Of all the teachings we receive, this one is the most important: Nothing belongs to you. Of what there is, of what you take, you must share.
THE PETERBOROUGH PETROGLYPHS
I was in a cathedral today, but no choir was singing. The ceiling above was the fairest of blues and the walls that held it were majestic stands of white and red pines. The floor, softer than crushed velvet, whispered green.
On an early summer day, the beauty of this land brought tears to my eyes.
We were entering Petroglyphs Provincial Park, a 1643 hectare property about an hour northeast of Peterborough. The park encompasses nature, hiking and bike trails; several lakes, and a learning centre.
But the jewel that we’ve come to seek is the Petroglyphs. It is a sacred place, millennia old. And those like me—learners–must come with respect.
When the world was young, between 900-1400 C.E., native Algonquian artists carved, on a massive slab of white marble, over 900 images to the spirit gods who had given them, and their people, life.
Some images, etched as deep as three inches in the yielding stone represented human and animal forms; others were symbolic and abstract—the meanings known only the carvers themselves.
Deep crevices between the rocks were said to lead to the spirit world. And the sound of trickling water under the stone was the voice of the Spirits speaking to their Algonquian children.
The site was known as Kinomagewapkong, meaning “the rocks that teach.” There, dreams were dreamed, and their interpretations unraveled.
Then the Europeans came. And the old way of life was lost. So too was all knowledge of the ancient carvings. Then in 1924, historian Charles Kingam came upon the strange rock face, only to have them forgotten again. The world was to busy to notice.
In 1954, miners searching for modern treasure rediscovered the rocks. And now archeologists arrived. They found hammer-stones, and pieces of pottery too, between the rock crevices. Offerings, no doubt to the spirit world.
Yet a decade would pass before the petroglyphs were photographed and recorded. A book by Joan Vastokas of the University of Toronto and Trent University’s Ron Vastokas called Sacred Art of the Algonkians opened the world’s window on the ancient stone.
But nature, and the meddling of man had done their damage over the ages. Algae, frost and new age acid rain caused scientists and historians concern. Would the Petroglyphs, among the oldest rock carvings in North America be lost? In 1984, a massive glass enclosure was built to enclose and protect the national treasure.
The enormity of the protective enclosure takes this first-time visitor by surprise. It towers over 35 feet, and is climate-controlled, to prevent condensation. The building’s earth-to-sky glass windows allow the sun, glinting through the protective pines to showcase the ancient art. A circular, elevated walkway invites the visitor to walk 360 degrees around the smooth sloping stone.
One lap around will not do; three or four are needed, at least, to take in the mysterious beauty. Most of the carvings are linear and abstract, but various animal and human forms are represented too.
Nanabush, the Creator who can take various forms is seen as a rabbit–long upright ears almost comical. The sacred turtle, whose sulky pique begot the Milky Way is surrounded by its eggs. There’s the Thunderbird, who travels above the clouds and makes the thunder, then the welcome rains. And the Bear, the healer—holiest and greatest of all animals.
In the still of the morning, if I strain my ears—I can almost hear the gentle murmur of the water beneath the rock. It’s the spirit world thanking me for my respect. And I leave them humbled.
The Peterborough Petroglyphs were designated a National Historic Site in 1981.
Dogs must be leashed and are not allowed in the Petroglyphs glass enclosure.
As the Petroglyphs are a sacred site, no photography is allowed.
Petroglyphs Provincial Park
2249 Northey’s Bay Road