Landscape, Colonialism and the Unused Two-Car Garage

A landscape is a stretch of land that has been improved by rational planning, sculpting of the land, and the addition of shrubberies, lanes, paths, buildings and other aesthetic features designed for contemplation. It is the way by which the training of a prince in the art of poetry is transferred to the administration of his princedom. In the post-aristocratic world, it is a romantic view-scape, in which individual identity-selves look out independently over an expanse of nature (everything that is not the individual identity), which is contemplated as a sense of space and freedom. This sense of landscape is largely 19th century. With its roots in art practice, it is largely visual. One looks out, after all. In this respect, the houses below are extensions of individual human selves and are constructed like those selves and serve as comfortable seats for them. They are kind of like full body shoes.P1980945

At the origin of the history of the self (17th century England and 18th century Germany) the concept was cut free from the old aristocratic and religious world, which saw human identity as a function of the surrounding space. This sense of separation between humans and the earth remains an integral part of landscape today. In fact, it creates the idea of Nature. According to the game, the landscape below is called, surprisingly enough, Nature.P1980947This divide between humans and nature, and this severing of individual identity from the physical world, is one of the ways in which colonialism is aggressively furthered. It is also largely a construct of power and display. The uniformity of the houses below is countered by the degree to which their views are impeded by others, as well as the degree to which they impede the view of others — not other houses but other selves, looking for access to the natural world, denied them by the power displays of others.P1980949

 

As with all art forms, this live-in landscape model, this corporatization of landscape with 3,000 and 4,000 square foot pseudo-humans comes with an intricate set of rules. Simply living in nature would be outside of the art genre, and earns the term of “homeless”. “Homeless” people, those who do not participate in this hierarchal art-making, are not considered true citizens of the view state, as, of course, they are not. Many social problems follow from this forced removal of many citizens from actual citizenship. The task of setting this imbalance to rights is not to dispense with houses, of course, as in this climate shelter is mighty important, but a lessening of the negative environmental and social costs of this kind of art would be most welcome. Notice the row of loungers in the back yard below. Maybe it will even improve architecture. After all, why does the house below have a garage?

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The Power of Two

This is a land that divides.

P1840124 Or is that upon this land people divide? Here we are on the Colville Indian Reservation, looking south across the Columbia River, as it begins to flow again after being stopped dead by the Grand Coulee Dam, off to our left. The red seeds of the invasive chick grass, that has rendered the short-lived farmland colonial culture made out of productive grassland into not even a place for birds and rats, speak well for the social divide here.

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Ruined “Ranch”

I’m thinking of something in the land itself. Here’s the most famous divide in the North West, the Wallula Gap. When the last ice age melted and filled the valleys of Idaho, Montana and British Columbia with water, it all released at once and took 60 hours to pour through this break in the Columbia Basalt and cut the Columbia Gorge to the sea.

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Looking South from the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Walla Walla

Water cut this rock in two. This rock in the Grand Coulee, as well, where the water flowed before the ice dam on the Columbia broke.

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The water cuts the rock in two, then in two again, then in two again, not because water is a divisive energy, but because the rock is crystallized, and divides on divisions between crystalline structures deep within the rock. Here, on a hotter day, at the edge of the Columbia Basalt in Lewiston Idaho is a glimpse of what that looks like.

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Water, frost, and even plants find the spaces between the crystals and pry them apart. The result is Coyote Rocks, like these on the Colville Reservation.

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And, as more water gets a grip on the rock, this:

P1840124And that’s where we began. Note how the initial basalt flow was cut into a residual butte, which was cut into two, then into two again and two again. That these remnant stones have animal characteristics is because they are being read by an animal mind, which sorts those kinds of things out of the world. That’s a serious business, but for the moment, just look at how these animal shapes are paired. That’s what this land teaches. It is narrative formed of unified terms that divide, and divide again, in groups of two. Here is an image taken from the same spot, facing north, away from the little narrative of the Coyote rocks above.

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You can see some Coyote rocks up on the left. The major landform here, though, is a divided valley, with a central mound, around a welling shape (laid by water.) It is an image of birth. The land gives forth landscapes like this continually as well. Usually, the largest, most dramatic ones form the backdrop of a village site, or a fishery site (as this is). This one, of course, has had a child:

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That’s right, the Coyote Rocks! Those are the children of the earth, and the old ones to us, although not as old as the body of the earth itself. There are mysteries here that our bodies understand better than our minds do, but any art that comes from this land will follow these principles, or it will wither.

P1840172Division can be a positive or a negative force. One’s original intent carries through to the end.

The Future of Okanagan Okanogan

We have been on a journey together for three-and-a-half years. In that time, I finished up this blog as a book (twice!), but then I was reading up on a lynching in Conconully, Washington in 1891. Things just didn’t seem to add up, and as I snooped around and dug into things they didn’t add up some more, and finally I rewrote the book almost entirely. It found its shape on Easter, when I printed up its pixels, laid it out on the floor in a long line, dated each paragraph, moved the things that were out of place, and found its natural chapters, as a history of an agricultural valley in the west of Canada, rooted in the American Civil War. It concludes with a way forward from unresolved conflict through a very specific resolution of the outstanding Indigenous land claims of British Columbia — especially the pivotal ones, in the Syilx Illahie, this gambling and travelling space, the S-Ookanhkchinx, this place in which I am home. Here’s a picture of the excitement.ms1

 

 

A Book is Born!

I have been calling it “Okanagan Okanogan: One Country Without Borders”, but on Easter I scribbled down this: “Commonage: The War for the Okanagan.” Hmmm, Hmmm, Hmmm. The first is better, I think. Titles are always the hardest darned thing! Note: don’t you try to read my hand-writing now. You’ll hurt your eyes. Why do you think I need those reading glasses!

I will follow up my book with a companion book of images, a book that retells this history as a Coyote tale, and, before both of those, a practical handbook on new crops, new energy regimes, new agricultural strategies, and new water technologies and ethics that support, strengthen and sustain the land that this blog has helped me find more deeply for all of its 960 posts. But first, the blog has another child! I have received a grant to spend 16 months to write about this:

P1730506The Beautiful Steam Punk Urban Core of Post-Industrial Vernon

On Wednesday I hold my first interview with one of the street people who has offered to help me. He is excited and has many plans for me. I’m excited, too. And to think, it all started with a thought: would it help to write a book (another grant) if I used a camera to record what I see, to act as a form of empirical proof in a series of environmental arguments. Might as well try, I thought. Give it a couple months. Look at the gifts that moment of curiosity and that willingness to be led by it has given me! Not the least is  sense of writing and poetry that has expanded beyond literature into the world. Amazing. I am so grateful.

Canada Geese Making Art

Geese eating rotten apples.geese2b2Geese making art.

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The Dance of the Geese.

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Mass choreography, with geese.

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Never underestimate the perspective changing ability of a Canada goose. Here are some geese dancing to Bach.

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Here are some doing the Stravinsky Honk.

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No need to clap. Geese make their own applause.

 

 

The Best Art Gallery

The water above, the sun caught in the art of the vines, the desert of the earth…P1550008… this is ancient stuff. We can dress it up with triple-blind, peer-reviewed studies of water, air and sun, but it’s still a combination of ancient Babylonian, Hebraic, Celtic and Roman insights, presented through a technological lens. It is an unbroken story, stretching into the depths of time. Where, however, are the new insights? To be fair, it’s not likely that there will be new ones, but it is likely that the old ones can be brought back to life, in a way that lives past the industrial metaphor we have inherited and puts in its place a new form of artfulness, a paying of attention to all of time and the way our ancestors speak through us. The alternative is to continue to view the world from the metaphors of a century ago, even though they’ve lost their connection to the tradition. The common way of bridging the ages is to take images apart into their components, to reduce them to basic structural items. That’s easy. Putting them together, both out of fragments and out of lost traditions, is how art can grow a living science and a living earth. It is time to make the earth our gallery again.

 

 

The Art That Insects Make

In the summer, light strikes the leaves of the dogwoods unevenly, as they flit about in their environment of light and shadow filtering through other leaves that move and shift with sun and wind and the turning of the earth through its days. Look at the result!P1540244Amazing!

P1540242There’s more to this story than just sun and light, and I’ll get to that in a sec, but for the moment look at how small patches of some of these leaves are delayed from maturing and shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for fall.
P1540241Frozen in time, that’s the thing.

P1540239Now, here’s the other player in these beautiful game. See the aphids on the underside of the leaves below, below the fruiting cluster?P1540233They are very responsive to light and growth and settle in the choicest spots, and then, as they divert the sap flow through their own digestive systems, they change everything. In effect, they become part of the plant, and the plant’s living processes are blocked and re-routed by the intervention of the insects and the whole year’s worth of redirected minerals.P1540227Aphids, light, shadow and the mysteries of an earth continually in motion.P1540224The scientist in me thinks this process could be put to use. The farmer in me knows it can. The poet in me is in love with the earth. The artist in me is just plained thrilled to see his body alive in the earth like this, down to the tiniest thing.

 

Where is the Government?

The government is the people’s voice. Sometimes it appears that the government is hiding. Sometimes, one is surprised just where it’s got to. Here is the art that Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo put up at Okanagan College in Vernon this month.

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Ryan Robson, Untitled

An issue with a wordless voice.

Here is the art that the government paid for outside.

P1380881 Gerd Maas, Destiny (Detail)

Gender equity, of course (It is, after all, a four-sided obelisk made out of melted mountain.)

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Erected to Celebrate a Ceremonial Partnership with Korea

Here is the art we pay for outside the main doors of the college.

P1380868 Always a Friendly Face

Here is the art that reveals the Canadian Government’s secret hiding place today.

P1010835Well, yesterday. Today, they could be anywhere! Look around, if you can. You might find them in the darndest places. Here, for instance.

P1130503The provincial government pays up to $2.50 a tree (20 acres …2000 trees to the acre … whew!) to subsidize the planting of Royal Gala apples such as these, to counteract the effect of national government trade treaties with the United States. To which, we might add:

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That Old Christmas Moon

Long before the world tree holding the stars …

P1380026 Straw Star from Dresden

… as well as the planets …P1380060

 

Blown Glass Ball from the Ruhr Valley

…on its branches, there was the old solstice moon.

P1370820Paper Wasp Nest in the Lilacs

It’s still here. Blessed be.

 

Evolution: A Human Social Mirror

Bullock’s Oriole, blending in…

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This fellow divides his time between South America and this dry northern tip of his species’ range.

California Quail (introduced species, so humans would have something to hunt), blending in …

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Hoo-HoooO-u, Hoo-HooO-u, Hoo-HooO-u

So social, eh!

Beetle, blending in …

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Beautiful, isn’t she!

If I’m ever to have antennae, I hope they’re like that.

Those are all “natural” environments, in which the concept of camouflage does not seem to be at play. So much for the idea of evolution being a series of predator-prey capture-avoidance, eat-or-be-eaten relationships, as it is often displayed in popular culture (and racism.) Here is the lair of a top predator. Now, she is blending in:

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Incompleted Light Post Base, Vernon

Predator pretty much invisible.

For a view of the predator herself, take a look again …

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Black Widow Spider Blending In

Well, sort of. She flashes that red warning, after all. Note the very, very messy web. I have a few of those in my tomato patch, and another in my garden shed.

Now, to continue the theme, here is the lair of another predator, blending in …

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Back of Front Street, Penticton

Note the messy web. By the way, I think this is very beautiful, but not in the same way as the oriole, the quail, or the beetle above.

Humans, blending in some more…

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More beauty. Very popular with top predators. As you can see, the humans are blending in with social codes, not with the weeds in the foreground. They are up to their own thing.

Take a look again, for a guide to the finer details…

details2Dead Things and Romantic Things on Display

Body jewelry for predators. (With the lair being a body image requiring tattoos and other images of display in a complicated male-female dynamic.) Socially, many contemporary humans evolve within environments like this. In fact, you could say that they evolve to reproduce environments like this, or that the environments reproduce by imprinting themselves on the young humans at important environment-socialization windows. These are called cognitive windows, because, socially, human-environment social relationships are not accepted [ie they are invisible] in this particular culture. That doesn’t mean they are not there.

The weeds in the foreground of the above image are a series of individuals foreign to the balance of this landscape. They are in a dynamic process, which is a new balance, but the real story is not about individuals. It is about the collective. They are all in a relationship, the rules of which are not yet formalized. Intriguingly, they were brought here by human activity, and they represent an image of human conscious processes. Nature? Hardly.

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A Predator Has Been Here

By interpreting the landscape according to its own social codes of display and social coercion, this predator has turned at least a small part of the earth into an image of itself.

Now, that’s art! Of course, foreign plants such as the lavender above, once socialized within this human image, start to take on some human characteristics and become colonists of their own …

P1020612Escaped Lavender (Left, behind the curb.)

That is an entire community of previous escapees around it. The native plant community is gone. Even in escape, the plants carry human social information with them, and human attitudes to land. In other words, human social display and body decoration is part of the process of physically creating “Nature”.

One could say that “Nature” itself is a human social display, the whole concept. One could also say that many humans obviously prefer the weedy thing called “Nature” or “wildness” over a more ordered and productive space full of species beautiful in their own right. They are certainly not walking the grasslands with me in anything other than tiny numbers. They are here instead:

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Farmer Killing Leafhoppers in His Grape Vine Body Jewelry

City of Vernon in behind. Excellently complex predator behaviour! It will result in a simplification of the landscape (fewer species) and some unexpected escapees (the poisons he uses will become part of the environment, where they will eventually work back to change human social relationships and even human bodies. Poison as body art. Beautiful!)

The key to “evolution” is to stop thinking of separateness. That is just a human social image. Here, for example, are some weeds interfacing with some plants that found a balance here after the last ice age, and which were maintained in a specific human image by thousands of years of human burning and harvesting…

P1020545 Evolution in Play

Evolution is not a battle for dominance. Sure, you can look at it that way, but I suggest that that’s only how a predator will see it. To the plants here, and the bumble bee, it’s about community. Together, they make a whole. For the moment, Syilx traditional human social rules have been removed from this landscape by colonization 150 years ago and replaced by the new social rules of that colonization. As a result, the weeds that the new colonists brought with them are now colonizing Syilx space. Rather than being “Nature”, in other words, this is a portrait of social relationships over time, which include human ones.

Far too often, evolution is portrayed as a conscious process, one that “favours” certain traits or one in which evolution has to “choose” between brain size, which is “expensive” and, say, “muscular efficiency.” I find it a deep and pleasurable irony that scientific thinking, which began by trying to separate itself from a concept of nature, is now deeply married to a kind of pop-culture goddess called Nature, which it calls Evolution. It leads to some odd effects. They are out there by the millions. Here is just one, in an article which, actually, otherwise is based on some sound principles…

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Evolution… favours? it’s as if it were a conscious process!

Note the lovely ad which MSN’s computers have placed there in order to prey upon you. Be careful around top predators, is all I can say. Source

There’s more. Take a look a little further down in the article:

hypothesizedSocial Display Posing as Learnèd Analysis

The intriguing phrase is “…found that shorter women are more likely to be in long-term, offspring-producing relationships [so far, so good] — perhaps, he hypothesized, because men evolved to disfavour tall women, who tend to reach puberty later.

Pure guesswork, or, rather, the writing of one certain, culturally-specific social display code upon the earth. I’m fairly certain that our scientist was also concerned about other types of favouring and the limitations of this (reported) hypothesis. Not so the databases created to insert advertisements in this material. These databases are inserted according to specific contemporary cultural rules, rather Darwinian and 19th century overall, which seek to prey upon any readers straying into their webs. There is no distinction between this process and any other process of art. Look what the database has chosen to go with this material…

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Could it just be that human technical (social and artistic) intervention in the “natural” process of birth is changing the dynamic of which women are having more successful babies than others, rather than birth being just a neutral “natural” process? Of course, but you wouldn’t know it from the article above. Here’s a case in which the database has proven smarter than the human journalist. Like evolution itself, though, it’s not on purpose. Now, one of the characteristics of evolution is duration in time. It’s another human social preference. Written into theories of “nature”, it allows the natural community to be viewed in certain ways. According to this preference for time-as-a-story and time-as-permanence, the view below is easily read as a competition for dominance by new plants (weeds) within an older landscape, just as the settler culture here …

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Land Sculpted to Be Viewed by Automobile and Real Estate Client with Oil Money in His Pocket. 

In this case, the agricultural and “natural” (ie de-Syilxed) images of the land are being sculpted just as strongly as is the physical earth and the social relationships within whatever humans live within or claim this space.

… has supposedly replaced the Syilx culture that preceded it, yet somehow has inhabited its forms and maintains a parallel relationship to “land”…

P1020521Bunch of Weeds Hanging Out, Bella Vista

You can read it that way, of course, and you would be right. But it’s the earth. It can be read in many ways. And it reads you, don’t doubt that. To read it in the way described above is to miss other stories and other versions of time. If their narrative could be told, the landscape would change socially to adapt to them. Tomorrow I’l sketch out some parts of that landscape. Here’s a hint: the plants above are not all the same age. The plants below are:

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Grape Vine Sculptural Display, Bella Vista