Ancient Stories Written in the Rock

At the bottom of Skaha Lake, where the Okanagan River once collected itself in a series of oxbows and reefs before dropping over the falls (a series of steep rapids), the point at which it first caught the current was here, at this stone dog. (In the trade jargon of the North West, by the way, “Skaha” means “Dog.”) Look at him below, crouched and guarding the red fish as they come up the throat of the river from the desert lake to the south, and the desert river below that.dogThe whole journey of the fish passes through hundreds of monoliths and water lines like this one, each with a name and a story. In Washington and Oregon, many have been drowned by massive hydroelectric dams. Some remain, like this raven at Celilo Falls.

ravenAnd the magical, shifting creatures carved by the wind out of the sandstone at Peshastin, which greeted Skaha’s sister fish as they swam up the Wenatchee River a century ago.

 

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But most are gone. Fortunately for all of us on the Columbia Plateau, the falls at Skaha Lake may have been drowned by an irrigation dam (a very low one), the fishing camp below them may have been turned into an expensive campground for tourists (no picnicking or rock-viewing allowed), but the dog remains, still. There is an abandoned rail line running along the shore behind the dog, an abandoned fence running up from that, and an abandoned highway above them both. Above them, and just to the north of the new highway, there is this figure …

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The colonial world has passed, and its people have largely left the land. The dog and the other ancestors are still here, as are their stories and the trails and waterways that are their lifeblood. Anyone can see them. Their story is not hidden. A thousand years from now, they can still be told.

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Okanagan River, South of Skaha Lake

This is where the salmon spawn. Note the ancestral face on the Gallagher Lake Bluff in the background.

This is a form of classicism, that belief that there is a cultural foundation that a culture can return to over and over again, to renew itself in its primary forms. When I was a child, a half century ago, that classical age was said to be the early 20th century, when the orchards were carved out in this land. This age was, in turn, based upon a reverence for the culture of ancient Greece (tellingly called “Classical Greece,” and which is still taught to our children in school.) Now, on Canadian national radio, classicism is largely a matter of following the careers of the pop stars of the last twenty years. It works just as well as a classical foundation, except that it produces a different world, one based upon individual gifts, celebrated, but not this…

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Ancestor Bird With Skull Eye, Peshastin Pinnacles

… or this…

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Eagle, Palouse Falls

Whether one chooses the German poet Goethe as a classical figure (as the Germans do), or the career of David Bowie (as CBC Radio’s “Q” does) or the poems of Homer, the Icelandic Sagas, or the stone monoliths of the North American North West, one is doing the same act of reading oneself by reading that which lies outside of oneself. The only thing, though, is that the relationship to story, land, and people is different in each. For that reason, these things matter.

fallsAncestral Figures, above Okanagan Falls

These things also matter because many of the stories of the Plateau cultures of the Northwest got their start at the speed of a man walking from one place to the next and observing the shift in position of the landforms around him.

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Tricky Moving Mountain, Palouse Falls

The movement gives the mountain character and agency. It doesn’t matter if the movement comes from you or from the mountain.

This movement, with different characters coming into play with others, appearing in different combinations, disappearing completely, or only being visible at certain times of day, in certain qualities of light, is as much a foundation for narratives of the world as are the fictional forms mastered by Tolstoy in czarist Russia or the scientific ones taught at great expense in contemporary universities, but with very different relationships between people and the land around them.

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Coyote Howling at the Moon (among all the other people), Palouse Falls

(Nicely coloured by peregrine falcons.)

Narratives can also be very easily dismissed. Here is an ancestor at Ellison Park, on Okanagan Lake south of my home in Vernon.

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He fits into a story, no doubt into many stories, but can also be easily discarded as fancy by what is called a “scientific mind” and its notions of “reality,” which are, really, just notions of a form of classicism. The land is the land. The stories we make out of it not only make us, but make our relationship to the land, and if we’re going to save the land, that matters.

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Skaha Lake, Looking North

(Our dog is on the far shore of the lake, about 500 metres to the left of the left boundary of the image. The rock formations in the foreground and in the centre right of the image are the same stone as both the dog and the falls, and if you walk around just the right corner, well, there’s your dog again.

dog-1We discard these wise narratives at our great peril. Discarding scientific narratives would also be perilous. Joining them appears to be a good idea. It’s too bad we didn’t do that long ago. Destroying these stories is akin to burning books. It leads to cultural poverty, and that leads to diminished capacity in the land itself.

 

 

The Unity of Plants vs. Human Hate

The science based on Darwin holds that plants evolve over time to fit various ecological niches. This bunchgrass, for example, evolved to take advantage of hot, windy climates.
P1470833 The science based on Goethe holds that plants have an essential nature which exists in potentiality within plants and expresses itself in response to varying conditions in a manner similar to the evolving relationship between the first rounded leaf of spring and the long, deeply cut leaves of Autumn.

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Dandelions, or Lion’s Teeth

Note the rounded leaves at the left and the older, deeply cut leaves in the individual at the centre of the image.

The difference seems to be an attitude to spirit and time. With Darwin’s science, time is a line, that is always pushing forward. With Goethe’s, time is a continuum, that opens out of itself, like this arrow-leafed balsam root, a gorgeous yellow sunflower, at the end of its season.

P1470855 Diversity is certainly key. This Scotch Thistle expresses the same tendencies to leaf as the dandelion or the balsam root, the same sense of extension, and the same tendency for individual stalks. Like the wheat grass, which lays down seeds in a balanced pattern and at set intervals, it lays down spines. It expresses these tendencies differently, but as Goethe might have pointed out, they are the same tendencies.P1470693 They are the same ones in these old, twisted sagebrush stalks…

P1470827 … and in these jerusalem artichokes…P1470779

 

Where Darwininan sees a ladder of being, Goethean science sees an opening of potential in response to conditions. Neither is wrong, but perhaps it would be good to give Goethean science a real try. Through exposure to it, society might transform itself into a field of energy in which, say, Sunnis and Shiites, or Ukrainians and Russians, have the ability to express their common potentiality, rather than their differences and their points of historical divergence. The thought that this yellow clover …P1470857

 

(Yeah, yellow! Go figure!)

… is essentially the same plant as that sagebrush above gives me pause to marvel, and to consider that the great philosopher of potentiality (He called it “being”.), Heidegger, has often been dismissed as a Nazi (He was, for a time.), although his philosophy held within it the potentiality to diverge from Nazism (which he did), while the deterministic philosophies of those who have dismissed him hold within them the potentiality to grow into rigid, top down societies, such as was the 1930s German Nazi state, and such as is the IS state in Syria and Iraq, which is currently dividing and killing people on the basis of points of rigid, evolutionary diverge of social forms. To talk about Nature is to talk about ethics. Maybe it’s time to take the long view, like this:

P1470768A Photograph of Being

aka Dandelion

Garage Sex, Okanagan Style

The marriage bed.

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Go away for 3 weeks and the neighbours move in, with each other on their mind. Madam came first.

Mrs.

Yeah, she didn’t pose very well, but there was all this, um, mosquito netting in the way of my lens, so I did what I could. Notice how she has learned to blend in with the black “Tuck Tape” background, to stay out of my way. She’s grown about 30% since I came back home. The gentleman arrived 2 weeks later …

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He’s about 25% of her size. The black sheets don’t help him. He is, as you can see, going for red, the colour of love. It’s a slow dance. Well, that’s what’s going around here with the black widows. How’s the action at your place?

Try This on Mars, I Dare You

Life in the sky…
bee…  vanishes (This is a form of ripening.)

subtleAt first it is nowhere to be found. Bones are everywhere. The sun has burnt everything away.P1470323Not everything. There are bee caves.

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And this year will come again.

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Hang on!

Vertical Rivers and Walking on Water

Just look at this aspen pouring up into the sun.

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Aspen Copse with Beetle-Killed Fire Pine, Big Bar Lake 

My sister.

To Newtonian science, this is an image of organized physical processes viewed by means of light. To Darwinian science, it is a moment in a process of continuous change and adaptation. To Goethean science, it is an image of spiritual energies, arranged in forms commonly called life and colour. To the poet Rilke, at the end of the war of 1914-1918, it was “this tree in front of me now, and nothing else.” This observation, in the poems Rilke wrote in the Rhone Valley in the last years of his life, make Rilke a leading 20th century scientific philosopher, and even a leading 21st century one. In the next image, for example, are these water striders making use of a physical adaptation to walk on water, or are they making use of a spiritual one?

strideThey are spirit walking on spirit, or, as Rilke, Newton, Darwin and Goethe would put it, they are these water striders right here, right now, and no others. The observation has largely lain dormant since 1925. It is time to stop taking the world apart and to acknowledge that what we seek is what we will find. It is that kind of universe. I find that very energizing.

I Love Water

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Big Bar Lake, with Damselfly

The green colour comes from the bright lake bottom, which is the remains of the bed of an underground glacial river, made of tiny, flat, oval pebbles ground off the uplifted seabeds of the mountains just above the lake. The river flowed 10,000 years ago as the continental ice sheet was melting, then flowed around a 5-kilometre-long block of ice, no doubt encasing it in blue-grey gravel, which kept the sun from it. Eventually, the ice melted, the gravel became the lakebed, and the ice became this water, which is replenished with every winter’s snows, with its waving underwater leaves and that damselfly, moving between the dimensions. 

Who would pump this stuff into the rock to extract oil, and remove it from life forever? Only an agent of death.

Canada and the Okanagan

Canada does not deserve this land. It burns it…

P1420057 Forest Fire Smoke Over Okanagan Landing

… it tries to make it hotter than it is …P1420206

 

Plasticized Soil (Weeds, plastic, clay), Bella Vista

The goal is to increase the heat of the season.

… it xeriscapes it, for maximum water efficiency …

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Note the fireplace ashes.

… it allows wild creatures to survive in road ditches alone …

P1420064Waiting for the Mower Man

This is where the water collects, hence where the life will be, but the mower comes, like clockwork. Gotta protect that infrastructure.

… it creates drought …

P1420086Invasive Cheatgrass Drought

(And the high country water that might have staved off the forest fires. Note the smoke.)

… it disrespects the gift of life …
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Ponderosa Pine Cones in the Garbage

Here is some sign of a badger cleaning up on the gophers invading abandoned orchards …

P1420084Here is the abandoned orchard, gone feral …

P1420076A country that sustains its land values for only one generation does not deserve that land. Its days are numbered.

 

Saving the Grasslands One Garden at a Time

In forest fire season, even the grassland hills are suffering in the smoke.P1420117Note how the golf course road zig-zagging back and forth here manages to take all the water away. Note as well that there are few species growing here: mostly cheatgrass (which is responsible for summer drought), sagebrush, a few mariposa lilies, the odd death camas, a few remaining desert parsleys, the odd thistle and a fair number of blue-bunched wheat grasses. Most of the flowers that bloomed here a century ago, and most of the medicine of the Syilx, are gone. What is a poor bee to do! Aha! Off to Harold’s place!

P1390103As I showed you yesterday, a few square feet of xeriscaping using wild flowers does a few powerful things. You don’t have to irrigate more than two or three times in a season. You don’t have to move the thing. You can have fun scything in the fall (scything is very fun). And birds, toads and insects thrive here. I posted a pair of goldfinches feasting on my catnip yesterday, and then I realized, whoa, just think (and I did): if the normal density of flowers on the grassland hill is about  one plant per square metre, my density of about 200 plants per square metre (I collect the seeds each fall and sow them back in, so there’s no expense) means that in my 25 square metres of wildflower garden I am providing the insect and bird habitat of about 5000 square metres of land up on the hill. That’s pretty close to one acre. Here’s the thing. In my little subdivision there are, oh, I dunno, about 100 houses. If we all took care of an acre like that, 100 acres of grassland could be saved. There are another 100 houses in the subdivision a mile back down the road, and 50 more in the other direction. Just above that one, there are 1000 building lots gouged into the grassland and doing magnificent service in destroying it. I’m thinking today, it doesn’t have to be a story of destruction. If each of these houses had one small wildflower garden, together we’d be helping to maintain some 1250 acres of grassland. If we went further and planted some appropriate plants along our roadsides and walking trails, we could easily double that. It might be that the grasslands are so compromised that they will not return, but that does not mean that we cannot live in them in new ways. It would take almost no water, and, I mean, really, when the alternative is this?

 

P1420192 … or this?

P1420179Walking Around the Old Neighbourhood

More life for less water, and the use of our dwellings to help the grasslands and to bring them close. There’s no downside. This is the kind of things a progressive city council could fix almost instantly. We would become rich.

 

 

 

 

The Problem With Darwin

Darwin is English. Goethe is German. There have been wars over this. Pity. Let me explain. First, an image of multiplicity from the former East Germany:

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Goethe’s Botanical Garden in Jena, Germany

Darwin travelled the globe. Goethe, like most Germans, brought the world to himself. That is a profound difference, which led to profoundly different conceptions of science.

Darwin advocated a theory of evolution which has no guiding principle other than expediency and almost accidental incremental change. That’s the world which we all pretty much live in today. It is great science, that has had a powerful effect on the way in which humans in so-called scientific societies see the world. Here’s Darwin as a young man.800px-Charles_Darwin_by_G._Richmond

 Charles Darwin, Looking Dapper

He hadn’t figured out evolution yet.

Goethe advocated a theory of evolution in which the characteristics of a species could be seen in the totality of its variations; it wasn’t a series of evolutionary changes that were being observed but a series of unfoldings out of an original, unified potential. Goethe was after that moment of potential. Here’s Goethe as a young man:

Der_junge_Goethe,_gemalt_von_Angelica_Kauffmann_1787-1

The Young Goethe, Looking Dapper

He hadn’t written Faust yet.

I’m not interested in knocking such a great scientist as Darwin off of his pedestal or in placing such a neglected one as Goethe on one. The point I’d like to make today is that Darwin’s theory of evolution is as English as Goethe’s is German. For theories that purport to represent independent, neutral science and dispassionate observations of the world, that should be a warning bell. Now, when I say that Darwin is English, I don’t mean that he’s like bubble and squeak or bangers and mash. I mean that he carries on the English philosophical tradition, which is born from English history and language. Century after century of invasion has its effect on a language and a culture: first the Britons, then the Romans, then no Romans, then the Anglo Saxons, then the Norse, then the Anglo Saxons, then the Newer Norse, then the Anglo-Normans, and at the end of it all the British had learned a couple things:

1. Change and adapt, because you’re going to be raped or murdered anyway.

2. Fight by any means possible, usually by manipulating the gap between two sets of conceptions. For example, here are the ruins of Castell-y-Bere in Wales. The English knocked it to bits in 1283.castelHere’s the main Welsh defense machinery for the castle.

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The Castell-y-Bere Dragon

This defensive position was chosen at the confluence of two valleys, because of this magical talisman, the Welsh dragon itself. No English invaders could touch the place, with powerful magic like this at its heart, right?

Wrong. The English crept up a natural cleft in the rock outside the lower wall of the castle, and when they were unstoppably close just jumped over the low wall there and the show was over. That’s very English. One takes advantage of weaknesses and supposed strengths by being somewhere else. Usually, this means ignoring magic or accepted decorum. To such an imagination, nothing is sacred; flow is everything. It’s the principle by which one puts spin, or “English”, on a ball, or by which a language can be used to mean anything, depending on circumstances, and depending on whether one draws from its Anglo Saxon, Old Norse, Norwegian, or Anglo-Norman vocabularies. They have little in common. It’s the totality, a parliament of languages, that is English. More specifically, it is the form of argument that switches from one to the other when necessary or expedient, and remains aloof from them all, that is truly English. And truly Darwinian.

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Will Mow Lawn 4 Beer

A British Columbian demonstrates his English heritage. Note that this mower has not moved in 3 years.

Unlike the English, however, the Germans were never a people, at least not before the figure of Goethe was seized upon to try to make them into one. They were scattered around a couple thousand principalities, all with allegiance to not Germany but the Holy Roman Empire. To say one was “German” was nearly meaningless. Germany was the Church. Its rulers were a mix of all the royal houses of Europe, and it mattered not a whit what language one spoke at home. Whereas the English maintained stability by adapting to invasion and learning the language of the invader so well that they became the invader, without dropping their previous languages, the Germans remained an ethnic curiosity within a stable, non-ethnic system that lasted for a thousand years. But then, they converted to Christianity en masse. They saw no break between it and their pre-Christian beliefs.

German_painting_poet_Johann_Wolfgang_von_Goethe

Goethe as an Early Middle-Aged Traveller in Italy

To learn the world, the English conquered it and then took on its forms, for the sake of expedience. The Germans remade themselves as the world, because it just wasn’t that important. They trusted in their ability to absorb whatever came their way. To them, eternity, however, was important, especially as it manifested itself in the present and in human body and presence. As the experience of the Welsh at Castell-y-Bere showed, the English, the true intellectuals in this tale, slaughtered that dragon long before.

And so, out of these two great scientific figures we got two conceptions of science, one based on filling ecological niches by a random sense of progress and opportunity, and one filling them by an ordered sense of growth out of the infinite potential of a first principle or a presence. The former, Darwin’s, is the bulk of contemporary science. The latter gave us the science of phenomena and the philosophies of Nietzsche and Heidegger. Darwin’s version has given us English democracy, with its trust in the wisdom of random process. Goethe’s version gave us German democracy, with its trust in the wisdom of common foundations and carefully guided responses. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I’m only pointing out how different they are, and how they are rooted in the experiences of two different peoples. I do have a secondary point, though, which is that this English system has given us Canadian land use policy that accords wilderness status to the Earth (even though the earth which English settlers “discovered” was very much a controlled, social space, in a fashion closer to that of the Germans than anything), and the trust that no matter what random process works its way through a society built around furthering individual desire and randomness the energy of wildness within the earth will continue to thrive and provide energy for society and individuals. The contemporary result looks like this:

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Invasive Cheat Grass Hell

There should be 100 species in this grassland, not one that is destructive of water flows and is turning bountiful landscapes into near deserts.

It also looks like this:

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Canadian Vineyard Farmyard, Vernon, British Columbia

Note the Hell of Cheatgrass in the Foreground. This is the way you colonize Mars or the Moon. It is not the way you live on the earth and from it. It is the expression of a very specific form of individuality.

According to the principles of random evolution, the kind of desertification and squandering of the socially-given right to own land demonstrated in the image above is a natural consequence of growth and progress, as well as part of the natural change of the world. Two hundred years ago, Goethe showed us that it does not have to be this way. The point is not whether Goethe or Darwin were right. The point is that they were both right and that neither are neutral sciences. They are social constructs, which have a history and a projected path into the future, which we have the ability to change for the better (as with all social constructs), and, boy, do we ever need to, fast. In Darwinian science, the images below show three species filling the same ecological niche…

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Beautiful, isn’t it! In Goethean science, on the other hand, they show one energy manifesting itself in multiplicity. Also beautiful. Personally, because of an imbalance of random human pressure on the earth despite the impoverishment resulting from it I think that right now we need a bit less English individualism and a bit more of Goethean multiplicity. For the love of the Earth.

 

The King’s Way: Science, Multiplicity and Nature as an Artwork

I’ve been trying to say something useful about Goethe this week, which is a tough thing to do with a writer who was used for nationalist purposes ever since his youth in pre-Napoleonic Germany. When my father left Germany in 1952, his father gave him the collected works of Goethe as a portable homeland, so he would remember who he was. He gave it to a young German woman he met on the boat across the Atlantic, as he didn’t want anything more to do with all that. She gave it back to him forty years later — seemingly, still unread. Within 24 hours, he gave it to me. He didn’t want it. I put it on a shelf. Maybe I’d read it someday, I thought.

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Goethe’s Forest Hut, Ilmenau

One of the major tourist shrines of the romantic age, right up there with Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Burg Frankenstein and the Castle of Chillon.

For most of my life, I thought little of Goethe. There were translations of his poetry, of course, but they were silly romantic things that he wrote in Strasbourg, which were translated by ultra-conservative American poets in the 1970s: oddities, more than anything. But then I went on The Road in 2008. The Road? It’s best you saw for yourself. I’m not talking Kerouac here. Let me show you a section of the road outside of Marienstern Cloister in Saxony. When the Road was first constructed (grew up out of a donkey path, is more like it), it was the only thing of its kind, so it was just called “Die Strasse”, or the road. It stretched from Santiago de Compostela to Minsk.

P1150250_2The Road

The trees are to give shade to foot travellers, and to give fruit at the same time. You could increase the efficiency of communication several fold by this simple ruse.

As it passed through Germany, The Road was also known as The King’s Way, the via regia in Latin. In one sense, the term refers to “the road that the king maintains for the sake of communication, war and economy (mostly the latter,)” but it also means “the right of the king to cross country at his own will,” and “the king’s right to increase the productivity of his kingdom (his self) through artful intervention”. What the road crossed was something ancient, from which the king’s right to rule was derived: the German forest. Here’s a little glimpse of it:

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The German Forest from the Window of Goethe’s Forest Hut

Goethe had a habit of deriving inspiration by plunking himself in the middle of physical space. We might refer to this as “a nice view from a writer’s retreat,” but if we do we might remember that Goethe invented the idea, and he did so for something other than individual purposes.

The idea of The King’s Way and the right of kings comes from the old aristocratic world. The term “aristocratic” is much maligned these days, largely because of abuses which the Enlightenment sought to correct with revolution and the championing of important notions of human liberty and universal human rights and dignity. Those are important things. In Germany, though, one of the major Enlightenment figures was Goethe. He did not believe in revolution. He believed in translation. He saw the aristocratic world fading away. He worshipped Napoleon for a time, but he also witnessed the Rape of Weimar in 1806 after the defeat of the Prussians above Jena. He sought a better way. What actually happened was this:

Windknolle

The Wind Knoll, Napoleon’s Battlefield in Cospeda, above Jena

The pillar is said to be the point at which Napoleon directed the battle (it isn’t.) The bench is for admiring the view. The tracks are because for nearly fifty years the Russian Army used this site as a tank practice ground, reenacting Napoleon’s battle to hone their mechanized warfare tactics.

Goethe was one of the few men in history to receive an education exceeding that of princes, with the express goal of running a princedom for a prince (or, in his case a duchy for a duke.) At the same time, he was an early romantic writer, whose work was seized upon by early German nationalists as proof of an individual German spirit that could justify the formation of a German state and in the absence of any German identity form one around itself. The idea was to prevent the adventures of any future Napoleons. This abuse was murder on Goethe’s writing and on his soul (his great play Faust, about a Doctor of Philosophy who makes a pact with the devil to receive all the knowledge in the world in exchange for his soul), but the tension between Goethe’s life as one of the last courtiers, as one of the first modern men, and as the cynically-applied cipher for the country of Germany itself (a fate he shared with Luther, but that’s a different story) led him to try to resolve the tensions in a form of science that carried the old aristocratic world forward into the technological present. One of the ways in which he did this was this:

P1150052Goethe’s Garden House, Weimar

And some fine East German Communist re-purposed water line bridge work, too.

From an aristocratic perspective, Secretary of State Goethe has a perk, a kind of country estate in a park he constructed out of a collection of water meadows on the Ilm River. From a modern perspective, though, Goethe installed himself within the park as an embodiment of the spirit of the state, right in the middle of a refined version of this:

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The View from Goethe’s Forest Hut above Ilmenau

Time is not clockwork in this world view, and space is not measured by civic plans. Rather, civic plans are measured by their relationship to space. Welcome to Goethe’s invention of the modern age through the recreation of the pre-Medieval one.

Goethe had a fine townhouse up the hill above his garden house, yet it is the garden house (and its extension of the aristocratic hunting lodge-poet’s forest hut connection into civic space) which he wanted to be remembered by, along with his scientific articles on light (which I discussed yesterday and the day before). Why? Well, because of this …

P1150041Dawn on the Ilm River, Weimar

… and this path from that water to his garden house …

P1150040Park on the Ilm, Weimar

Well, before we answer flippantly, that Goethe was just another garden variety romantic, remember that he loathed the romantics, and before we answer flippantly as well that Goethe was just another garden variety royalist, remember that we are in East Germany, and the hard-headed East German government chose to preserve this point of privilege, and, I promise you, they were pretty bloody-minded about stuff like that. It was preserved in the most modern state in the world (Yes, East Germany. It was a jail, but very modern as well.), in the Republic of Farmers and Workers, because it was the king’s way. Germany is kind of complicated.

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The Green Man, Königsbrück

The pre-modern German forest man who became a symbol of 19th Century German Nationalism. In other words, this is Goethe Version 1.0.

Goethe’s attempt to recast the modern world on the same foundation in the forest that gave birth to the old aristocratic one speaks of a choice: one is either of a place, in the full depths of its time, and extends all of its past forward into the future, or one is not. Like Goethe’s Faustone must choose (In Goethe’s sense, one must choose the most complete path over the one that sets completeness aside for expediency.) It is not, however, a choice between the Green Man …

P1130704_2 The Green Man, Schönefeld

… and the Green Man …

P1130702_2The Green Man, Schönefeld

… and the Green Man …

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Bismarck.

Leafy moustache and all.

Those are symbols only. Goethe wanted modern men to be the Green Man. Even the East Germans didn’t give up that idea.

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Proletarian Picnic Tables in the Aristocratic Pleasure Garden of Schönefeld

These are strange choices to Western imaginations (and, believe me, they unsettled me completely when I confronted them in No Man’s Land in the Fulda Gap on my way east and then again and again every day I went further into the country), but that’s only because two World Wars were fought to obliterate them (after the cynical ways in which they were abused by German military and political elites), and did, to all peoples except the Germans. The rest of the world shed German nationalism by turning away from Himmler’s SS. The Germans shed it by turning to the king’s way.

goethehausCrowds at Goethe’s Town House, Weimar

Goethe served wine all night to French occupying troops here in 1806, to keep them from burning his books and furniture to roast stolen chickens. Now people queue for this most important of German shrines.

The king’s way is, in a sense, the old aristocratic method of governance, through poetry. Each of the nearly 2000 German-speaking princedoms that made up the Holy Roman Empire in Middle Europe was governed on the principle of a poem. It was this which the poet Goethe tried to bring forward, in his transference of aristocratic privilege to democratic rights and responsibilities (such as the Park on the Ilm) an in his science. There is no reason on earth that science must be one monolithic project, based upon one approach, and no reason why it must be pursued according to one principle of procedure and logic. What Goethe proposed was that it be pursued in the multiplicity we know today from poetry (where the principle survived and from which the aristocracy learned it in the first place,) an energy in which each scientist was pursuing a different but parallel method, which fit together not because they broke with tradition but because they extended it and used tradition, not individual perception, as the touchstones for authenticity. This is why Weimar is now the heart of German Classicism, and why Goethe’s Weimar, a creative city of intellectuals and writers who shaped modern German consciousness, is the foundation stone of the German Empire of 1871, the Weimar Republic (note the name) of 1919, the postwar German Association of Communities (West Germany) and the post 1989 country of Germany. In Weimar, that looks like this:

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The Roman Villa, Park on the Ilm

In Weimar, anyone can walk through a painting made out of living things on a living earth, walk deep into the past, and meet it, living in his or her own present.

This aristocratic vision brought forward into the new industrial, bourgeoise age is one of the faces of German communism. To most East Germans, it worked itself out more like this:

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East German Garden House, Jena

It was in the crucible of these houses that East Germans eventually brought down their totalitarian state. Along the way, they produced most of the fruit and vegetables in the country, something which the government was less interested in pursuing.

Across the street from this garden house, is this:

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Goethe’s Poem The Erl King Set to Stone (Music by Schubert)

In Germany, Nature is an art form. There is no such thing as wilderness, or wild life, but there is a continuum that extends back to the primeval forest that was the crucible of the Germans as a people, to Wodin, the pre-Christian god of the North (for some), to the Celts (for others) and through Christianization to the Garden of Eden, which is the intersection of eternity and time. In other words, as the Germans show by having given themselves to it entirely, the entire concept of Nature is an art form. So too is the science they built upon it. Goethe knew that better than most. This is not, by the way, something you can take a democratic vote on. What you can vote on is stuff like this:

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The Jena Green House Cooperative, in its Post-Communist Days

But the barbed wire remains. One has to take these things down piece by piece. There’s not enough energy to do it all at once. In its prime, this greenhouse provided hothouse plants for the garden plots of Jena, in an atmosphere much like a rectal exam. You can vote on rectal exams. Sometimes the way to vote is to build a garden house.

Why is a man of the grasslands of Western Canada writing about Goethe? Not because I want to, I can tell you that, what with my family background and all.  Rather, because on the Road my identity was burned away and reforged. Because when I came back, I was a new person, if you could say I came back at all. Because Nature and Wilderness are used as the foundation stones of all of Western Canadian culture. Our science and our politics and our civics and pretty much everything else are predicated on the eternal independent viability and life-giving force of this thing called “Nature” and “Wilderness” and “The Wild”, but that’s nothing more than a time-photograph of colonization of a landscape created by and cared for by peoples, such as the Syilx of my valley, who treated it much as the Germans treat theirs. The “wilderness” that Canadian settlers found here was not wilderness at all, but an artistically created space. Rather than drawing on the energy of the natural world, for the last 150 years they have been drawing down on the human capital of just such a project as Goethe supported, and it doesn’t work. It has led only to environmental poverty. There is almost nothing left, and the remaining capacity of the earth to support the people of this place has been reduced to a few simple elements, corresponding to the natural laws of non-Goethean science, without space for humans, while the real solutions are invisible. There are few lenses that allow us all to get outside of this world view, but Goethe offers one. That he offers a form of science that, although created 200 years ago, is still more cutting edge than the cutting edge, is a bonus. All the nationalist rot that accompanies Goethe is just the stuff that drove him half mad. But that’s a different story.

Tomorrow: political realities and ethics.