The idea for this week’s column began with a truly awesome encounter with heavenly beauty one of our Cochrane coffee companions experienced on her way to Calgary last Wednesday morning. It concluded with a lesson in Stoney Nakoda traditional wisdom about the meaning of that encounter.
Lilian Bouclin was travelling along Highway 1A around 9:30. It was cold and windy, with snow blowing across roads and fields. As she angled southeast toward the RockPointe Church turnoff, there it was, up ahead, just above the church: a dazzling sun dog. It so dominated her view that she had to pull over and take a photo.
She got back into her car and immediately emailed me the photo accompanying this column. And yes, I, too, was taken by its beauty.
Sun dogs, with their characteristic mirroring of the sun’s brilliance, frequently appear in pairs either side of the sun, often within a halo. Caused by the refraction of the sun’s rays passing through ice crystals in the atmosphere, they can occur throughout the year, but they’re especially eye-catching in the winter, when the sun is closer to the horizon.
For a very helpful article on the topic by Keith C. Heidorn, “the weather doctor,” Google under the words: islandnet sundog.
While I was doing research for this column, a man from Morley who is like a brother to me stopped by for a visit and shared with me his Stoney Nakoda First Nation understanding of sun dogs.
Helmer Twoyoungmen is a popular film-and-stage actor as well as consultant in Stoney Nakoda heritage. When I showed him Lillian’s sun dog photo, he was really impressed.
“In Stoney we call sun dogs wahiâba îtű-kiye,” he said. “That means ‘sun makes a fire.’”
He went on to explain the four bright lines radiating from the sun. They’re all about hope and purpose in this life, he said. The upward-pointing ray refers to Elders. The horizontal rays refer to adults, and the downward-pointing ray refers to adolescents. The arch at the top – technically known as the upper tangent arc – speaks of the presence of Wakâ (“the Great Spirit”) among all people on Mother Earth, young and old alike, and of our eventual return to Wakâ.
Then with a twinkle in his eye, he added: “The sun dog also means get ready for a cold spell.”
Well, ready for a cold spell I am. But more importantly, inspired by Lillian’s photo and Helmer’s wisdom, I’m striving, with your help, to be more prepared to be an expression of God’s beauty in this world.
Thank you, Lillian and Helmer.
© 2017 Warren Harbeck