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  • Walking Ts’yl-os, Mt. Tatlow
  • John Schreiber (bio)

The blue mountains are constantly walking. Master Dögen

In 1986, Don Brooks and I climbed to the top of Mount Tatlow as it was then called, a monumental, snowy eminence of 10,058 feet overlooking Nemaiah Valley to the north. Tatlow largely stands alone. The peaks behind it are lower, less massive, less imposing, but even from as far away as the Chilcotin Highway west of Riske Creek, eighty miles to the northeast, Mount Tatlow stands dominant in the blue distance if the air is clear. Long stretches of gravel road in from Lee’s Corner on the way to Nemaiah look to have been sighted exactly on the peak, perhaps a hint as to the route’s history as a foot, horse, and wagon trail through lodgepole pines without end.

Mount Tatlow has since reverted to its old name of Tsoloss or Ts’yl-os and, acknowledged as a living entity once again, the mountain has a considerable aura of mythos and power about it, or should I say “him.” Most of the mainly aboriginal residents of Nemaiah are careful to use restraint and appropriate decorum in referring to Ts’yl-os. Visitors might be wise to do the same. Like creatures of the wild, the great mountain does not like people to point or stare at him, so they say, and there is talk of consequences for those who do. What I am unsure of still is whether it is right to even refer to him by name. Am I being too direct, too presumptuous now in the telling of this story?

R. G. Tatlow, on the other hand, Vancouver financier and finance minister in Premier McBride’s conservative government in the early years of the twentieth century, had a short-lived impact on the world—significantly less than Ts’yl-os did. I suspect the honourable minister’s concern for protocol would be more likely limited to the appropriate use of titles. Staring and pointing would have probably been construed as simply an outcome of inferior upbringing, something to be expected in the colonies.

Stories too have energies and intentions of their own. I can tell you that after the usual wait for inclinations of story to emerge, due to the percolations and perambulations of time and mind and I presume spirit, this story of our dogged walk up the flanks of mighty Ts’yl-os fairly elbowed its way into my awareness. The story has been many years in the steeping. Finally, I [End Page 151] had little choice but to sit down at the keyboard and begin. Ts’yl-os, a mountain being of limited patience it seems, had had enough of waiting and was prodding the story into action.

Ts’yl-os and his wife, Eniyud, were given to arguing and mean spiritedness, so the tales from distant myth-time go. Eniyud, obviously over-wrought at one point, thrust the baby onto his lap, left the two oldest kids for him to keep an eye on, swept up the rest of the children, and moved on over by Tatlayoko Lake, where as Niut Mountain she sits, their jagged off-spring lined up behind her. They look severe and moody even now. Ts’ylos, his ex-consort, Eniyud, and their progeny eventually turned to rock. You can see the two quite large, older children tucked in behind Ts’yl-os and the infant now, but mind your manners; be sure not to be careless or off-handed, and please do not point. Even the youngest child looks rough and tough.

The reputation of Ts’yl-os does perplex me, though. I can understand that the fracas and the responsibility of child-rearing might leave him in a bad mood. He has a powerful influence over the climate, so they say. The local weather is frequently blustery and changeable: dangerous winds come up suddenly from out of the peaks and ridges to the south and southwest and blow down the long lakes, Taseko, Tatlayoko, and especially Chilko. There is a story of a Tsilhqot’in man up on a mountain, sighting invaders on a raft, Kwakwaka...