Saturday, October 29, 2011

Holy Smoke

This afternoon Gem and I made a wonderful visit to a local Native Museum and Heritage Park. Located on the banks of the South Thompson River, there are more than a kilometre of trails leading through the archaeological remains of a two thousand year old Secwepemc village. This major archaeological site includes a cache of over fifty unique lodges. It also features four authentically reconstructed winter pit-houses.

I spoke with a remarkable eighty year old aboriginal woman, an elder, whose stories both enthralled and captivated me. She told how in the old days, as a little girl in her village, there was always a welcoming fire. Everyone shared what they had in a circle around the flames; smoky morsels of fish and wild meat, bannock, tea. She said, too, how when you saw smoke rising from the huts, you knew you were welcome, that it was not too early to make a call on your neighbour. The whole village was blessed with a mingling of the smoke from the many fires of the community. Nowadays, she said, sighing deeply to express her sorrow, nowadays, you hardly see any smoke, and people are too busy to visit their neighbours.

There was a time when smoke communicated the presence of the holy. Where there is smoke there is fire, the fire of the scared energy at the heart of life, the hearth of creation. The first peoples of this continent experienced the communion of the sacred sweat lodge and the vision sleep ... ecstasies induced by the smoke from ritual fires. Even now, when I see smoke rising from a bonfire of fallen maple leaves or I get a resinous whiff of alder smoke from a fireplace, I sense the benediction of a spiritual, fleeting presence.

"For my days", says the psalmist, "pass away like smoke." Sometimes it's a holy thing to allow ourselves to be transformed, to be absorbed into the very air we breathe, the apparent nothing which is everything.


  1. Very thoughtful, very beautiful. Are you still singing in the choir, lifting your voice like smoke?

  2. What an uplifting visit, this must have been. And to speak with one of those connected to a more communal way of life, a privilege.

    Yes, the hearth is so important. It's the one thing I miss most, in our current home.

  3. I've not heard of the Secwepemc, but this sounds like a fascinating place to visit. Thanks for the eloquent meditation about smoke and fire. We've been in a burn ban for months so haven't been able to enjoy any bonfires of fallen leaves this year.