Tuesday, August 16, 2011
My Rock-Solid Friends
We're heading north into British Columbia after visiting Skagway, Alaska, driving along the South Klondike Highway. Others encouraged us to travel this beautiful route. And we see why.
The miraculous landscape turns surreal at times. A handful of miles before Canadian Customs, we enter an eye-popping realm, where sub-alpine flowers in full bloom brush a moonscape with watercolors. And then the flowers and color disappear, replaced by endless scenes of solid rock, some rolling, some jagged and ... wait ... what was that?
Off to my right. Movement? And then again, here. Look.
WOW! What am I seeing? Scattered rocks? Wait. Little piles of rocks? NO! Rock PEOPLE!
Look at them all. There must be thousands of them built alongside the road, standing on multiple ledges in a barren landscape of mostly rock. But they're really hard to see; they blend into the background. Rock into rock. And as I turn my head left and right, they pop into my peripheral views, appearing to move. Menacing me with their outstretched arms.
We stop. Get out. I want to salute.
Because there is an army of these silent sentinels, thousands and thousands of piles of rocks assembled to look like little people, guarding the land as far back as I can see.
I walk among these foot-high protectors, staring, my mouth open. I swear I see movement again. Back there. Over here.
I know it's not so. These are rocks, solid minerals. Collected and assembled by tourists like me.
So I do the same.
I climb back into the ranks (just a little), collect a pile of jagged rocks and struggle to build my own little man. When I'm done, he looks more like a pile or rocks than a little warrior. But he's mine. And I'm proud.
We take his picture (at right), salute, then drive off.
At Customs, the border patrol guard tells us these rock warriors are inuksuk, a native word meaning "in the likeness of humans." They are little markers People of the North build as signposts in a landscape barren of trees and other natural landmarks. They build them, he says, to point the way home, mark a burial site or good hunting grounds, and even to designate a place where powerful spirits dwell.
Sometimes, they build them as warriors, to act as fellow hunters, to scare animals right into a trap.
So, I'm thinking as we drive away, these little warriors are sentient beings with an inner energy. They serve. They survive.
And I imagine the gang we left behind is, at this moment, springing to life to help my little pile of rocks become a warrior, just like them.