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Updated: Oct 1, 2021

Have you ever wondered how people communicated with each other before they had writing? How our ancestors shared stories across the generations? Alongside their oral traditions, ancient Native American tribes passed along information through symbolic art they created on the surrounding rocks.

There are two types of this ancient rock art:

  • Petroglyphs, or symbols that are etched into the stone; and

  • Pictographs, which are painted on the rock surface using natural materials.

It’s important to note that while ancient Native people used pictographs and petroglyphs to communicate, they are quite different from Egyptian hieroglyphs, which formed a complete writing system.

Instead, certain rock art markings communicated different words or abstract ideas – for instance, two arrows pointing in opposite directions meant war, while a broken arrow meant peace. Some markings designated different tribes and families, while others were used as a sort of record keeping. Ancient people often left petroglyphs and pictographs for travelers to indicate good hunting or potential dangers in certain areas. Large murals could represent entire stories: of battles, successful hunts, or even the creation of the universe.

The oldest rock art in the U.S., discovered in western Nevada, is estimated to be at least 10,000 years old. Of course, the use of petroglyphs and pictographs is not unique to indigenous North Americans. The Aboriginal people of Australia have used these methods for upwards of 30,000 years.

There are, however, many creative and cultural variations between the rock art of indigenous people in North America and those in Australia. In ancient – and even current – Aboriginal culture, only certain tribal members are allowed to paint sacred symbols. First People of Australia also considered the act of painting to be more important than the pictograph itself, so images were often repainted or painted over.

Wherever they are located in the world, these pictographs and petroglyphs had, and continue to hold, a deep spiritual meaning that commands respect from all. So the next time you see a piece of rock art, take a moment to consider: What was its creator trying to convey? Should its meaning be considered literally, or figuratively? Most important, take a moment to appreciate that these ancient wonders have survived for us to protect and appreciate.

Top image: Kokopelli rock art at Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Bottom image: Aboriginal Australian pictographs found in the Wunnumurra Gorge, Kimberley region

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Updated: Jul 21, 2021

You know how some of your best ideas come when you let your mind just wander?

The idea for Coin Trick came when my mind – along with the rest of me – was wandering through the Santa Monica Mountains with my dog years ago. The national recreation area, located in Southern California, has hundreds of miles of trails, and Cleo and I would often head out to explore the hills near my home in Los Angeles.

One day on our way to the trailhead, we passed a mailbox with Kokopelli painted on it. Then during our hike, a series of things happened:

  • I noticed some random etchings on a stone;

  • a kingsnake crossed our path; and

  • a mountain biker barreled past us in a cloud of dust.

And that was it. As soon as we got home, I sat down and outlined the story, then wrote it over the next few weeks. Yet the adventure had only begun.

Like Koko, Coin Trick itself has been a bit of a shapeshifter, morphing from a live-action movie to an animated series, from a boy named Cole to a girl named Cassidy. The script sat on a shelf in my office for years, and atop someone’s desk at a major studio for many months before being rejected.

As soon as I turned the story into a podcast, however, all the pieces began to fall into place – and in relatively short order. Jeff Braswell, an actor (and my neighbor) in Bellingham, WA, agreed to direct. A friend persuaded esteemed actor Michael Horse (Twin Peaks) to be the podcast’s narrator. Initial funding seemingly dropped in our laps.

Filmmaking guru Mark W. Travis says, “(T)he story’s first teller is our self, and the first listener is our self.” I’ve only recently realized just how much of myself is in Cassidy – and how much I am still learning from her and the other characters. And after all these years, Koko (brought to life by Aaren Herron) still makes me laugh.

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Fantasy adventure series promotes self-esteem while sharing anti-bullying message.

Bellingham, WA – A talented team of Pacific Northwest artists today announced the upcoming launch of COIN TRICK, a new narrative podcast created for tweens. The fantasy adventure series, based upon Native American folklore, offers important messages about anti-bullying and believing in one’s self.

“Kids growing up today have to deal with enormous pressures,” says Susan Hanson, the series’ creator, “and our society offers little guidance on how to handle them all. Other cultures have always received such guidance through their stories or mythology. This podcast gives a fresh take on ancient Native American myths to make them more relatable for, and relevant to, the next generation.”

The classic hero’s journey, COIN TRICK revolves around 12-year-old Cassidy, who is transported to another world that is home to the Pueblo Ancestors. There she buddies up with the flute-playing trickster Kokopelli on an epic quest to restore balance to the universe, encountering monsters and other Native-based characters along the way.

The action-packed series promises an entertaining experience while serving a greater purpose, namely:

  • Helping to build self-confidence in children by encouraging them to listen to their intuition

  • Developing interest in and respect for Native American culture

  • Providing a safe format to discuss sensitive topics such as bullying and racial issues

Hanson, who also wrote and produces the podcast, is joined by its director, Bellingham actor Jeff Braswell; and Travis Jordan, an Emmy-nominated audio engineer and member of the local Lummi Nation. Acclaimed actor Michael Horse (Twin Peaks), who narrates the series, heads the impressive team of voice talent.

Best-selling author Viki King, who consulted on the original script, calls COIN TRICK “exquisite … a very powerful archetypal story that everyone can tap into [with] important, wonderful themes — and right on time for the world.” The podcast is set to launch on July 1 with the first two of six episodes, available for download on the show’s website as well as iTunes and other podcast apps. For more information, visit

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