BC myths and folklore

Albino Raven Reborn by Jamie Armstrong

An Albino raven.

I had a fortunate encounter recently, one that brought the memories from a memorable and mystic Haida Gwaii summer adventure to the forefront of my afternoon. Haida Gwaii means island of the people, as Haida translates directly to “us” or “people”. Rosespit, the most northeastern tip of Graham Island is where the raven discovered and freed the people of the earth from a giant clam shell, you can see Bill Reid’s depiction of this fable on any twenty dollar bill or in person at the YVR airport .

The islands before colonial contact were originally called Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai which translates to “Islands at the Boundary of the World”. You have to visit to understand how the original people of this place could give it that name as this translation is not far off. The island sits atop a massive fault line that plunges deep into the Pacific. The Haida used to find massive dead sea turtles the size of cars washed up on their beaches, evidence of a bountiful and divine unknown beyond their earthly boundaries. These sea turtles used to gain great bulk from riding currents and foraging on Jellyfish blooms. In fact some scientists claim that large amounts of turtles that are killed as by catch of commercial fishing vessels (Gill Nets and drag nets, and all the turtles dying from mistakenly eating too much plastic), are part of the reason why there are such huge blooms of Jelly fish now being experienced in the sea.

The divinity and wealth of the origin of these massive sea creatures was and still is invoked in Haida culture and art. Those familiar with such art will have seen the door keyhole shape, often utilized in Haida made earrings, broaches, or in paintings, this shape originally was adopted within the Haida art as it was the symbol upon the foreheads of these great sea beasts whom washed upon their shores. The shape was associated with wealth, and was prominent in potlatches, as a cooper shield shaped in that symbol would be broken and shared among the guests. Anyways I digress, this story is about a white raven, not Volkswagen sized turtles.

A white raven whose tale is entwined indirectly with the tragic story of the Golden Spruce, considered an Arbor Miracle, was cut down by an environmentalist named Grant Hadwin, who cut it down as a protest against the logging companies that stripped the Haida Gwaii of almost all its old growth forests, leaving the stand around the Golden Spruce as its only, and measly commitment to conservation in that area. So his protest was like, “What the Hell you guys, you chopped everything else down, why stop their jerks.” It was a misguided and misunderstood protest by a man who had perhaps started to lose his train of thought , as losing such things as a train of thought tend to happen. What a great saying “Train of Thought”.

Shortly after the tree fell, the white raven flew into power lines and died. Albinism in Ravens is rare but does happen, what is really rare is that it survives its developmental stage, as such visibly different traits in youngsters provokes the negative attention of its siblings and often ends with such differences resulting in assault, death or starvation. Albino human beings experience the same hostility from their more median brothers in Tanzania and other superstitious areas of Africa, where Albino body parts are highly valued for Black Magic potions.  Basically an Albino Raven must be the only egg that hatches, or other extenuating circumstances for it to make it to adulthood. So when that anomaly of a bird died it was thought to be the last in most peoples lifetimes... or was it?

I thought this as well, and took a picture of the stuffed white raven in Port Clements when I was in the Haida Gwai in the summer of 2008. I have recently been proven wrong with a chance encounter one night with a young lady just arriving directly from summer employment at a fishing lodge on the most northern tip of Haida Gwaii. It was not long until she had her camera out and was showing me photos, when she showed me a picture she had taken of a White Raven...

A Strange Encounter by Kyle Armstrong

A few weeks ago a friend and I headed out for a visit with the mystical creatures we believe to inhabit  China Beach.  Creatures we refer to as Ewaks, stolen from Star Wars because of their curious resemblance to these postulatory forest dwellers.  As we make our way through the low lying mists of the ancient forest, the landscape pushes towards the beach and the distant surf beckons like a ready lover. The trail seems temporary in the cascading Canadian jungle like the wake of an offshore ship fading, dissolving to the infinite. Massive cedar and hemlock trees explode out of the ground in every direction; each capable of absorbing as much as one ton of water per day and moving it vertically one hundred feet from its roots to canopy. Looking around at the hundreds of giants in my gaze I drown in the idea of the sheer amount of water and energy that is flowing through this system. Emerging from the forest a thick blanket is removed and my eyelids peel back as trees give way to giants of another kind. Top-heavy liquid waves crash and hurl stones and mangled driftwood. We skip along the relatively small buffer zone of stones, eyes fixed on our wobbly path, hypnotized within the rhythms of a world between two. 

Victim to absent-mindedness, I have forgotten my wetsuit.  Having no interest in re-living the grueling hike back to the car and missing out on even one of these fantastic waves I jump into the piercing January waters in not but my knickers. We surf well into night, the darkness allowing the creatures of my imagination to surface: orcas circle us warding off giant squid feeding frenzies and straggling great whites wait to taste revenge. Hairs rise on my neck as I feel the stares of the monkey men squatters, believed to dwell in this mystical forest. They watch from their huts dug deep into the coastal foliages of salal and sea grasses waiting for night to fully swallow before they begin their nocturnal mischief. They can pick their smelly baboon bums for all I care, I fear not, for only a true B.C. boy dare attempt to swim the shallows in boxers in the dead of winter. Unfortunately a few hours is all it takes before I’m near hypothermic. A small crumbler lifts me and I ride it into shore. I grab my penis to make sure its still there. The sorry bastard lives.

The Ewoks have left their village unattended. It hasn’t been empty long. They must have retreated further into the jungle sensing the weekend arrival of visitors and tourists—shy little guys. Their driftwood shelters and other ritualistic structures including some form of dry surf ramp are all ours. Allowing for a moment of reflexion, I take a seat on a beach log and watch the ocean. A freighter passes, or maybe it’s a trawler. It’s low engines cut when they pass our headlamps. Its presence is stealth like a Haida slave ship making its long journey back north to the Gwaii or a Canadian submarine patrolling for pirate smuggling ships. It’s too wet to make a fire so we wander around the village in darkness, set up our tents and head to bed. 

A fowl reeking stench of rot has been carried on a breeze and fills my nostrils.  The smell is surprisingly familiar a cross between dutch-ovens and rotting meat. I’ve been awake for a few minutes listening. Something is walking in the village, something big. For the first time it occurs to me the Ewoks have vacated the village for another reason, another intruder. A heavy breathing close to my head replaces my own and my tent begins to shake violently. It’s funny the security one feels in a tent, after all its just a thin layer of fabric. Yet its familiar and that thin membrane keeps you from having to see what beast, mythical or real, stalks you in the night. No matter what happens, in the morning if you didn’t see what it was you can write it off to dreams, exaggeration or whatever you want and keep your sanity. Maybe that’s why I didn’t start screaming or bolt for the parking lot and instead just lay there, still as a stone. That is until two massive forearms creeped underneath my body and began to lift me without curling… like a fork lift. 

When I was twelve I was playing in the wash at pipeline. The beach was closed that day due to the pounding 22 ft surf. I remember the wave was enormous and even though the wash was less than ankle deep it flipped me on my back and sucked me kicking and screaming towards the hulking beast. My heart beat at the same speed of the rushing water and I watched the wave grow taller and taller as if a vacuum for my fear. The rushing sound was deafening and chaotic until that final moment. The moment when the wave could hold no more water and my heart no more fear. The moment when I was closest, looking up at the supernatural wall of water. The moment before it all came crashing down—a cross between “here we go!” and “I am so f****d”. Floundering in what was one part foam one part sand and one part water there was no fight in my resistance.

There are some forces that are larger than the fight we have. Don’t get me wrong, I struggled but it was no fight. The poles snapped and the tent collapsed around me as all was lifted from the ground and slung in one light heave behind its back. I swam in the sagging tent as branches broke beneath its enormous steps. I could tell we were traveling at incredible speeds.  Listening to the monster breath I could tell my weight was no hindrance to this creature at all.  I have no recollection of the events that followed, but when I awoke the next morning, a shiver rain down my spine as I crawled out of my collapsed tent a hundred or so feet from where I remember setting it up.  I am not claiming that the strange occurrence was the doings of “Big Foot” but Im not ruling it out.  Whatever or whoever the culprit was that evening possessed a power and aroma unfamiliar to anything I have ever experienced.  My mind remains open with regards to the existence of such a being.