Monday 17 August 2015


This post is a crumb of a story in which I have the audacity to make reference to what - for example - Robert Bringhurst describes as a major classical literature 
To quote directly from his Introduction to Raven Travelling: Page One

'In Haida, what we have is nothing less than a major classical literature—one which would be admired worldwide if it were freed from the deadly combination of critical neglect and uncritical awe with which outsiders often respond to Native American intellectual and literary traditions'.

Many other references could be provided - each one likely to enthrall - but that is not the purpose of this post and I want to avoid wandering into an area of knowledge in a way that might imply a lack of respect for the Haida language and culture

For this is just a brief account of what for me was a magical moment - of the sort that comes your way only once in a while and which feels special - although hard to define 
And I accept that my magic may be your mundane 

In the weeks leading up to my journey to Haida Gwaii I chose to use two images of clouds to accompany words which were, for me, of a particularly poignant kind One was of clouds over the Rockies and one was of clouds over Tlell

And with these images still warm in my mind, here is what happened when I was: -

On a bed
With a book
In a room
On an island

The book was Small Birds Cling to Bare Branches: nesting song birds on Haida Gwaii by Margo Hearne

I had the book open at the page preceding the Foreword where, in a frame, was text with the title How Shining Heavens Caused Himself to be Born

It referred to a story told by Walter McGregor of the Sealion town people to J.R Swanton during his visit to Haida Gwaii during the winter of 1900-1901 

And it tells how (and here I am quoting Margo Hearne - with her permission) 'the Creator, Master Carpenter, adopted a child found in a cockleshell by the Chief of Dju's daughter. The daughter and the Creator raised the child together. When the child grew up he created the elements'. 

But the actual words I was reading as the wren flew into the room - a few feet in front of me - before landing on a desk to my right -  were those from the first part of the story (again it is the version as presented in the book by Margo Hearne)

(The youth) went out from his mother's house wearing his wren skin
He said, "Look Mother, look at me."
Then his Mother went out after him.
He sat as broad high cumulus clouds over the ocean. His mother looked.
Then he came in and asked his mother, "Did I look well?"
"Yes, chief my son, you looked well."

And this is how the clouds were created

But before the story ends similar actions involving a blue-jay skin and a woodpecker skin - and their part in creating the sky and the sunset - are described

Much more about the story as told by Walter McGregor can be found on numerous sites but I am choosing to leave the search to those who are genuinely motivated to learn more

However, as someone with limited knowledge of the subject, I admit to having enjoyed reading Matthew Spellberg's article in the Los Angeles Review of Books 
And for this the link is

Information on J.R. Swanton can be found using the following link

With no image of a wren, a very recent photograph of a humming bird (taken on Haida Gwaii) is being presented in its place Considering its size and name it is surely an apt replacement

And for anyone wishing a closer to look at this particular small bird