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Finding My Native Spirit

October 11, 2017 5 min read

Travel can be an amazing experience.  I have gained far more from my journeys than mere words or pictures can fully convey.  My most recent excursion took my wife and me to the Pacific Northwest from Seattle to Vancouver Island.  After getting back home and having the opportunity to reflect on my experiences, I realized this trip was amazing in many respects.

We first met a friend who had moved to Seattle and we had lunch together at the Pike Place Market.  If you have never been, this is an amazing experience if, for nothing else, the hundreds of fresh flower bouquets colorfully displayed along the bustling city street.  The active and lively crowds surrounding the market created a rich feeling of energy and vitality to this downtown Seattle venue.  Looking out over Elliott Bay, I felt a comfortable sense of being... in tune with this busy yet beautiful urban setting.

Making our way north along the coast, we found ourselves surrounded by mountains shrouded within the misty clouds of this temperate rainforest.  We hiked and biked among towering Spruce and Cedars.  Our steps along the forest floor were cushioned by mosses and fallen evergreen needles.  Flourishing groves of ferns filled open spaces, capturing the limited sunlight filtering through the forest canopy.  The density of growth here is even greater than that of the Amazonian rainforest.  My spirit connected with this lush ecosystem filling me with a sense of admiration and wonder.

Victoria is known as the Garden City featuring Butchart which is one of the finest gardens in the word.  We took advantage of an opportunity for a tour of private gardens that displayed the rich diversity of plant material that thrives in this unique, northern-most, Mediterranean climate.  Heather, Rosemary, Rhododendron, Redwood, Euphorbia and Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle tree) are just a few of the many interesting plants flourishing here.  The rich history of this city is complete with stories of the gold rush, explorers, traders and native peoples.  Rightfully termed a Garden City, my gardening spirit has a natural connection with this place that blossomed during the time I spent here. 

For anyone looking for adventure (and a fantastic opportunity for photography), what more could you ask for than kayaking with orcas?  How could anyone pass up a chance like that?  Driving 4 hours north, up Vancouver Island, to Port McNeill is a long and desolate trip with little in the way of civilization.  We scheduled a trip and met with our local guide, Larry, on a cold and rainy morning... he was not thrilled at the prospect of putting us into kayaks in the rain.  We opted for whale watching from the comfy cabin of his 24’ launching vessel.  The visibility was minimal, the waters still and silent.  The radio chattered with the activities of other guide boats on the water; “Porpoises in Telegraph Cove,” “No black and whites yet this morning,” “A few humpies in Alert Bay.”  We stopped at a tiny island for lunch and as I sat on rocks exposed by the low tide, I could hear whales surfacing, spouting breaths all around me.  The sound carried clearly through the thick fog and across the glassy waters of this calm day.  Back out on the boat they appeared from the mist... a pod of orcas hunting salmon along the steep banks of Johnstone Straight.  The male’s 6’ tall dorsal fin plying the waters like a periscope turned toward our boat slipping below the water a mere 50’ away only to resurface on the opposite side a few seconds later.  The distinctive blow sound echoed through the cabin of what now seemed like much too small of a boat.  Interestingly, my amazement of this interaction was matched by that of Larry our local guide and captain... this sort of experience apparently never gets old!  My spirits were floating like a cloud with the majesty of this encounter.   I feel the connections of nature... the water to the fish, fish to the whale, the whale to us... everything coming together in this place, at this time.

Alert bay is home to the U'mista Cultural Centre and the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw  First Nations people.  Here, the history and culture of the many nations of the Pacific Northwest are on display with ceremonial masks, native art and Potlatch demonstrations.  Potlatch is a ceremony marking all traditional family gatherings including births, marriages, and the passing of loved ones.  Potlatch ceremonies are also the means to pass on a family’s rights, privileges, and inheritances. Ceremonies include feasting, dancing and gift giving to all who attend.  The wealth and social status of these native peoples were measured by the amount offered to others encouraging them to be more giving and thus gaining greater respect and honor.  Totems are erected in remembrance of those who have been held in high regard and the local cemetery here contains a tremendous collection of totems both new and old. 

Missionaries and federal officials, determined to suppress native culture since they first arrived in British Columbia, finally made Potlatching illegal in 1885.  This prohibition was not lifted until 1951. 

We were invited to a Potlatch demonstration where the tribal leaders present were those who are credited with saving this cultural ritual as well as the native Kwak’wala language from extinction.  The Potlatch is held in a traditional big house with seating along the walls, a high vented ceiling and a large fire pit in the center. 

As the ceremony began, shafts of sunlight cut through the smoky air within the bighouse.  A dozen drummers kept pace on a hollow Cedar log inducing a rhythm closely shadowed by masked dancers mimicking the clever raven, Buk’was the timid Wild Man and Dzunuk'wa the ogress who steals away children in the night.  The sounds, the sights and the stories captured my spirit.  I felt so proud of these people for retaining a connection with their heritage and so privileged to have shared in this experience.

Having spirit is about connections.  Connections to nature, to people, to customs, emotions.... connections to your inner self.  Travel can help encourage one to better connect but really all it takes is the ability to carve out a small section of time to... simply be.  Willingness to separate ourselves from the daily static of life... recognize the sources of inspiration that surround us all. 

I continue to work towards improving my proficiency for being

I seek opportunities to further develop my native spirit.

I hope you will find your time... your place... your means and motivation to do the same.

Now go outside and play in the dirt.

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