The Secret That Everyone Knows

Imagine taking a drum, lifted into the sky at the heart of a people, a place of woman’s power for 800 generations, where women and girls gather bulbs in the spring to see their families through the coming winter, bulbs given from the body of the earth to the body of women and the body of the community. Imagine plowing it and turning it into wheat ripened with weedkillers proven to be carcinogens and proven to render sterile the granddaughters of cows fed on plants in which this weedkiller has been merged with their DNA. Imagine doing that. Imagine you’ve been doing that for 2 generations, or 4 generations, or 6. Imagine calling that farming. Imagine calling that health.P1860323

Camas Prairie, Nimíipuu Homeland (Idaho)

Now, imagine not doing that anymore. Imagine you are beating that drum. Imagine you are lifting it into the sky at the heart of a people. Imagine you are lifting the heart of a people.  Imagine it was always within you to both give and receive. Imagine, you are one of the people. Imagine that.

Dig a Hole to Save the World

That’s it. That’s all you have to do.P2000899

This hole was left here unintentionally eight years ago. It’s a nice wetland now, in the midst of a sterile gravel pit. See the smoke in back? Those folks in Okanogan County, where the smoke comes from, didn’t dig enough holes. It’s not crazy. If you leave carbon lying around on the surface, you make grouse habitat and fire habitat. If you put it in a hole, you make water habitat. How could we have made such a mistake? We’re land creatures, that’s why. We didn’t ask the ducks. Always talk to the ducks.

 

 

 

What Exactly IS Global Warming Anyway

The earth is warming, globally. There are many factors for this warming, including carbon emissions, methane emissions and urbanization (which changes light absorption patterns), among others, likely even including long-term non-human cycles, but it’s not really warming that’s the issue. Warming is a consequence. Simplicity is the problem.

vineyardhill Vineyard in the Smoke, Vernon, British Columbia

Smoky Gurty (Gewürztraminir), Anyone?

From coastal flooding, increased storm activity, warmer winters (which increase insect damage to forests), to accelerated summer drought and resulting fires, the change is really a change in atmosphere. The sky contains more carbon. Lots more carbon.

P2000756 BX Creek Mouth, West Arm Okanagan Lake in the Smoke of the Washington Fires

It is a different earth, capable of hosting life differently. It is also a fire planet, rather than a water world. The life that lives on it is an artefact of the past. Well, sort of.

loontrees Female Common Loon and Chick Among the Reflections of Beetle-Killed Pines

Otter Marsh, Big Bar Lake

That’s still not the source of the problem. The last time Earth was a fire planet, Antarctica froze over, creating global “cooling” and cycles of wet monsoons and dry summers. Grasses were the expression of this new earth, and intensified it. They grew at fantastic rates at the edges of forests, in the wet season, and fuelled dry fires in the dry season. They survived those by seed and root. They even looked like flames.

P2000736

Couch Grass Gone Feral

Within two weeks of a fire, it will be back, resolidifying the carbon its burning stalks gave off to the sky.

The trees that had sheltered the grasses did not survive. What was left was an edge ecosystem, of grass, without trees to be an edge of, but remember, the grass’s signature is fire. What was left was an ecosystem of fire. Fire is not the problem.

P2000746

Blue-bunched Wheat Grass in the Smoke

Each one is a point of fire, shall we say.

Eventually, elephants and apes (among others) evolved to colonize the last edges of trees living as islands in the grass — or, shall we say, they evolved to colonize fire and the combustion of carbon. Eventually, that led to this kind of thing:

diesel-truck-stack-pipes-smoke-burnout

Source

Later, in the Miocene Age, when so much ice was in the poles that sea levels sank drastically and the maritime ecosystem crashed, horses, the pure creatures of the grass, evolved for the treeless landscape.

P1010543

Horses in the Walhachin Weeds

All of these creatures, elephants, humans and horses became the edge, that was once provided by trees. As long as these edges were contained within the landscapes of which they were part, all was well. The image below shows an edge of this kind. This is the Fraser River, the last great salmon river of the West, deep within its fault at Chapman’s Bar.

P2000134The image captures an ancient, Indigenous Nlaka’pamux salmon fishery, as you can, perhaps see below. The colour of the water comes from the glaciers to the north melting away…cut

… and settling as silt.P2000200

This is an edge in many ways: it is the boundary of cold and heat, wet and dry, summer and winter, ocean and grass, humans and water, forest and tide, and much more. The richness of trees on the western bank of the river indicates how close we are here to the rain forests on the other side of these mountains, yet even so this is where the grassland begins. Old photographs from the beginning of history here, in 1858, show half the trees that are here now. You are looking at grassland weeds, that grew in when fires were suppressed. The image below was taken close to the one above. It is 115 years old. That’s not a rainforest in it, though, or even close to one. It’s a transition zone…

alexandra

… rather like this one today:

P1980287The Big Bar Eskers

These are the bends of a sub-glacial river. They are made out of ground-up, subducted and uplifted seabed from the age of the birth of the grasses.

Let me clarify. I’m not re-defining global warming to discredit its seriousness. I’m trying to show that there’s more to it than a simple story of warming or of carbon alone. Fixing carbon will give us a chance to fix the behaviours that are exacerbating global warming. Eliminating fire is not the way to do that. We are fire. That being said, here’s an old savannah on the north edge of the eskers. (Warning: it’s in poor shape.)

P1980519

There are two tall firs there that are savannah trees that probably grew in the grass, alone, in a wet summer about 400 years ago. Kind of like this:

 

P1020123

Young Douglas Fir in Dog Creek

Or maybe like the following image of pines and firs in the scree on Puddin’head Mountain in Keremeos. Note the burn on the valley wall on the edge of the Ashnola in behind.

puddinhead2

Every year some trees go up in flame. Every year, the excess trees are fire waiting to happen. It will happen. They are weeds. They are the result of human intervention in the fire landscape. The thing is, that human intervention maintained that fire landscape for something like 4,000 years. Here’s why:

P1980443

Interior Douglas Fir Crowded Out by Scrub

Yeah, her daughters, really. This should be grass.

Like I said, this savannah is not in very good shape. If this thing burns, the old trees are going to go up like rockets, and the young ones will burn way too hot. The place will become charcoal. Traditional burning maintained these savannahs in a juvenile state, for food. Fire burnt through quickly, left the big trees, took out the small ones, and made the grassland young again. Biscuit root grew…

Commonage, Kalamalka Lake

… and balsam root, also edible …

… and mariposa lily, also a staple…

… and so many more, even quicker to benefit from fire than the grasses they grew among.  By burning, humans, who are fire, ate the fruit of fire. Like these plants, they live in edge environments: complex interactive zones between modes of being. In the grasslands, such boundaries often look like the riparian zone below, which shelters deer, bears, porcupines, grouse, and many species of birds, which either feed here or out on the grass, and at the same time provides food sources for birds that live out on the grass: it is as much the grassland as the grass; a kind of contained edge or elongated savannah moving through zones of altitude and maintain life sources across seasons. It is not separate from the grass.

Without edges, contained within systems, without a depth of zones of resiliency and variability, edge-system creatures cannot survive. Here is what human society and technology and culture in the Okanagan grasslands has made out of these edge and savannah systems today:

P2000855

Royal Gala Apple Plantation, Bella Vista

Note that the grass has been removed from fire, the savannah ingrowth has been controlled by pruning and wires, and the ecosystem has only social edges and edges with weather and atmosphere. Water from the high country maintains this system, and animals and insects are kept out with poisons and fences. It is not a monoculture, but it’s close: trees, dandelions, one species of grass, the occasional pheasant or robin, and humans. Weather and water are the sole determiners of success here. Renewal is not done by fire, but by human intervention, as in the image below:

P2000694

Those are spartan apple trees I planted in Keremeos in 1973. They have been replaced by cherries, grown for the Chinese market. Humans are the fire here, and the edge is within them. From this perspective, global warming is not about carbon, but about the simplification of fire and of the interface of living systems with it. When fire comes now, it wipes out overly-simplified ecosystems, and renewal does not include humans. That’s logical. Humans have so taken on the role of fire that any fire outside of human boundaries becomes the human enemy. That’s actually insane, because this is a fire planet. It’s covered in oxygen, which is like a bomb. The solution is not to ban fire, but to act proactively against any fire which simplifies complexity, and that means any social system which prevents such proactive action. For reference, this is complexity:

P1980220

Grassland Soil

A hundred species per cubic foot.

This is simplicity:

Golf Course at the Rise, Bella Vista

Two species. It is an edge, yes, but the edge of a desert. It is not contained within the grassland. It is an exception to it. The desert here is not the wounded sagebrush and cheatgrass grassland, but this green grass. Life’s drive for complexity must be beaten back with petroleum-based fertilizers and weedkillers, with the end result that the earth is simplified and turned into a machine. There are consequences to that.

Compare my front lawn.

As the grassland on the hill above my house (and that golf course at its crown) is simplified by the absence of fire and renewal, the native insects of the hill have increasingly fewer places to go. This small field of flowers, some 400 square feet, provides space for something like 50 species of bees and wasps, who come down here from the grass, and about five species of grassland birds. In imitation of fire, I collect seeds every summer, scythe down the stalks, and reseed this plot every spring. I also find it beautiful. The human world is a social one, but that does not mean that Earth and its creatures are not part of the social group. Here’s what the Syilx, the grassland people, have to say:

The word “Syilx” takes its meaning from several different images. The root word “Yil” refers to the action of taking any kind of many-stranded fiber, like hemp, and rolling it and twisting it together to make one unit, or one rope. It is a process of making many into one. “Yil” is a root word which forms the basis of many of our words for leadership positions, as well. Syilx contains a command for every individual to continuously bind and unify with the rest. This command goes beyond only humans and encompasses all stands of life that make up our land. The word Syilx contains the image of rolling or unifying into one, as well as the individual command which is indicated by the “x” at the end of the word which indicates that it is a command directed at the individual level. The command is for every individual to be part of that stranded unified group, and to continue that twisting and unification on a continuous basis. It is an important concept which underlies our consideration of the meanings of aboriginal title and rights.

Source

As the syilx point out, nature is not something present by accident. It is something created by the intent of those creatures of fire and grass when they maintain edges by weaving them in to community. Here, take a look at something known as a global warming catastrophe, the haunt of the Mountain Pine Beetle:

beetle

Source

Most of the ingrown and replanted forests of British Columbia, and expanse of fire pine with an area larger than most European countries, has fallen to the beetle in the last ten years. We have all wept. I made firewood, because we all thought fire would come, and I wanted to protect my house.

IMG_0734

But look, today:

P1050671

Not only did the grass, which had become ingrown with trees since burning was stopped in 1920, come back, but so did the forest. Wave after wave, fire to grass to fire to grass, in a process of continual renewal. The lesson is that in a fire landscape, with fire grass and fire pines, the fire of beetles and the slow fire of rot are as much fire as flame or human intervention, and the forest is neither the trees nor the grass but their weaving. Maintaining edge systems in relation to each other is key. Here’s one, essential to the grasslands:

P1970943 Rocks are islands of cold in the heat of the grass. They catch water, initiate savannahs, shelter animals, catch heat, and disperse lichens, which maintain the soil. Here’s another:
P1960326

Vaseaux Lake

Here the great desert of the American West meets the snow.

Water provides edge habitats where the water planet and the fire planet meet and continually create new life at the intersection. I don’t mean directed life, like this:

P2000856

I mean this:

The grasslands survive because of wetlands like this. Water savannahs, let’s call them. The wetlands survive because of grasslands like this:

P1160992

Conconully

Wetlands and grasslands are two sides of the same thing. They are two sides humans, who live at their intersection, as do all savannah and riparian creatures. Simplification is not the answer. Adaptation to survive boundary events is. Right now, global warming is a huge boundary event, one in which the forests have been turned into latent fire, the grasslands have been tilled and sown with wetland water, the wetlands have been paved and filled with burnable wooden houses and the only thing that keeps this going is petroleum, the burning of fossil carbon. The only thing that powers the orchard below, for example, is fertilizer made from fossil carbon and tractors powered by fossil carbon and fruit delivered to cities by fossil carbon:

P2000855

The fires that have filled the air here this last week are the result of this oversimplification of what it is to be a human habitat. A human habitat is not a village. That is only a substitute for a savannah. It is only an attempt to keep one from burning. It will burn. The challenge is not to stop global warming but to adapt social systems to allow for fire. That might include stopping global warming, if by that is meant a rise in mean atmospheric temperature due to the greenhouse effect of atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, but the base change is to become syilx, quickly and thoroughly. The real global warming happens when fire and water are removed from living relationships. Carbon follows.

Let’s Get Serious About Global Warming

Sure, the story of carbon emissions is the global warming story, but there’s also the story of the warming that comes from urbanization, and there’s the story that comes from the warming that results from being blind to the wisdom an experience of indigenous knowledge of the land. For example, this:

P2000679

Well, no wisdom except a the view from a Smlqmx village site in the Similkameen Valley, with a history of many thousands of years. This is fire country. Fire is natural here, not a disaster, or an aberration. Look, for instance how the smoke through the snout of the mountain into relief. I tell ya, on a non-burning day, you don’t see that, because there are other mountains in behind. When it burns, though, the story is highlighted.

P2000673Global warming, that’s a tricky thing. Huge sums of money have been spent fighting fires this year. This smoke comes from Washington, in the USA. It has blown north and west to come here, in Keremeos.P2000663 Thing is, this village site invited the Hudson’s Bay Company to set up its horse ranch on its boundaries, and a métis packer for the company settled on it, and then an Austrian scout from the Apache wars bought it, and in the third transaction after that, my father bought it. Now, two generations have passed. The old stage coach road I remember is gone. This is serious farming country now. The image below shows where the stage over Green Mountain pulled in and crossed the Keremeos River, which has been downgraded to a creek.

P2000659

Here, too.

P2000657

These old black locusts (and honey locusts) were planted to grow without water and provide fence posts that would last 100 years. Here’s what’s left of the orchard I planted on the village site (not knowing it was a village) in 1973, out of the trees I learned to graft on:

P2000688

That’s right, out of 120 trees, four remain, and next year the one on the left is going to be toast. Here’s what’s left of the fifty acres of trees I planted when I was twelve years old. Yes, in the smoke.

P2000694

That’s global warming, too. An orchard my father planted eight years earlier, out of the same varieties, is still productive. The warming here, is a measure of human incompetence. If the farmer who “owned” these trees had known what on earth he was doing, they would have still been alive, and would still be producing. So, when you see smoke…

P2000683

…look for the coyote in the rock or the marble on the hill …

P2000661 … see it? …P2000652 That’s Chukuaskin’s grave. He tried for a fair deal for his people. He got a graveyard excavated for a gravel pit, now grown over with weeds.

P2000670

Disrespect leads to global warming. If we’re going to turn this around, then respect for the ancestors of this place is the way to do it. I don’t mean my ancestry in the orchards. That’s factory land now.

P2000857

I mean the foraging that we referenced with our orchards two generations ago. Here’s some foraging land that has suffered from the warming created by the extraction of capital from it in the mouths of cows that didn’t belong there.

P2000774 And here’s the sagebrush (in the smoke) that represents that warming. This stuff burns like gasoline, and it’s the result of overgrazing.P2000760 What’s to do? Burn it! The hill in the back in the image below burnt three years ago when a kid started playing with a lighter on the corner where a “land developer” (sic) blasted out an 8,000 year old rattlesnake den to build a road to a subdivision and a golf course no-one wants. No sagebrush there in back. Fire would blow through it in a few minutes and fizzle out.  There’d be no smoke.P2000773

Of course, this excess of carbon in the landscape, this warming of the landscape, holds the carbon of the industrial age, in the grass, where it doesn’t belong. Burning might be extreme until the situation is stabilized, but you could cut this damn stuff out with a pair of clippers for 1,000,000th the cost of fighting wildfires and replacing houses that went up like aviation fuel. We could do this. We could bring the grass back, and cool the land. I can see no reason why we should be the holders of the carbon of people who don’t respect people like Chukuaskin. Here’s his vandalized grave three years ago, when the world wasn’t burning.

P1020270

Remember, this is the centre of the Smlgmx world. 2,000 people lived here for 10,000 years. Ignoring their knowledge is suicide. It’s horrible that people are losing their homes these days. It would be more horrible if it ever happened again.

Gardening is Just Too Hard

Even if you spend many thousands of dollars to cover most of your whole yard in black plastic tarp and to cover it in river gravel, there is no guarantee of success at beating global warming at its own game, public responsibility or beauty.P2000274

It’s just plain hard, that’s what it is. Instead of beautiful sterile gravel, picture perfect like in a Japanese monastery, you get a dry land sandbar being reclaimed by weeds.

P2000277

Even if you spend more money yet and do the whole driveway in asphalt …

P2000275

… or concrete …

driveway

… those darn weeds ruin your artwork. How can you have a desert when stuff grows in it?

P2000278

Plant pots are no solution. Or decorative wells.

P2000280

That peat moss looses water like a sieve, although it does achieve desert status quickly…

P2000281

… yet somehow doesn’t quite look like the hills of South Africa like it’s supposed to. I know. I tried marigolds in an old wheelbarrow last year, which was fine until they all withered up, and then the wheelbarrow fell over. What a mess. Here’s a new idea for the transition from irrigated gardening to desert temple:

gate

The entrance arbour, pegged in with wooden shakes, and honoured with a couple of plastic funerary urns. You don’t need plants to climb the arbour, you don’t need a path, you don’t need gravel, you just need the gesture. Priorities, that’s the thing. In the old Canada, you might have painted the peeling stain on that house before the wood was completely shot, but in the new Canada, the one in transition to a responsible global paradise, there are no rules, and gardening is just plain hard. Why, in the old days you might have sat under your cherry tree and enjoyed its coolness, while you sipped some wine you made of last  year’s crop, but now the wind might blow over your chinese manufactured shade arbour, and then what? Use the wine carboy for decoration, perhaps, but somehow there’s a nagging je ne sais quoi about the whole thing.

P2000251

Canadians, you see, do what they’re told. And don’t do what they’re told. All at the same time. And there’s no predicting which it’s going to be, except for disobeying rational traffic rules, neglecting to wear life jackets, and throwing cigarette butts out the window in fire season. That’s predictable, but gardening, no, that’s just plain hard. Sometimes you just have to give up halfway. Those damn rocks are heavy, and they don’t come cheap! Saving the planet, that can’t just be on the shoulders of one person now, can it?

P2000302

And if you want to beautify things a bit, say, if you’re a professor of French literature, perhaps, living in farming country, why …

P2000259

… your flower stand gets to sit beside a farmer’s bin of junk plastic (to make the soil hotter than it is already) and junk irrigation piping (to deliver water more efficiently) and it all makes for a nice effect, but maybe not the intended one. Such is life in the age of steampunk, by which I mean the age in which gestures are cobbled together from every known source and applied as shakily as the spray from a can of paint on a wall, and with as little regard for context..

P2000505

In the city of Kelowna, the city pays to have any such spontaneous display of territory painted over in defence of private property rights and public safety.wall

As you can see above, human weeds are to be dealt with quickly, although not consistently. The vegetative ones not at all. Still, someday it will all look like the image below, in the alleys where Kelowna’s prostitutes hang out, waiting for men to wander over from the parking lot or the tourist street with its street bars and chic bistros …

P2000420

It is just freaking hard to inherit a country based on biology, rebellion and renewal and to turn it into expressions of  artistic and legal order. Humans are as bad as weeds.

P2000506

Still, sometimes you achieve perfection, with order and flowers, or at least one flower …

P2000510

Of course, one prostitute was waiting for custom on the wall facing this one. Hey, a girl needs flowers, doesn’t she?

P1980867

I have been reminded lately that to become a popular writer I need to write about people, not landscape. People love to read about other people. We live in a social universe. Yeah, they’re right.

P1980836

Unfortunately, it is built upon the earth, and biological history, and those things just won’t obey, darn it.

lucasvanleydenthefallofman1529Lucas van Leyden 1529

They just won’t. Gardening is hard.

hansholbein 1538

Hans Holbein

Sheesh. We’ve gone from this human habitat …

P1960326

… to this one, with razor wire and open temptations …

P2000367

… in only 150 years. Sure, more law and order, that will do the trick.

P2000473

At the risk of sounding immature, might it be, just maybe, that money can’t buy happiness?

P1810542 And urban planning systems can’t buy gardens?P1790236 And that the image below is not a romantic, ruined, farm building but a social ruin, from the weed-sprayed bottom land, to prevent (sic) weeds from growing on it, to the weed-choked, unproductive grassland on the hill?P1810479

Remember that, next time you get attracted to an image of luxury built on water in the desert. (click)

tours

Or feel like you might like to romanticize it like this:

lucas van Leyden c1514

You are the one being gardened, and that is hard work. It will take a lifetime to fit into your plot, but you’ll make it in the end. Don’t worry.

P1020270

Chief John Chukuaskin Ashnola’s Grave, Upper Keremeos

This was once the old Smlqmix village of 2000 people. Now it’s Keremeos, the haunt of 1330. Progress, folks!

Someone might knock the cross off, yeah, but the weeds will still be there, hiding the gravel bit just to the left and the highway just to the right. That’s comforting, right? For all of this, I have three words: context is all. It starts here:

University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Kelowna

I think we’d better start getting serious, fast.

What are Those Americans Up to Now?

I don’t know. Look for yourself.apparel

 

Downtown Kelowna, 2:40 pm. August 20, 2015

I think the Okanagan’s brothers and sisters (nominally Canadian) in Okanogan County (nominally American) need our support in working towards a different post-national vision than this.

Romantic Farmyard in the Okanagan

Ah, the family farm. It would be nothing without a gas tank for the machinery, and a pile of 1/2 ton bins to take the apples away.gas

None of this stuff with horses and bushel baskets woven out of canes, and the sweet smell of cider, pshaw, this is the Okanagan, folks, come on, we have improvised ourselves out of all that long ago. Take a look:

gasannotated

Not exactly meeting safety codes, but, come on, no one smokes anymore, do they?

 

Alien Architecture in the Okanagan

Here’s a trail in the grasslands. Note the old house to the right of the trail. Ya, the round brown hillock. You got it!IMG_3260-2 copyHere’s who lives there.

P1000801

Weaver ants! Thatch, in the earth, that’s the way. The door is on the roof.anthill-1That’s the traditional house style of these grassland valleys for humans, too. You let the earth keep you warm. The doorway in front is the woman’s entrance.

pit

Men entered from the sky. You can see this all better by clicking here. Contemporary Okanagan architecture looks like the stuff in the image below. Click on the image to see it up close and personal. Best to wear sunglasses, though, I think. Those colours are looking way too bright.

architecture

These “houses” look like they were dropped here from outer space.

Weeds at Work

Say hi to Queen Anne’s Lace.P1990727

 

It is listed as a noxious weed. I mean, try grazing a cow in this pasture.

P1990730

 

Still, who defines these things? Not the lettuce plants that grow better in the cooling microclimate below these flowers. Not the tomatoes that are more productive beneath them. Not the carrots (a selected subspecies) and onions which grow with fewer pests because of the predatory wasps that come to pollinate these flowers. Certainly not the wasp (left) and ladybug (right) below.

P1990740

 

Maybe it’s not all about cows.

P1980883 Maybe? P1980867