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 Tlaoqui-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.



29 thoughts on “In The Groove

  1. Pingback: Time Lapse In The Groove | burnt embers

  2. Pingback: In The Groove III | burnt embers

  3. Pingback: In The Groove II « burnt embers

  4. Interesting post Ehpem. I just learned of glacial erratics when I covered a resent presentation recently given by a Missoula Flood expert. It was a broken ice dam, lake water, mud, gravel and boulders during the end of the ice age that helped carve out the Willamette Valley where I live in the NW USA.


    • Hi Danita. Those big glacial lakes wreaked some serious havoc in their wake. So to speak 🙂 The Scablands in Eastern Washington – hundreds of square miles of rock and no dirt are from the scouring action of one of the floods when a glacier dam burst. There are ripples on the ground that formed under the flowing water that are so large you can only see them from the air – something like 30 feet high. And there is evidence that once the flood hit the Columbia Valley it flowed up stream, including (I dont remember the figure but something like 100 miles) up the Snake River from the confluence with the Columbia – all that water going uphill. Amazing. I can’t really imagine it, the scale is so huge. But it sure is fantastic to think about.


    • Thanks so much Doug – that is quite a comprehensive list of likes :).
      (This comment came through with an Akismet name for you, which I changed to what you normally use, and I needed to approve it too – not sure what is up there).


  5. Great photo, lovely writing. I was introduced to glacial striations by a UVic geology class somewhere around Cattle point in the mid 70s, and every time I see striations now, at the coast or in the hills, I remain amazed. Beautiful and thoughtful link to the story of Xals, and I wasn’t aware of the transformer stone here. It doesn’t have the power to change the weather like the ones at Point Gray does it?


    • Hi Morley. Welcome to my blog, nice to see you here. I don’t think this one has weather changing powers, but there is not much generally available about the story to go with this one. This blog sticks to readily available public sources, like the cairn that is nearby and tells part of this story. I stay away from the more obscure or professional sources as this is mostly a blog about my photos and incidentally only touches on topics that you might be familiar with from your work; the coincidence is that I live a block away from Sahsima so I am down on these beaches a lot. If you poke around my blog, you will also see that its a name-free place (my name that is) and general identity-free too for a variety of good reasons that I would be happy to explain over a beer sometime. Anyway, I hope you come back for more visits, or browse through some of the old ones.


    • Thanks so much Lynn. I love those rocks, they are usually above high water and so have a good crop of lichen to give them something extra. But also the sand in the pool pleases me for some reason. Maybe it goes with the grinding away rocks idea.


  6. Yet another wonderful write up, you do have the power of the pen and the lens…great combo (wish I had the power of the pen a little more)! I love how the water leads me to the stone. 😀


  7. Fascinating post and image. I visit Switzerland at least once a year to walk climb or ski and I am constantly amazed when I am there at the extraordinary powers of glaciers. There are some dramatic examples of glacial erosion in the Zermatt valley. More worrying of course is the extent of the glacial retreat due to global warming. I personally have images 50years apart and the difference is phenomenal.


    • I have images from 1999 and 2003 where a 3m thick tongue of ice is completely gone, and at least one of those was not a melt year. It is worrying, that melt water is really important source of water for a lot of wildlife and people.


    • Groan! Thanks though. I wanted to take a shot like this before, but I could not until I had a wide angle lens. I am having fun doing some of these kinds of things with it.


      • so this is a stupid question…but was it the wide angle that made the photo look so “long”? I really liked that view. I wondered if it was a wide angle lens. Keep using it…obviously you know how to get great shots from it!


      • Hi Judy. I guess you could think of the lens, when used ‘sideways’ not as a wide angle but as a long angle lens. A lot of it has to do with the lens, but also getting close to the ground and having a linear subject and framing the stone almost out of the top of the picture all contribute as well.


  8. Wonderful image. I’m struck by how much the transformer stone changes in each image – it’s constantly shifting in its solidity.

    I really enjoyed your musing on timelessness and story – both of the glacial rock and the transformation. Beautiful thoughts to accompany a glorious image. I especially love the dawn hues against the rock.


    • Thanks Ryan. It does change, always. Transformations of its own every day and throughout every day. And, that orange lichen growing on it really helps in those changes – it just glows with the yellow light of dawn and dusk.
      Also, thanks for your comments on the musings. Your own work on monster stories and other myths suggests you think about these things too – probably more often than I do, as for me it (thinking) tends to be a fleeting occurrence, one that often is not around in front of a keyboard 🙂


    • Thanks skadhu. There must be so many things humans have not imagined (or inferred, deduced, etc if of a scientific bent of imagining) that are going on, or might be going on, or used to, or will. Lucky us to have brains that seem built for imagining and story telling.


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