Let’s Expand the Notion of “What is Life”

P1760919This is alive, I think that’s easy to agree on.


It’s self-replicating. We call it ‘robin’, but it’s just stuff, organized in a certain way. Here’s some more stuff, organized in a certain way.

P1780679 Salt, drawn out of the soil by the sun. In a way, this is what all life is. The major difference between this and the, ahem, robin, has sex. This guy, too, by the looks of things.


That’s an important difference, but let’s not make more of it than it is. The salt is alive, within the context of the earth and the sun. It is part of a singularity. That life is defined as a multiplicity is no fault of the living earth. Here’s some salt drawn up out of the soil by the sun.

Lovely, isn’t it! but let’s remember, both it and this..


… and “simple” evaporative processes are all responding to the force of the sun. Certainly, there is a distinction between those that are active about it, like the flower above, and those that are passive, like the salt, but if we perceive them outside of an anthropocentric point of view, they are all alive. This is, too.



That makes three forms of life: perceived, evaporative, and procreative. What strikes me as significant about that list is the first term: perceived. Whether it’s colour…

purple … or colour…P1760930


… it doesn’t matter. Salt, plants, birds, and perceived spiritual form all share the same characteristic: they are perceived with eyes of the earth. If we choose eyes of logic, let’s say, and define ‘life’ according to stricter, more limiting criteria, such as “the group of all things that self replicate and have their own agency”, we are only fulfilling the boundaries of the boundaries that we have set. I find that a prison. I would rather live with the things of the world. This, for instance.



What on earth is it doing behind a fence set up, ostensibly, to block the passage of deer through an orchard, but, really, set up to prevent a farmer from shooting deer passing through the orchard because it is the culture of orchardists to shoot deer for what are, in the end, small economic consequences. Humans are top predators. They define life as predators do. Pity.



To them, Russian thistles, like the ones blooming above, are a noxious weed.

We are Marmot!

Do rocks collect saskatoons because they are focal points of life in the story of the land?P1770657


Or because they collect heat and rain?



It’s a question that goes to the deepest and most specific points of the land, as the mature saskatoon in the split rock above and the young one in the split rock below show.



Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space, or is every rock’s heat finding expression in a saskatoon, which is the way of things?



Before you answer, look at the question again: “Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space?”



That’s the language of the American and Canadian invasion of the West. That should be a warning. Here’s one of those rocks, with its spirit, a yellow-bellied marmot, and the daughter of the birds it shares this space with, a saskatoon.


It’s a major tenet of evolutionary theory that specific species colonize environmental niches, but that’s just language, that’s just words, that’s just cultural material. What is really happening is this:



It is time to live in this place, as if we were not strangers, because we’re not.

P1770052 We’re this.



Some Flowers Are More Beautiful After They Have Bloomed

Like poplar catkins, for instance.  Here they are with dandelions…P1760819… and with weird freaky roadside grass ..P1760753

… with  poplar leaves and light …P1760801

… and, heck, might as well throw in some poplar twigs. Those are sacred to the gods, just as the catkins are. Most plants don’t put out such exuberant male flowers! A few stamens and they’re done… but not poplars imported from Italy!


Well, that sacredness is what we can learn from our ancestors. (From those of us with European ancestors, through our languages. For the rest of us, and any Europeans among us, through the eyes that let us see like this.) From ourselves we don’t have to learn anything, but there are good ways to spend an afternoon.


With the old ones! What, did we think for a minute that it was all about us?

Reading Stories in the Cliffs

The first thing about reading stories in cliffs is that cliffs are made out of rock. What we see in them is in our own heads. Nonetheless, they allow us to see these things. Human brains are structured to see faces and human, animal or strange rock-creature shapes in such things as this cliff above Kalamalka Lake in the Okanagan Valley of Northwestern North America. Chances are you can see many of them yourself. What I’d like to demonstrate today are a couple ways of “reading” them, which I will expand on tomorrow. Here’s our cliff. What do you see? I see clowns, a lynx, men, women, a woman with a bear’s head, and much more.


The first kind of storytelling I’d like to demonstrate is what I call…

The Split

It is an energy of division and multiplication, and has, yes, a lot to do with the physical characteristics of women’s bodies and human birth: what opens and comes forth from within. This power is manifest in a few ways in the image above. First is multiplication. Here, human, or human-like, figures develop individually in a stepped sequence each way from the central point of division (0). The narrative consists of the near-musical or mathematical relationship between the variations in the creatures as they divide from the central point.


The second kind of storytelling that comes from this reading of human bodies and bodily space in rock is what I call…


Here, faces rise from within faces within other faces. The narrative comes from the series of transformations, just as in any proper folk tale. Here’s an example of one of the ‘faces’ from above.


Here it is in rough outline.


And here it is again with all the faces blossoming out of its features. It is indeed a face made out of faces. Note especially the faces that are the eyes (the upper circles above)…


A third and complementary way of reading (there are, by the way, many more than 3) has to do with relational sequence. A simple one is a phallic pole. If you wanted to call it a totem pole, to represent your ancestors, I doubt that’s any different than saying it’s a way of representing your subconscious, except that it’s read in the world rather than in the symbolic narrative abstract of an ancestral pole — an important (and closely related) difference. Here’s one:


Let’s look at that again…


That’s a form of narrative: form rising from form and staring out like a man. Intriguingly, Syilx culture, the culture indigenous to this place, views all life as interconnected, and all life forms equal, with human responsibilities being those of maintaining this balance. Remember, though: this is not a description of Syilx culture or of some kind of magical powers within the rock. However, if you read the rock in this way you will become of this place, because you have written yourself upon it, and there you, inescapably are: a mountain you must care for. The effect could become very powerful if reinforced by stories. And that’s what we’re going to look at next time here on Okanagan Okanogan: linear narratives. Story-telling, in other words. I am working from the premise that a people who came here 10,000 years ago, without traditions of science, would have seen this landscape for the first time, in keeping with shamanic ways of seeing rooted in bodily experience. Every ancient culture has started there. If we don’t get to that tomorrow, too, we’ll get to it the next day!

Reading Faces in the Rock

I went out to Kalamalka Lake the other day, as part of my exploration of how to read the land, a bit sideways to dominant cultural norms, but hopefully in a way that can lead us closer to the earth that those norms find continually elusive. Here’s what I was looking at, above the lake: a bit of volcanic burping, gouged up by a bit of glaciation an 10,000 years of weather and gravity.


There are miles of cliff like this, along the main trail to the east. I believe there are things to be read in those rocks, spiritual creatures, in the way that you are a spiritual creature, rising from certain forces. In a mind-view that sees the earth and the self as one, there’s no reason that thoughts, traditionally aligned to certain patterns, won’t find those patterns in the rock and thereby affirm the traditional patterns and bind the observer to place. I doubt you’ll see what I see there, which is exactly the point, but, hey, it might be interesting to have a look anyway. To help you out, I’ve blown that image apart into a kind of image map. You can see it, very large, in a .pdf file. To get it just click here: spread.pdf. Thanks. It’s also in the image below… none of it so good if you’re looking at this in a little tiny window on a device from a sci-fi novel. If that’s the case, look down at the bottom of this post. Here’s the image. If you open it in a new window, it should get bigger. Tomorrow, I’m going to show you how narrative might be constructed from these eruptions of the subconscious.



And, as promised, here’s something for the small screen folks.

001 002 004 005 006 007 009 0010 0011 0012 0013 0014 0015 0016 0017 0018 0019 0029 0021


Tomorrow, we’ll look at the narrative possibilities.



Reading Clowns, Cougars and Sacred Children in the Rock

In the story that tells this land, one pair of creatures that spring from the rock are the pair of Cougar and Clown. Let me show you three examples. Here we are at Kwaal on the Thompson River. This red hunk of a volcanic ridge thrusts out of the main channel of the river between Spences Bridge and Ashcroft. Nice rock, eh. twaalcreek

Let’s look more closely! It is a rock particularly rich with ancestral figures.  Here’s the cougar, with his tongue out, at the down stream crest of the rock (behind the dead tree).


And here is the rear of the rock, where it might be expected to be giving birth:

3There’s your clown. Find it? Here, this might help:

trolls show pics2.099 copyThis is not an uncommon pattern. Something’s going on. Here’s the clown again on one of the small turtles below the large turtle of Turtle Mountain in Vernon, in the Okanagan.


And the main face of this old volcanic vent? Cougar man! (With a bush for an eye.)


Am I saying that these spirits are in the rock? No, this is not Indiana Jones. This is more serious than that. It’s about how to read the land if you are the land. For another example, let’s go to Gwayasdums, an ancient village in the islands at the mouth of the fjords of the British Columbia coast.
gwayasdums.039Here’s how it looked 140 years ago.troll.040

Let me show you around a little bit. Here’s a debt figure, erected after a winter ceremony debt was left unpaid.

troll.042 And after the debt was paid… now she is a welcoming figure.troll.041Here’s how the artist Emily Carr painted her quickly almost a century ago.


And here is her replacement today, still welcoming guests. Wolves for breasts. Excellent! No cougars on this part of the coast. One has to make do.


The thing is, though, that she has a front and a behind, and the behind, the newborn child, is what the villagers see when looking out over their harbour.


And what is she facing? Ah, that’s the thing. One of the series of low, glaciated rocks that make up the achingly beautiful Broughton Archipelago.


In this area, villages are located where the rocks are most concentrated, in fish and human forms. Often, the forms are of a man and a woman, side by side, floating on the water and staring at the sky. My guess is totem pole carving came from paddling past these things.


Here’s the male one in Gwayasdums harbour.


The female one, I showed you above. Here is her giving birth to a kind of clown, similarly to our Kwaal cougar.


Here, closer might help.


He looks like a Siberian chieftain! Now, let’s look at him with the welcoming figure in the village…

troll.050 … and in the context of Kwakwakwakw art.troll.049

Curious, no? These are just rocks, yet the correspondence with local cultures, born in their places, is astounding. Here’s a variation I showed you the other day, one of the five watching cougars of the ancient Syilx story that is my city, Vernon, British Columbia. The cougar is curled up, facing to the right of the image, with her head turned directly towards me on Turtle Mountain.


Here’s her head.cougarhead

Here’s her child.


The variations in these common stories provide cultural continuity, points of meditation, and points of individuation. Tomorrow, I’ll show you how. Until then, here’s one of the other cougars (remember, there are five in the stories.) Can you see her companion Lynx being born?


Shame about that dynamite work. Have people no respect?

Elves in “Canada” and Iceland

Elves are all over the place in Iceland, like this one in the elf village at Skutustaðir.


Well, elves are human-shaped, really, but they can vanish into stone and reappear from it, and more besides. It’s a long story. Imagine my delight when I found them alive and well in a hunk of exposed seabed at 600 metres elevation in my volcanic valley in the west of what is called Canada.


In Iceland, they take many forms for humans. This is one, on an island in Lake Myvatn, the Lake of Midges.

P1340210 Here’s another from Skutustaðir. Here, the elvish power has formed itself in lichens.P1340083

And here we are again in the Okanagan Valley today. Less Nordic and more like Coyote and his friends from the dreamtime, but, hey, they look like they’re doing well. I’ve passed this hill a couple dozen times, and they haven’t been out. In today’s sun, they sure were.


Is Harold crazy? No, not exactly. I’ve been hanging around elves in Iceland, that’s all. I’ve learned that the moods that animate me, emanate from the rock.

P1340211 P1340077 P1340072 P1330929

I’m thrilled that it is no different here. Well, a little different. Can you make out the Coyote elf below?


Here, look again, curled up but not asleep.


It’s good to have friends close to home. It’s difficult to always run off to Iceland.

P1340058 P1330905 P1340217


Tomorrow, let me explain what’s going on. It has to do with some pretty powerful correspondences between mind and earth. Until then…


Well met!

The Cougar, Found at Last!

For four years, I have been looking for a cat. I found the eagle, and the turtle. I found a swan, a goose, a duck and a dog that might be a horse. I found all kinds of animals out of the Dreamtime, written in the rock, from Palouse Falls, in the Snake River Watershed, to Grand Coulee in the dry post-glacial bed of the Columbia, to the Wenatchi and the Okanagan in the north of the Columbia Plateau, but the cougar eluded me. Oh, it was plain to see. Up here in the north of the Plateau, there’s a Cougar Point, right next to a Turtle Point, and a Cougar Canyon, but where on earth is the Cougar. I looked and looked. I found a Coyote!


Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

But a cougar? A very elusive cat. I walked along the far shore of Kalamalka Lake. No cat.park1

I looked more closely. No cat.


I peered into the distance, from a viewpoint above the old pit house site on the north end of the lake, under the Mountain Goats (stone) of the bluff.


Not a cat. I hiked to Cougar Point. Nothing.not

I snuck around from the back side (this took a couple years). Hmmm… of the two heads below, the upper one is … a lynx, for gosh sakes. Not a cougar.



So, why Cougar Point? These things have to fit together into a story, and the story has to be a map, because I don’t think the people who were here 8,000 years ago weren’t smart as all heck. I thought I could look across the valley from Turtle Mountain (another part of the lost story), but I got distracted.


Who wouldn’t! Still, it was no help. Really no help.


Sneaky tricky turtles, or what! Messing with my head. I circled around from the west, across the lake.


I found other bits of the story.


I went to the far side of the next lake over (these lakes are big, up to 135 kilometres long) and peered across.


A second Turtle Point! My house is on the slope in behind the isthmus. That cloud shadow is where much of this blog has taken place. Still, no cougar. So, I went back. I decided I had to do this on foot. Here are some of the rocks on the way down through Kalamalka Lake Park to Cougar Point. Lots of story here, but, yeah, I know, no cougar.


So what is this Cougar Point thing? And right across from it, god bless us, a Cougar Canyon? I kept walking.


No, not a cougar. That’s a Western Yellow-Bellied Racer! Nice. Finally, I got to the base of Cougar Point, and what do you think I found? No, not a cougar. This is a cougar.



When pressed, a cougar will eat critters like me, and won’t even pick its teeth afterwards. No, I found this.



Yeah, rocks, right. Well, yeah, but if you click on it to blow it up, I think you’ll find it’s a tumbled pile of skulls, just like you’d find outside a cougar’s lair. I easily count 9… how many do you find? And the cougar? Ah, what a lovely irony. I found it today at last! I’ve been looking at it for years. Here’s my view, from the street in front of my house, over the shoulder of the city to the East.


Mountains, right? Not so fast. It all depends on the light! This is a story dependent on the season.


A sleeping cougar…but isn’t that the best kind? (The right hand part of the mountain is the cougar’s head.) The valley leading down to Kalamalka Lake and Cougar Point is behind the foreground mountains (Middleton Mountain in the front an Kalamalka Mountain behind it.) OK, so, new question: why does the cougar look like a clown? Ah, that is a question best answered on another day (In other words, I have a hundred thousand photos to sort through to find the right one! I need a professional curator! Help!)


As a closing note for the day, I think it’s possible to read the land as a story, the way it is currently read with maps, with no loss of accuracy or predictability. I have some specific ideas about how this works, which I will be sharing with you over the week to come. Until now, no one has made a map of the old stories. I think it’s about time.

Western Yellow-bellied Racer

These are fast snakes. Usually they just zip by, a few inches up in the grass, and you hardly see them, but this one is trail smart, and has mastered the art of freezing and looking like an old branch. In fact, I thought it was a branch at first. It’s bent up a bit because it retracted to get out of my way.



I was, blush, not looking where I was going, if you really want to know. I went to read some rocks, as a way of mapping, and I was trying to learn how to do just that. See?



Exactly. Not looking where I was going. If there was a horse on the trail I probably would have schmucked into it, too. Still, it’s a warm day, this is mating season for snakes, and this snake is probably fresh out of its winter den (early). This is a big snake, too, about a metre long, the fierce predator of crickets and grasshoppers, and mice and birds, too. It’s also a curious snake.



Very curious.



With a gorgeous yellow belly and huge eyes.



A lovely encounter. The snake went back to (I hope) making more snakes, and I got back to my reading.



It seems that the language of rocks includes both snakes and flowering saskatoon bushes! Oh, and this guy.


Yellow Bellied Marmot

Note the racer-like stick to the upper left!

Yellow bellies and grey backs. It seems to be a thing!


All images at Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park