When we moved to Alberta, Heather and I (second cousins) became close friends/cousins as well...

Me and Heather (with Tayah and Alexander) it was especially fun to watch our daughters hit things off...

Sadie and Miriam: third cousins and new friends
Oh, and here's Rachel with Anna (one of Sara Beth's daughters; Sara Beth and I weren't ever terribly close because she was more friends with Abra than with me):

And here's Rachel with Tayah on her back:

Heather's girls have a rather lucrative lemonade stand, living, as they do, at the head of a walking trail. People often come to walk their dogs there, so they had a little table set up with a pitcher of lemonade and a bowl of dog treats and they were raking in money.

Here they are counting it:

Rachel and Miriam were quite fascinated by the "foreign" currency. Toonies were particularly exciting (they're silver and gold!) and they enjoyed the many-coloured bills as well. Canada's currency has moved from paper to polymer and it's quite interesting. Here's Rachel (at Abra's house) admiring a $20 bill, which just happens to be green.

They were both rather shocked when they saw a the blue and purple of the $5 and $10 bills, respectively. "Why isn't this money green?" they asked. I asked the opposite question when I moved to the states, "Why is all the money green?!?"

While we were there, Josie went on a date with some guy she met on Mutual (a dating app for LDS singles). We visited in the living room while we waited for him to pick her up. Eventually he texted to say that he had to mow the lawn before he could come. Soon after, the doorbell rang. Josie hopped up to get it and there was a young man (though not the young man she was looking for).

He was just going door-to-door selling aeration appointments.

"Are you sure he said he had to mow the lawn?" Patrick joked. "Maybe he meant aerate..."

But soon Josie's real date showed up and off she went. The rest of us headed to Big Rock.

Big Rock is a glacial erratic outside of Okotoks, a town named for the Blackfoot word for, well, rock. It really is just a big rock plopped in the middle of the prairie by a glacier—a big piece of glacial...poop. I managed to not get a great picture of the whole thing but there are plenty of pictures of it out there. This is close to all of it, I guess:

And, yes, that's our party climbing all over it, in spite of the fence surrounding it. The fence isn't a fabulous deterrent, though I think that had we not been with Heather it would have been deterrent enough for my brood. I'm a bit of a stickler for rules. Heather is a bit of a rule bender. You can probably imagine what our childhood dynamic was like...


Still, the fence is relatively wimpy as far as fencing goes and everyone ignores it, as this quote from the Western Wheel illustrates: “We went on the other side of the fence, where you’re not supposed to, but everyone goes in there...” 

Yup. It's pretty much true.

I guess technically the sign asks visitors to stay behind the fence as well, but there are a lot of words on the sign and that is literally the last sentence so I don't know how many people read that far. I know I didn't (until I got home and started researching the site a little more). My kids were already halfway to the rock before I was halfway through the sign (and Heather's kids were already climbing) so they could definitely use a few "no climbing" signs closer to Big Rock itself (in my opinion, if that's really their goal).

That's a whole lot of little girls, just saying...

 Here's my mom with Alexander (outside the fence):

Here are the kids inside one of the cracks in the rock:

Miriam, Rachel, Anna, and Patrick in the crack
Apparently the rock was/is covered in aboriginal rock art (the site is considered sacred to several First Nations tribes) but recently the rock has been filling up with graffiti, which is very unfortunate. It seems to be mostly dumb kids tagging the rock, not dedicated graffiti artists, so it's mostly smiles and swear words. Washing off the graffiti is a constant and costly effort (and causes unnecessary wear on the rock itself). We didn't notice any of the original rock art, but we also didn't know where to look...

The same four, this time not in the crack
 A 2013 Western Wheel article discussed concrete ways the rock could be further protected from vandalism, but nothing has changed in the five years since the article. I personally think new signage and a manned visitor's booth would help immensely, but what really struck me was this quote:
Donna Crowshoe, from the Piikani Nation, said that there needs to be more education in schools to prevent random acts of vandalism. She said the history of Big Rock should be included in the school's curriculum from elementary school onwards.
because I realized that I was never taught the history of Big Rock in school. We discussed the fur trade and explorers and, you know, white history. But we never discussed our local First Nations' history (though I did do some First Nations units in school (grade four comes to mind; I did a project about the Haida tribe)). I thought Okotoks was a funny name but honestly never knew its etymology.* This is something that could so easily be taught in schools.

The legend surrounding Big Rock is rather interesting. I feel it would make an excellent picture book, actually, though I'm not sure I should necessarily be the one to write it, but if I were, it would go something like this:

Many years ago, on a hot and sunny day, Napi, the old trickster, was walking across the grassy prairie when he grew tired. Using his keen eyesight, Napi began to search for a cool spot to rest but there was none to be found. There was not a single cloud in the sky, no bluff of trees in sight. The prairie grasses stood stiff, baking to a golden yellow under the sun. No breeze offered them relief.

Then on the horizon, Napi noticed a tiny speck casting a tiny shadow.

"Even a little shade," thought Napi, "Is better than no shade."

And he started toward that tiny speck. As he approached it, the speck grew until it was the size of a pebble.

"A pebble doesn't offer much shade," thought Napi. "But still, a little shade is better than no shade."

As he got closer the pebble grew and grew until it was the size of a good throwing stone.

"Still not much shade," thought Napi. "But on a hot day like today a little shade is better than no shade."

With every step Napi took the rock seemed to grow larger and larger until Napi could see this tiny speck was no pebble. It was the great big rock Okotoks!

"Oh, Okotoks!" Napi cried. "It is such a hot day and I am so weary. Please, let me share your shade!"

"Share my shade with you?" Okotoks replied, haughtily. "Why should I?"

"You are so big and grand!" Napi said. "You cast such a long shadow! Surely you have some to spare!"

Flattered, Okotoks replied, "Yes, my shadow is impressive. When the sun beats down on me I work hard to create a cooling shade for myself. You think I should share the fruit of my labour with you when you have done nothing to deserve my help?"

"Oh," said Napi, sweating under the sweltering sun. "I can offer you..."

"Yes?" Okotoks said eagerly.

"I can offer you..."

"Yes?" Okotoks said again.

"I can offer you..."

"Your cloak," Okotoks said decisively.

"My cloak?" Napi asked, fingering his cherished robe.

"Yes," Okotoks explained. "When the sun is shining I am able to cast my magnificent shadow to cool the earth around me. But when it is cold and the winter winds are blowing, I am defenceless. I would like your cloak."

"I suppose," Napi said reluctantly, "Since I have no use for it right now."

So Napi removed his robe and spread it across Okotoks' back. In return Okotoks made room for Napi to rest in his shadow. The coolness of the shade felt so relaxing and Napi had had such a tiring journey that he soon found himself fast asleep and while he slept, a storm rolled in.

Napi awoke to a blast of cold air. He shivered as rain lashed against his bare skin. He trembled as thunder drummed across the sky.

"Oh, Okotoks!" Napi cried. "Please, may I have my cloak?"

"Your cloak?" Okotoks roared. "This cloak is mine! You traded it to me in exchange for my shade!"

"But Okotoks! You are so big and strong, while I am small and weak. Please may I have my cloak back?"

Again and again Napi begged for his cloak to be returned. Again and again Okotoks refused. Finally, in desperation, Napi leaped up, snatched his cloak from Okotoks' back, and took off running.

Furious, Okotoks gave chase—ker-bash, ker-blump!—across the prairie.

"Please, please, friends!" Napi called to the grazing deer and bison. "Save me from Okotoks!"

The deer and bison quickly came to Napi's aid. They ran into the path of Okotoks, trying to trip him, but were no match for the big rock and Okotoks continued to chase Napi—ker-bash, ker-blump!—through the grass.

Soon Napi came to Sheep River and leaped over it, calling to his friends the fish and beaver, "Please, friends! Save me from Okotoks!"

The fish and beaver did their best to make Okotoks slip in the water, but it was no use. Okotoks hurtled on—ker-splash, ker-splosh!—after Napi.

Feeling hopeless and exhausted from such a long chase, Napi cried up to the darkening sky, "Are there any friends left to help me?"

"We'll help!" his friends the bats answered and one by one they swooped down and crashed into Okotoks until at last that great big rock split in two and lay defeated on the ground. And there he remains to this very day, a constant reminder to Napi that one should not take back what has been given away.

His friends the bats—their noses squished flat from colliding with Okotoks—still patrol the evening sky, so when you see them flitting about, be sure to offer a thank you on Napi's behalf.

Or something like that.

I'm sure we'll be back to visit Big Rock again (and we'll be more considerate and stay behind the fence so we can help preserve it for generations to come). Poor Benjamin was feeling a little left out when he was looking through these pictures with me. He said, "Where are the pictures of me with that rock? That was so much fun!"

"It was so much fun," I agreed with him. "But there are no pictures of you because you didn't come with us on this trip..."

"Then how do I know it was fun?" he asked skeptically.

I suppose it's all the smiles that give it away (and probably all the potential friends, too; Benjamin's always looking for new friends to play with):

We had a great time visiting with Heather and her family!


Oh! And here's a picture of Auntie Josie lulling Alexander to sleep. Her date dropped her off at Big Rock when they were finished (it was a first date/meeting so it was a quick slurpee run or something) so she got to enjoy this natural wonder as well:

* The same can be said about High River! I went to Spitzee Elementary School, which I also thought was a funny name, and though I knew it was a native word, I didn't know what it meant precisely. I'm sure I heard it a few times but we were never formally taught it, you know? This post from High River Online explains the relationship between the two names quite well:
In the early days it was called 'The Crossing' before it became a town, and the reason for that was because it was a good place to cross the river. So down where the train bridge used to be, (the Blackfoot people) had a crossing there and the river would be low enough at certain times of there year, so they could get across.The Blackfoot people used to camp in this area and when they did their seasonal round and came across the prairies, they would see the line of cottonwood trees along the Highwood river, so they actually called the town "Ispitsayay" which is the Blackfoot word for "tall trees along the river."

1 comment:

  1. I think this could be a cousinly collaboration--you writing the story, Heather creating the illustrations. You should do it.