with cedar cone
(top of pole)
by Rand Jack in traditional
Northwest Coast Native-American style
with cedar cone
(top of pole)
THE TWIN BEAR STORY POLE
In the fall of 2005, I was given
a 300+ year-old, 18 feet long, red cedar log from a jumbled pile
in the log yard of the Oeser Company in Bellingham, Washington.
A tag on the log indicated that it had been cut down by Georgia
Pacific in 1982 at the base of the Twin Sisters in Whatcom County,
Washington, near the confluence of Hayden and Fish Creeks.
Being the custodian of this magnificent piece of wood inspired
my imagination and coalesced several things dear to my heart
- carving wood, love of animals, devotion to conservation, and
respect for the traditions of the Northwest coast Native People.
I decided to carve a story pole in the tradition of the original
inhabitants of this land I now call home. The figures on the
pole tell a story about the environmental web of which we are
all a part.
Concerned about cultural infringement, I asked my friend and
revered Lummi, Darrell Hillaire, to come and see what I was doing.
The first question he asked was: "Do the animals speak to
you?" I had not thought of it that way, but, on a moment's
reflection, I answered "yes." After a day of carving,
I lay in bed thinking "what comes next? how do I make a
transition? How do I handle a knotty problem? how do I mend a
screwup?" In the morning I would awake with an answer or
at least a lead. Provoked by Darrell's question, I realized that
the animals were speaking to me.
The pole depicts an environmental morality tale. I sometimes
tell people that I just wrote an "ancient" legend,
something I knew to be true. And something that I am quite sure
Native Peoples of the Pacific North have known for eons to be
true. Again, the animals were speaking to me.
On June 27, 2009, a community of friends moved the Twin Bear
Story Pole on a sailboat trailer from my workshop to its permanent
home next to Bellingham's Children's Museum in the Whatcom Museum
Light Catcher building. With ropes, push sticks and many hands,
we raised the pole in much the same way, I suspect, that Native
Peoples did for centuries along the North Pacific coast. On the
opening day of the new Whatcom Museum, November 14, 2009, three
generations from the Lummi Nation sang and drummed a blessing
of the Twin Bear Story Pole - Lummi Nation Cultural Director
James "Uncle Smitty" Hillaire, his wife, known to all
as Aunt Lutie and their family.
The twin baby bears in the mother
bear's womb at the base of the pole are a symbol of the fecundity
of nature that we are all responsible to protect.
THE TWIN BEAR STORY POLE LEGEND
A very long time ago, Raven sat on a sandstone cliff overlooking
the Nooksack River. Raven was a curious, some would say mischievous,
fellow. As he surveyed the landscape from his lofty perch, everything
seemed entirely too calm and orderly for his taste. Raven was
bored. He decided to fly to a world far away and bring back Humans
to this Earth. Certainly that would shake things up and make
life more interesting.
Raven knew that for Humans to get along on Earth, they would
need some help. Humans do not have thick fur like Bear to keep
them warm, and they can't swim in the ocean like Orca. So from
that far away world, Raven brought in his beak a cedar cone.
From the seeds of that cone would grow giant cedar trees, and
Humans would have wooden beams for houses, cedar bark for clothes,
and tree trunks for canoes.
Because Humans could not fly or run very fast, they would have
trouble catching food. So Raven went to the Salmon People and
asked if they would swim up the rivers right to where Humans
lived. The Salmon People were wary. Why should they make it easy
for Humans to eat them? Raven had to bargain hard. He promised
to make the Salmon People into five races, each distinctively
beautiful and fit to survive. Raven also promised that Humans
would always treat the Salmon People with respect.
Raven knew that Humans would need wisdom to survive on Earth.
So Raven went to owl, who had great wisdom. He asked Owl to share
some wisdom with Humans. Owl was skeptical. She thought sharing
with Humans would be a waste of good wisdom. But Raven was cunning
and convinced Owl that even a little wisdom for Humans would
be a great improvement.
Raven understood that if Humans were going to paddle their cedar
canoes in the ocean, they would have to live in harmony and with
respect for Orca, the most powerful creature of the sea. Raven
also understood that if Humans were going to live in their cedar
homes in the forests, they would have to live in harmony and
with respect for Bear, the most powerful creature of the forest.
If Humans cease to respect Orca and Bear, Salmon will no longer
swim up the rivers. Cedar trees will stop growing straight and
tall as needed for houses, canoes, and story poles. Humans will
no longer be part of the Earth Community. Some Humans have come
to think that they no longer need the Salmon People to return,
the cedars to grow tall and straight, the wisdom of Owl or membership
in the Earth community. Some have stopped respecting Orca and
Bear. But the truth is, Humans need the natural world just as
much today as when Raven brought them and a cedar cone to this
to view all pictures enlarged)