In The Groove
In the foreground is a glacial striation, formed by hard rocks being dragged across the surface of the bedrock like enormously coarse sandpaper. In the background is Sahsima, the transformer stone on Harling Point, lit by the sunrise. Geologists refer to Sahsima as a glacial erratic, and suggest that this granite stone was carried in ice all the way from the mainland north of Vancouver.
I do wonder if there is a way to reconcile the story of Hals transforming a man into Sahsima, or Harpoon Rock, and the story of ice a mile thick moving inexorably across the landscape planing and gouging the surface of the earth. The stories both relate to a distant past; time immemorial. Both are fantastic in scope and concept. Both are beyond personal experience or the ability to perceive – larger than can be seen, slower than can be watched. As interpretations of the landscape they are equally extraordinary stretches of the imagination founded on a series of beliefs about ancient processes which shape the landscape.
When I look along this groove at Sahsima, I can stretch my mind to imagine the stone wedged against the bedrock under a weight of ice, grinding this very groove in the earth’s crust. I can stretch my mind this far because I have worked among glaciers that are melting, and seen the debris that is coming out of them, transported from afar, and with my hand I have ground a groove in rock with a harder stone. But how much bigger must Sahsima have been? Grinding away the bedrock would surely grind away the stone as well. I can’t visualise that size.
I can also imagine a man spearing seals from this location, at low tide when the bedrock platform is exposed to the edge of deep water. I have often seen seals here, fishing and splashing and cavorting. I have watched people spear fish from a rocky shore and experienced a Tla–o–qui-aht colleague killing a seal to make a seal-skin float of the kind used by his people when hunting whales. I can also imagine a slightly cocky young man, spear in hand, disrespecting Hals unknowingly – the arrogance of youth, or just cheekiness in good humour. I have met people like that, many times; I have been that person, sometimes.
What I can’t imagine is the weight and power of ice, so heavy it distorts the crust of the earth pushing it downwards by 200 metres, so strong it transforms solid rock into valleys and mountains, part of something so large it absorbs enough water to lower sea level by 30 m in all the oceans. Nor can I imagine Hals with the power to change someone to stone and the greatness of mind to transform an instruction in respect also into a coast-wide benefit by gifting the transformed Harpoon Rock with the power and responsibility to protect seals as far north as Nanaimo. Big ideas, inferred from snippets of experience but always beyond what can be perceived through direct observation. Ancient myths, myths of ancient times, shaped from granite, carved in bedrock.
Stones and grooves, captured and presented through the unimaginably tiny and un-experienced electrons to you, far away from this place. It’s a wonderful place that us humans create in our minds to interpret the world; and create in language and tools to share our interpretations with others.
Burnt Embers Map Link.
First Nations Map Link.
Canon EOS 5Dii, Nikkor-N Auto 24mm/f-2.8, ISO100, f-16, 1/4th second.