Kokanee in Peril

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has just released a story about the decline of the Kokanee fishery in the Okanagan’s Wood Lake this year. In short, local fishermen have been unable to find kokanee this year in this, the most productive kokanee lake in the entire region. Here’s the story. The story is now going viral on the Internet.

Kokanee Fishing on Wood Lake Source

But the fish aren’t here.

Since the beginning of the series of explorations called Okanagan Okanogan I have been concerned with the alterations that human society has made to the natural water systems of the Okanagan, by diverting water flows from natural systems and piping water through homes, sewers, and water purification plants instead. Perhaps what we are seeing is the consequence of this behaviour. During the 1970s, for example, when large algal blooms were threatening the health of Wood Lake, the Hiram Walker Distillery on the shores of Wood Lake saved the day by diverting large volumes of clear Okanagan Lake water into their plant, and then flushing it out again through Wood Lake. As a result, the length of time water remained in Wood Lake was reduced by 50% and the danger of excessive algal bloom and its subsequent consumption of all the oxygen in the cool, lower layers of the lake, was avoided. Now the bloom is back, and the fish aren’t. A similar crash happened in the Kootenay Lake system in the 1980s, when the productivity of the lake, destroyed by upstream dam construction in the 1920s was mitigated by runoff from a fertilizer plant, which kept the lake alive. When the plant was required to meet new pollution requirements, the lake died. The solution is to fertilize the lake annually with chemical fertilizers. You can read this amazing story here.

Don Gayton’s Redfish

Salmon that never go to sea

In the case of Wood Lake, it looks like the solution might be to return water flow to the lake, as opposed to just mechanically or chemically managing the algae. No matter how it works out, it’s good to remember that algal bloom is just a symptom of water abuse. It also is becoming clear that in the mountains on this shore of the Pacific, kokanee are like canaries in a coal mine.

The Hunting Cats of Switzerland

Big game hunting is a popular pastime for urban Canadians. Every fall men in camo gear pile $60,000 of military gear into their trucks, leave big cities, and head north to shoot a moose, as if it were the Battle of Leningrad. Ah, but luckily there is another way. Over in Wald, Switzerland, the wilderness comes down through the city in the form of meadows of grass and flowers blowing in the early summer breeze, and even though once again men come with machines and have their way with it, it works out a little differently…

Mowing at 30 Kilometres per Hour

Zooooom. As they say, Time is Money.

Such rip-roaring fun, of course, disturbs the local inhabitants a little. To give you an idea of what that looks like, here’s a happy dog and its minders getting a bit of early morning shock…

Jumping Out of the Way

Note how the dog is definitely not taking chances here.

So, that’s not what humans like to see all the time: being hunted down by their own machinery. The consequences, though, are clear.

Horizontal Meadow

Just having a little sleep in the sun.

This is, however, not a dead landscape, although it is headed straight to Swiss cheese and chocolate on sale at department stores and grocery stores throughout the Okanagan at Christmas, because as soon as the big blue machine has finished its mad Formula 1 race around the field and the earth takes a big breath, the real activity begins. It starts quietly…

The First Adventurer Arrives on the Field of Battle

You never know what you will find if you look. That’s the trick. Caw.

And pretty soon, the main battle group arrives. They pour out of all the houses scattered through the meadows, proving that even though humans might think that the meadows wind through the houses, it’s just not so. The houses are set out in the meadows, like bird blinds. And so the great hunt of summer begins…

A Proud Hunting Cat of the Zurich Overland

All winter, the mice ruled here. Now the old order is changing.

In Wald, where there’s one cat there’s always more. The whole grassy town is rich with cats, and that nice Thai Takeaway place that opens for coffee on Sunday mornings when everyone else is closed. And these cats aren’t shy.

A Hunting Group Begins to Form

From a cat’s perspective, it’s very handy to keep humans around. It means you don’t have to wander through a jungle of grass. Instead, you can just step right over it and not even get wet. Bonus.

And who wants to get wet, right? OK, maybe the humans, who are off in the creek valleys inventing fire and grilling marshmallows to death while their children splash and turn blue, but the cats? No, they have work to do.

Black Cat Joins the Party

Note the elegant balance with the tail. Full marks.

It’s an intriguing ballet. I do, however, have the feeling that we are being watched.

Wald Graveyard Cat

Best to keep on one’s best behaviour.

With every movement, we humans represent our species. I hope cats notice us when we do it well. Where would we be if we were alone on this planet?

Soil Atmosphere in Crisis

For thousands of years, farmers have been trying to keep the living earth at bay by stripping all plant life from their fields. Because of evaporation issues around the destruction of organic soil-air boundaries, most of those historic fields are salty and useless now, yet the process continues in this corn-on-the-cob field in Okanagan Landing…

The Poisonous Relationship Between Water, Soil and Heat

A privately-installed artwork for public consumption (really.) And what’s better than art that you can eat, eh?

This, however, is an agricultural installation with an eye on the future. Applause is deserved.

The Old and the New

Agricultural test plots in preparation for being wrapped in shadecloth, on old orchard ground heavily cropped for years by corn. Notice the compaction of the fine, non-organic lake bottom soils, and the scrubby crop of weeds. This dirt is unwell.

Given that if we can’t keep this soil alive, we’re eating out of petri dishes, I suggest that experiments in plant breeding, such as the one above, might be something too old, too late. The plants being tested here are not creatures of the soil but creatures of the air and the light: they root in air, they branch and leaf in air, their pollen is carried on the air, many of them release their seeds to the air, and up there in the air they eat the light. The soil is an environment for bacteria and fungus, which regenerate the soil atmosphere, so that the roots of the plants can breathe. To refresh a previous conversation along these lines, the oxygen in the soil comes from below the root zone of most plants, where organic material that has slowly fallen down through the soil is decomposed by bacteria.

The Irony of Weeds

The complete Mediterranean model for this form of agriculture included the pasturage of goats and sheep, which fed on wild land and brought organic material back to the soil in their faeces. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in its absence, the only thing that is keeping the precious subterranean atmosphere alive on this field is the cultivation of cheatgrass and stray weeds in the spring?

Seemingly, cultivated plants are only possible if they rise out of non-cultivated environments, or environments subsidized by wild material. At the moment, I suspect the system is limping along in the surface area of the soil, where oxygen levels fluctuate with the seasons, rising in the spring and dying in the fall when the ground freezes, while the deep atmosphere is becoming toxic. It is a seasonal process but not a sustainable one. Our universities should be studying this. The answers might be more important than global warming or improved processes for standardizing the production of wine in industrial laboratory environments. If our grape vines are setting roots down into dead air, what then? I’ve not found any studies on this yet. If I do, I’ll let you know.

Plant Slaves

There’s nothing like using life forms as decoration. It just brings nature close, mmm! The logic is astonishingly clever, too: functional architecture leads to the sense that one is living in an exercise yard in a prison, but what if one put a slave in there to dance? That would make the place seem alive, right?

Flowering Plum Tree Used as a Splash of Paint Off a Brush. Vernon.

It’s a amazing the difference a living thing does to a bank parking lot and drive through banking lane! It gets the emotions all a buzzing. Why, one thinks (as life recognizes life), it is possible to live here!

Landscaping is really a most intriguing art form. Not only does it make astonishing use of life as a form of paint, but it proves remarkably impervious to invasion by the taggers and graffiti queens of the plant world, as this other shot of the bank wall shows so well.

Grasses Giving a Little Life to a Holding Pen

And look at all that weedy tagging in the background, at the boundary between the horizontal and vertical planes of the main body of this art installation. There’s no way they can draw power away from the main stars of the show in their little concrete stage. In fact, they honour it with their applause.

All parking lot art is not so powerful or well-integrated, of course. At the back end of the bank parking lot, the taggers hang out in gangs. With no one to model themselves on, their message is as stark as the parking bumpers they collect among …

 Chain Gang at Work

Cheatgrass, Chinese Elm, and Friends hard at work busting the concrete apart to get at the soil. Note that in this environment, human litter fills plant space, rather than the plants being used, like little machines, to warm human space. This relationship obviously goes two ways.

Indeed, it does…

Plant Traffic Cop Between Automobile Parking Spaces and Human Walking Space

Only officially sanctioned plants need apply. Note the bike gang dude just entering the picture from the right. He is not the audience for this installation.

Here’s a pure example of the same principle, but this time the buffer zone is used as a splash of colour, like a cross between a modernist Dutch painting of tulip fields in the spring light (as seen from a Stuka bomber) and artificial turf.

Art for Viewing from a Car

 Materials: Weed & Feed, Weed Whacker, Mechanical Edger, and Turf

Such minimum security prisons fill this city. Beats me. Sometimes one is just overwhelmed with praise for human ingenuity. Or is that cruelty?

Life Without Oil

There was a time in the world in which technology and the work of the planet were intimately related. It was hardly romantic, but it has come to be known that way, because it looked like this:

Industrial Holding Pond, Jonatal, Switzerland

Throughout the old textile regions outside of Zürich, water was carefully collected from the mountains, held in ponds like this, and released to run machinery in the weaving mills at set times in the day.

One of the things that inspires me about this kind of technology is that it does not prevent natural life from flourishing. In fact, it might encourage it. On the surface of the pond, for instance, damselflies are having a grand day in the sun…

The Pond Takes Wing

Of course, in the days in which it was used industrially, this pond would not have been such a rich environment, as the water levels would have fluctuated wildly each day. Still, there is inspiration here for a revolution of environmental technology that builds on the first generation of water technology rather than just copies it.

The next pond upstream is reached after walking or even on top of a long canal. This was the path the workers in the textile mills used each day on their way to and from their mountain homes. It’s also the path that the Keeper of the Water used, on his maintenance journeys. The land almost became a clock, but not quite.

High Technology from the Age of Water

Twice a day, the Keeper of the Water would release this pond to run the factories in the valley below, which were arranged one after the other in order to reuse the water over and over again on its way down to Lake Zürich.

 Unlike modern engine works and hydroelectric power plants, this is a living environment. One can expect life to come from it.

The Soul of the Machine

A fish cruises through the heart of technology. Living environments are suitable for humans, too.

There’s no going back, but it is possible to go forward, without oil.

The Persistence of the Universe

Tired of watering and mowing, and thinking of, maybe, helping out the over-stressed earth a bit by sitting in the boat and watching the wind play over the water like that wheat in Witness? A tremendously great idea, for sure. The hard way, of course, would be to make one of the great movies of our time. Cost you millions, and chances of success would be slim. The easier way might be to haul a dump truck full of river rock out of a river bed up in the mountains, lay it down oh so nicely on the slope in your front yard, chunk chunk chunk, sell that 5 HP mower at the next garage sale, ka-ching!, put your feet up on the deck, look out over the valley and the lake so blue and knock back a few cold ones with the proceeds. Ahhhhhhhh! Good on ya! And, don’t worry. The earth has you covered, behind your back…

Maple Trees Making a Comeback

And you thought grass was a problem?

It’s really an intriguing environment, don’t you think? I mean, look. There’s good solid ground cover (Rock, I mean, how solid is that?) to keep water from evaporating.  Check! There’s a slope to draw the water down from the road (just above). Check! There are good entrapment possibilities for organic matter (no need to haul it from the dump at $50 a yard).  Check! There’s a method for concentrating rain just where you need it and keeping it from getting too spread out (no need for plastic hoses and trickle emitters).  Check! And how did the maple find it? By putting out a kazillion seeds and letting the wind take them where it will, which just happens to be into the same cracks that the water finds, imagine that. Imagine that. That’s the kind of planet you are a part of. You might not say that it’s clever, exactly, but what is going on is as clever as clever can be, if you get my drift.

Three Young Hawks Hunting Together

Sometimes this earth does something just because it can.

And then, when circumstances have changed, the earth is there to heal the gap. Now, compare that integration with this …

Little Brown Bird Waiting for the Universe to Unfold as it Will

Some individuals try to fly from the nest just a wee bit early and wind up sitting in the grass and trying to be very very still and opening and closing their beaks to make sounds beyond the reach of the human ear.

This is a lucky bird. I spent five minutes looking for the nest it fell from, with no luck. Obviously, that’s not the luck. The real luck was that the cat really couldn’t care less and sat on a chair and observed, and then got bored and went inside. The other lucky part is that the poor mite’s mother came along (perhaps she heard the humanly inaudible tweeting), perched nearby and said something or other to it, over and over again. I wished them well and went up into the hills. When I got back an hour later, the two birds had it worked out with the universe. It’s a risky universe, but it has staying power. Sometimes it works out. That is as physical, or as spiritual (take your pick) a component of the universe as this …

Three-Dimensional Form of a Bird Tweeting

Either that or rubble fallen off of a cliff at the intersection of two Eastern Pacific mountain chains, Quesnelia and the Cache Creek Terrane, south of Lytton, British Columbia. Some of these might be Okanagan rocks. Some might be from a newer volcanic chain that washed up on shore. At any rate, they’re both crumbling with the weather.

I bet, if you have ears to hear, that makes a sound. That sound makes a thought. It’s all one universe. It’s not broken up into parts.

Powering Your iPhone With The Big Bang

The motions of matter and energy at the beginning of the universe haven’t finished their movements yet, even here 13.5 billion years away. They blow by, just outside my door, and yours. The technology to capture this energy used to be quite indirect. These energy capture plants are still around. Here’s one I found down on the Yakima Indian Reservation, outside of Toppenish, Washington …

Tower to Bring the Big Bang Down to Earth

Note how the technology operates by first crossing through the intersection of timelessness (the vertical axis of the cross) and time (the horizontal one). Once it has got through that knot, it’s in form which humans can use.

Most of these devices are accompanied by meeting rooms, in which the people of a community can gather, break bread together and celebrate the ups and downs of biological life. This is what the one at this church looks like…

Yakima Indian Reserve Church Hall Mural

It’s got it all, including Jesus with his digging stick and Mary with her salmon coming home.

That’s not all, though. Here’s Mary’s heart …

Mary’s Heart Looks Like a Beet!

And it’s lovingly entwined with blue camas flowers. Lots of good stuff to eat there.

And here’s Jesus’s heart …

Same Beet! Like Mother Like Son.

Except he’s got thorns. I think that’s the connection with the digging stick.

This technology also takes on contemporary forms. Here it is in a combined horticultural supply business and church and bowling alley parking lot. What better combination could there be, anywhere?

Nature, As You Can See Is Ancient History in This Industrial Site

That is, of course, one way of mediating its intersection with urban life.

Luckily, it’s not the only way. Here’s another, this time from Maryhill, Washington …

These Expensive Machines May Never Pay Their Way

They’re tremendous symbols of power and status, though. Top marks.

In this case, the energy is being transformed from the forms it takes as it spills through the atmosphere of the earth and reacts with its water and its stone, breathed out by plants, breathed in by humans, breathed out by humans, breathed in by plants, turned into stone and then back out of stone again, in fire and wind and snow and rain. Like the church steeple above, these machines turn it into pure power. So does this machine …

Bonneville Hydroelectric Dam

This is the first barrier that the Okanagan salmon returning home from Siberia encounter, smack dab in the middle of the Columbia River. While they negotiate the fish ladder (it begins at the white water to the left of the photograph) and struggle on up into the organic machine that is the Columbia now, the turbines of the dam are spinning around and around, converting the gravity of the earth, the gravity of the sun, the gravity of the Milky Way, and ultimately the gravity of the Big Bang into electricity. This is what church looked like in its most modern form in the 1920s.

Here are the kind of turbines that we have in the North Okanagan, where houses are hooked up to power grids from the North and Central British Columbian children of the Bonneville Dam…

Roof Vent in the Bella Vista Hills

The heat that collects under the roof of the house drives this mini turbine to circulate attic air, by a process little different than the one which draws water up from the roots of the tree in the foreground and through its leaves, making it go.

Here’s a closer look…

Turbine Lazily Swinging Around

Day in and day out, year round.

And not one bit of it hooked up to a generator of any kind. Here, for perhaps the first time in human history, is an example of a device designed to get rid of energy rather than to draw strength from it. I hope some young kid out there designing a better app for his iPhone looks up to his parent’s roof and says, hmm, I could charge this darn thing from that. That kid wouldn’t have to occupy Wall Street. He’d own it.

The Beauty of Colour

Sometimes I travel a long distance to learn what was always there speaking to me out of the world. In this case, it’s a trip to England, and flowers and ferns in my hotel garden and a sudden “aha!” about colour. To set the scene, let’s step out of the summerhouse and onto the grass, and let’s bend down…

Blue!

Flowers talking to my body in a language of colour. My body speaking back in a language of aha!. It’s not that the flowers and my body are talking, but, well, what else am I doing here, right now, and what are you doing here, right now? We’re all in the blue.

And what do I discover one stop down the tram line? That blown glass does the same glorious thing. Here you can see it hard at work at a gallery in Sale, England, with the sewer backing up into the loo. (I think that little bit too much olfactory information puts the photograph nicely into context.)Hanging Flower Vases in a Sale Gallery Window

This glass is speaking the language of flowers. Our bodies hear. We listen.

What colours bring to the world is, well, you know, colour. Without that, the place would be, you know, um, dark. We would be living in spiritual shadows. Oh, wait…

The Next Stop Down the Tram Line, Stetford

It’s all a reminder that this is a spiritual place, that I am a spiritual creature in this place, and that every bit of it, from the dandelions to the protective grief and abandonment of this back door to a hair salon on School Street is a spiritual event.

What we do is everything. We touch eternity, even here, in these electronic cages. The work of relearning the language for that form of spiritual practice is the core of Okanagan Okanogan. The valley is the world. The world is the valley.

I might be taking a four day weekend now, as I transition from England to Germany and Switzerland. Until then…

Look!

The little apples are still growing on Eve’s tree. Cheshire.

Spiritual Revolutions

There was a time in the world, long before science was even a newborn in diapers, when the earth was considered to be a spiritual space. To organize it, all you had to do was put it into a book. It was a bit of an effort, but in times, and at certain places, it came to be. Many of those early efforts at creating iPhones, now look like this now:

Virtual Reality Book, Valle Crucis Abbey, Wales

The case has cracked at the corner from over use. Isn’t that always the way.

One of the issues with this kind of book technology is that it proposed that the world outside of its pages was virtual, and that its own bookish technology was not technology at all but the world. You have to really twist your head into knots to get into the debate, but it  was a hot one among humans for a long time. Now that it is largely settled, it is continued mostly by ruminating sheep.

The Sacred Trees of Wales, and Their Sheep

In a book tradition quite different from that of Valle Crucis Abbey, language got its start with the casting of sticks cut from the ancestors of these trees and cast onto cloth. The intersections were read, much in the way people now read Amazon Kindles.

And now look what we have: both of these languages are written across the earth at the same time.  To read them now, you have to read them together:

The Language of the Trees and the Language of the Book Meet

Their meeting place is called the earth.

Both of these languages are book forms that a man or woman can walk through. We like to think that we make these worlds, but what if we weren’t there first? What if  what humans take so much effort to try to achieve, other creatures manage with hardly the ruffle of a feather…

Raven Contemplating the Flow of History While the Humans are Lunching on Shore

Wales

Raven In the Flow

A little noontime wash does wonders, while underwater the young salmon watch, breathing the water they swim in.

Just up the street, above a cupcake shop, there’s a bookstore that sags and sprawls its way halfway to the eighteenth century and back, proof that for 200 years humans have managed to forestall the death of the book by recreating it as literature. Deep in its entrails, you can find the future foretold…

The Cry of Books, Begging Their Humans to Take Them Home

Just like the abbey, books have come to rest now. Humans are back in the spiritual world, physical spiritual creatures, dealing physically with physical spiritual stuff. Like our raven having a bath while a group of humans above had macaroni and cheese, clam chowder, and haddock and chips, all for their own reasons. Meanwhile, the story carries on…

Humans Have Managed to Write Another Chapter in the Story of the Trees

Valle Crucis Abbey enters each day along with the trees it tried to replace. They have both called it a truce. 

There is, in other words, no going back, but there is going forward together. Let’s.

Tools for a New World

Tools are fun, and always handy to have around, like this:

One Retired Okanagan Fruit Farmer Hangs a Hammer Wherever He Thinks He Might Need One

It’s like having ten hands!

Tools are serious. If you start with a chainsaw, and set out to do a little gardening in your retirement, for instance, you might just find yourself having a lot of fun …

Gnomes Showing Off Their Work

The trees went off to a furniture workshop. Then the gnomes had their work cut out for them, for sure. Try growing lettuces in that! Whew.

Humans are often direct like that. Sometimes, though, they are indirect. Tools are a lot like that, too. If you start like this, for example …

Hummingbird on a Dead Staghorn Sumac

A moment of intersection between the earth and time, put to use as a great place to sit.

…you can do this …

Nice Tongue Work! (Did you see it? Look real close.)

If the hummingbird were any larger, it wouldn’t live at this intersection of temporal energies.

Tools are like that. They are gifts of the past. They continue the past into the present and allow for all the accumulated work that they represent to be instantly used. They are like bodies, that have evolved over time. Now, if you start like this …

Red Hawthorn Blossoms

Unlike apple blossoms, to which they are so closely related that grafting is possible between the two species, they bloom all at once.

…you can do this …

Red Hawthorn Fruit in its Glory, Beaver Valley

Notice the spikes. Weaponry like that has allowed many a tender asparagus or poplar tree to get a start without becoming deer browse. Kind of the natural equivalent of a fence. (The Grow-Your-Own-and-Share-It kind.)

… and you can also do this…

Hanging Around Outside the Home Thicket in September

This pair of magpies tended a handsome nest in this wild cherry and hawthorn thicket all the long summer through, fifty metres from the road, where there was always the chance of a tasty little bit of hit and run rodent. Thorns are great for this.

… and if you can make a fence that shelters your neighbours along with yourself, then you can even do this…

Black Bear and Two Year-Old Cubs, Beaver Valley

They crossed just thirty metres in front of the dog and I. I diverted the dog by showing him some deer sign, where the deer people had been nibbling at the hawthorns leaning over that fence you see there, allowing the bears to make a clean getaway.

So, that’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that what you get in the end is determined by what you start with. I also think it would be a mistake to say that with humans conclusions are quite as predictable as all that. Human intersections with time also involve intention, and that can sometimes make a huge difference. For instance, I think that even if you start like this …

A Little Backyard Gardening Tool Set Aside for An Afternoon After Being Used for a Week to Tear Around and Move Boulders Like They Were Tooth Fillings

Don’t move to the rural suburbs for peace and quiet, that’s all I can say!

… you can still get there. Human languages might be cast out of steel sometimes, but the humans who use them can still use them flexibly.

Cornflowers Saved in the Nick of Time

Note the weed-whacked stalks at the plant’s base. Somebody got into the real swing of his machine, yet still managed to stop it before it was completely too late.

I’m holding out some hope for that ability to carry the planet through the coming years.