Spirit Canoe and Creekwalking
November 1, 2008
Spirit Canoe is the fourth Spirit Boat that have made. The other three have all been given to friends who recently lost someone close to them. The boats resemble coralbean pods and represent the soul’s final journey across the Oldest River (also called the Narrow Sea and many other names). This one (photographed unfinished and still covered in firescale) is less regular and more “natural” looking than the others. It was forged from a flat strip of steel, 1/8″ thick, an inch wide, and about seven inches long. Eventually it will be polished, blackened, and decorated.
For many years I welcomed Halloween as a time for solitary spiritual work. I would dress however I felt was appropriate and go out into the woods, usually where there was flowing water, and make a ritual River crossing and shaman’s journey. Over the years this annual “trip” became more powerful and elaborate, and I scouted for likely places ahead of time, incorporated whistles and rattles for calling the spirits, occasionally included other people as helpers, and sometimes set up a formal “gate” of sticks, complete with dog skull “Cerberus” and various offerings. All of this was before I had any friends who had passed to the Other Side, and was mostly a way to talk to nature spirits. After a few years, enough of my friends had crossed over that my former ritual seemed contrived, childish, and inappropriate. Instead, I built a modest altar in my studio and left it at that. For the past two years I have walked in the Tucson All Souls Procession, which I found to be surprisingly similar to my original River journey in some ways, except that the huge crowd is not crossing the river – it IS the River for a short time, and opens the way for spirits to move in all directions.
This year I wanted to return to the quiet innocence and power of the original forest or desert ritual, and we found several wooded washes and other likely places. But as we walked and explored, I realized that the reason I had “outgrown” the original one is not because I no longer need to do it, but because I do it all the time, and don’t need to set aside a special time and place unless there is a specific reason. I have always known this, but this Halloween was a time for rediscovery and rededication. I have been a Creekwalker all my life, from very earliest childhood, when I explored the northern Virginia creeks near my house. The winding, half-hidden water track that drew me upstream to some mysterious source (and somehow, downstream to the Ocean at the same time) became my spiritual “path” long ago, in places like these:
I took the pictures more than 25 years ago and the place in the top photo has been gone for almost that long. The one in the bottom photo was an area that I visited nearly every day for a decade. Today I walked in a rocky desert wash that looks very different, but holds its own wonders, including this giant canyon hackberry tree, the oldest I have ever seen. An appropriate gift from the River on this day.