The Lungs of the Earth

Bunchgrass defines the grasslands of the intermontane west. It is not, however, the main story here. It is only the canopy forest. P1590438The real grassland is here. It is far older. It lies dormant in the summer’s heat and grows and blooms in the complex snow-melt landscape between the heat sinks of the grass almost all the winter long and into the spring.P1590415This is the lung of the earth. It is a skin that allows water and air to pass into the colonies of microbes that live beneath the soil and which dissolve it into minerals for plants.
P1590407 Where it has been killed off, the earth has an entirely new skin. It changes the seasons and uses water in simpler ways. This is cheat grass, shown below with some russian thistle. Good companions. The cheat grass takes the water in the spring and translates it into thatch in the summer, which lets a little rain through for the thistles, which bloom just before frost, when the cheatgrass has seeded itself in the droughted ruins of its spring rush and is growing again, as it is in the picture of a December thaw below.P1590330

It’s less a lung than an artificial breathing apparatus that, not surprisingly, matches the compost-based, blue-water-based soil renewal understandings that colonial culture teaches its children. Compare that to a natural grassland slope, responding to water, sun and air in minutely fine-tuned patterns, however compromised by neglect.

P1520181 After 140 years, the image below shows the limit of cultural understanding of this grass, which has been achieved by colonial culture.

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No, that buck is not grazing there. He is passing through. We all are. Even if property title grants the illusion of the right to kill the earth. The image above is a social image. It is a reflection of society. This could be, too:

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At the moment it is only a remnant of one. Billions are spent dreaming of engineering Mars for life. I think learning how the earth works would be a good start. It puzzles me why there aren’t a thousand historians, scientists and sociologists walking out in this grass. Do they have a death wish? I don’t know. Here are two views of the vineyard these landscapes are woven through. First…

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… and next, only a few metres away …P1590477

 

I offer the observation that they are the same.

 

 

 

 

The Earth, Breathing, Not in Secret

The earth breathes water and energy. Sometimes they come together.P1590846 At those times, it’s best to stop along with them.P1590847 And be breathlessly in that moment of stasis.

P1590861 It is hard won.P1590872

 

All images from the Canadian Tire Hardware Store parking lot in Vernon, British Columbia.

A Visit From the Loons

If you’ve ever lived in the north, you will rejoice with me. The loons are here, passing through to the Pacific. (Hint: in Europe, they’re called divers. See the one in front, checking out the possibility for a dive?)P1590513

Well met, travellers! For those of you not from the north, imagine a bird older than any others, that is the spirit of any lake it lives on, which migrates to the ocean rather than to the heat. They come in pairs, except at migration time. The group above is a family group. I’ve seen 65 at one time, though, on Lac La Hache, waiting for the ice to melt so they could disperse to area lakes. Humans might think they are the spirit of the earth. Loons just are. Happy Day! The image above is the close up. The one below is what I first saw when I went down to Okanagan Lake this morning.

P1590509Blessed be!

 

 

Capturing Light

I’ve noticed before that leaves that have finished photosynthesis give off more light than they receive, because their photoreceptive structures, which trap photons of light, bounce them around about twenty times before they are eaten by the blue-green algae they hold captive at the centre of those little light pens. When that little animal, or what is genetically left of it, is dead, the structures still do their work. Instead of capturing light, they intensify it, by a factor of up to twenty times. Look at the images I managed to catch of this magic today!

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Yes, that’s a ray of the sun that is shining, and not the leaf, but look how it is shining!

P1590377 Pretty amazing! We’re used to seeing these kinds of effects in plastic, through which a bright light is projected… or at least we were before the invention of digital video, and projection by excited diode instead.P1590375 But that’s not what’s really happening here. Here, the excited “diodes” are the chloroplasts (the light pens of the leaves).P1590366 It’s not the same as exciting individual atoms into high energy states.

P1590365 It is life. No rock could pull this off.

P1590362 Here’s what a leaf looks like that has lost the capacity to capture light.

P1590355 It reflects it instead.

P1590348 In the following image, a little capacity remains.P1590346 If it were summer, this image would be duller, and green, because the algae would be eating the photons that make this leaf so bright.

P1590341 When leaves are surfaces, reflecting light, they are dull. Life is the process of having depths. Well, as far as a leaf is concerned. I can’t but think that there are practical applications for energy capture, lying within these effects.

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Until we figure them out, the leaves have us beat … even when they are “dead.” Engineers, come on, you can do this!

Human Life Under the Sea

Water is mysterious stuff. So is air. Sometimes air holds up water.P1510849Sometimes water holds up air.

P1580801But there’s something else going on. Mud.P1590280What you’re looking at here is the bottom of a mud puddle. It has settled, on its own, after being driven through a day or so ago. It has frozen and thawed a couple times. Look at the patterns!  No person or animal has walked through this muck. Whatever is present is a record of physical forces. The mountains and craters below, too.

P1590285 The river valleys and a volcano and little bits of boulder that have settled in, probably after ice melted up above.

P1590290 Now, here’s what that looks like after 12,000 years, give or take.

P1590294Glacial Lake Penticton Lake Bottom The Commonage, Vernon

The cliff line marks where the bottom sediments were washed away when the ice dam holding back the lake broke.

Again? Sure. Here’s what the Okanagan Valley looked like on the day before the lake flowed away:

P1590288Yes, these images are taken through water. (There are still 300 metres of this stuff below the floor of the lake.)

Now, to return to my initial image, a sea of water above the grasslands and the lake …

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Bella Vista Hills, Okanagan Landing

Home Sweet Home! 

Here’s my observation: if a layer of water over the earth has amazing effects, such as the ones in the images above, what effects does a layer of air have? Might it not be similar? Well, I think it is. I think it looks like this:

P1590212 Melted Frost on Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass

I think it looks like this, too:

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Muddle Puddle Grass Seen From Above

Looking a lot like anemones in the sea.

See that ice around the grass? Just imagine it is air… see that? The plants  are using the atmosphere as a sea. They do it by internalizing some of the processes of the sea, while abstracting others and leaving some entirely. They are undersea plants. They are atmospheric plants, not earth plants. Here’s an ocean bottom apple orchard.

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It’s commonplace to note that plants left the sea long ago, as did land-based organisms such as humans. As I was walking through a grassland bright with drops of molten frost on the seed tip of every stalk of bunchgrass, I saw that we haven’t left.

P1580475Cat Tail

Don’t be fooled by the water. The plant is under the sea, but the water on its stalk is not the sea. In the ocean, sure, but in the atmosphere the sea is the air. Water is a sediment. Water is this stuff:

P1580702More Mud!

Imagine the layer of water here as air and the bottom mud as water, and the earth below it.

Water is pretty good at transferring energies and states. Look how it transfers the molecular energies of the freezing process to the mud it is blended with.

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If we weren’t at the bottom of a sea of air we would not witness these effects. They are, in other words, atmospheric effects, including the pressure effects of the depth of the air itself. This is what those effects look like. Even, ultimately, this:

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After all, the glaciers that ultimately formed these old post-glacial lakeshore clays are sediments from the air, which moved their water around and deposited it according to its own patterns. That cliff is, ultimately, a cloud, hugging the hill just like this:

P1580292And the lake? Well, since it is sediment, it is, ultimately, mud.

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Mud taking an image of the sun through the ridge line trees.

 

 

Defying Gravity and Collecting Water for Free Through Time Travel

As long as not too great a mass of water is involved, surface tension is stronger than gravity (and stronger than adhesion). Take a look:

dropThis water ran down the twig (it did not adhere strongly) under the force of gravity, but instead of leaving the end of the twig, it formed an obloid (a drop), which will drop at the point at which gravity overcomes surface tension, but not before. If you gave it a shake, you would change the energy balance in favour of gravity. Now look again:

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The same process is at work in this riparian zone in the grassland, and in the grass around it, although at differing stages in the cycle. The questions that intrigue me today are, can this process be used in reverse? (Yes, of course. Plants do it all the time, by moving water upwards through their stems.) What energy can be added to this grassland to increase flow? What energy can be added to decrease it? Where? Here?

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If we could do that, we would not need reservoirs in the mountains or $70,000,000  price tags for improvements to water infrastructure.

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We can do this. Note how time is a factor here: the bulrush that drew water up into the sun in the spring, summer and autumn …

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Is now catching it. The fine ribbing on the cat tail leaves (the convex outward edges of the channels that drew water up all summer) provides a surface stronger than gravity, and stronger than the low pressure winter air or the weak, winter sun. The process has been reversed and gravity has been defied… not all at once, but in increments, built upon the foundation of the season before.

P1580475The water we’re observing here did not fall as rain or snow. It is frost, that condensed out of the air due to the texture of the plant surface and its different temperature gradient from the air. These are all factors that can be used to defy gravity…clear, if we look at it over time and from outside of human models. What are we waiting for? Sci-fi? Magic? Mumbo jumbo? Heck, even if we didn’t want to mess with gravity, we could harvest water. Look at how this squiggly willow does it.

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Inspiring stuff!

 

The Beauty of Ice and Grass

Plants lay down their intricate patterns based on cycles of pressure and release, which are in turn formed by intricate and varied patterns of water, carbon and gas pressures, like this I guess.

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Note the rounded nature of the gas-water interactions, and the more angular ones of carbon. You can see how adept water is at mimicking that angular carbon energy in the following image:

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As water is frozen it turns crystalline, and takes on sharp angles. Amazing. When frozen in  a plant structure along with carbon, it can sometimes add roundedness to the carbon, such as in these haws:

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The cyclic patterns of pressures rolling off of the tensions between the liquid-crystal dynamics of carbon and water can be intercellular, such as in this ponderosa pine …
P1570786 … or expressed through seed (a great abstraction) such as in this wheatgrass, in which the seeds are laid down along intercellular pressure patterns, but the grass is itself made out of a vast number of individual plants that come from that seed, growing together.P1570926Same with these rushes.

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Wetlands are amazing interface zones. When grass falls into water, and the water freezes what happens is a human story.P1570895We call it beauty. Here’s some more of it:

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We are from this planet. We are this tension. I love it. I hope you do too.

 

 

The Ethics of Talking About Wine in British Columbia

The Alumni Association of the University of British Columbia in the Canadian rain forest city of Vancouver is hosting a debate and wine tasting of wines from my valley, although the valley and those grapes are both found five or six driving hours away over the mountains and in the dry Interior grasslands of the Columbia Plateau. You can read about it by clicking here. I’m floored. Imagine. The citizens of a distant city, in an entirely different biological region, are proposing to determine, over sips of wine, whether a vineyard should make its decisions based upon wine-making fashions or on terroir, which is the sum of geological, climactic and horticultural factors which determine the flavour of a wine, and they’re attempting to do so by a simple populist vote. There’s no mention in the write-up of other important factors, such as environmental factors, loss of indigenous habitat, climactic change, Indigenous peoples’ land claims issues, the threat to the last remaining pristine temperate grassland on earth, possibilities for meaningful and sustainable agricultural renewal on Indigenous Syilx and Secwepemc models, and so forth.

P1530740Noble Ridge Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

In addition, there’s no mention of the slaughter of starlings that goes into this wine production, the subsidized use of precious water to grow luxury products at very low yields for export to Chinese billionaires, instead of using the land and the water to create food for the people of the Okanagan, while tens of thousands of people in the region go to food banks to try to get something to eat that lies within their budget. None of that. Just an academic debate about terroir or fashion. Terroir includes all the issues I mentioned above. I hope the debate includes meaningful discussions about environmental factors, loss of indigenous habitat, climactic change, Indigenous peoples’ land claims issues, the threat to the last remaining pristine temperate grassland on earth, possibilities for meaningful and sustainable agricultural renewal on Indigenous Syilx and Secwepemc models, the ethics of water use and land speculation, the connections between land and water use and poverty, and the ethics of a distant people determining the fate of people in an entirely different region.

P1540471Vineyard at the Rise, Bella Vista Hills, Okanagan Landing

If it doesn’t, then I believe it essential that the people of the Okanagan gather and hold a conference to determine the fate of the parklands, waterways, industrial planning, developmental density and transit infrastructure of the City of Vancouver, and enjoy it over some imported coastal halibut and smoked salmon. Anything less is slavery. In other words, the people of the Okanagan will determine the future of everything you can view in the image below.

Vancouver_ibVancouver, a Neo-Colonial Capital? Source.

Yes, it’s preposterous. But it would be preposterous if an organization in the City of Vancouver would have the gall to attempt to determine the fate of our own country without even having the decency of bringing the discussion to us and opening it up to the real and pressing issues at hand rather than only the limited ones that fit into its own cultural and investment paradigms. How shameful that would be. Let’s hope that the discussion is broad and innovative, and is moved to a more suitable location. There’s still time.