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.

 

Betraying the Earth

Good intentions are not enough. Contemporary systems of governmental organization and the structures that support them ensure that principles of conservation can become something else entirely. The Government of Canada is currently in the process, for example, of side-stepping its own environmental-protection legislation by the simple device of declaring lakes of use to mining companies to be mine effluent ponds, and not lakes. Under that definition, no environmental standards are at play. You can read the full article here. This kind of thing shows up in our valley, too. The image below shows a new stretch of highway, designed to make traffic flow more rapidly through the valley. It has been in operation for a year. Notice that a large amount of input on habitat restoration and protection has resulted in laying (no doubt at great expense) dead fir trees on the crushed rock of the infill slope, as habitat for insects, birds, seeds, and, hey, maybe porcupines and bears. But, look at it in comparison to the slope above. It’s not habitat for anything except for dead trees. A serious attempt at maintaining environmental integrity would not have separated one side of the hill from another, or would, at the very least, have planted oregon grape, sumac, saskatoon, choke cherry, douglas fir, mock orange, rocky mountain maple, poison ivy, wild clematis, blue-bunched wheatgrass, prickly pear cactus, and whatever else is growing on that slope, but, no. A few dead trees and the rest is supposed to follow. In the end, the trees are an expensive art installation, but that’s about it.

P1530091Highway 97

Lake Country, British Columbia

There is a point at which an ideological system takes more effort to maintain than the benefit gained from it. Sadly, we crossed that barrier long ago.

 

Romantic Images of Autumn

It is possible to read land by colour. The Douglas firs on the ridge line below are ready to pass through the coming winter. So are the yellow choke cherries in the gully in the foreground.P1520857

 

These grapes, growing just a hundred metres below and to the right of this image are not.

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They are responding to different climatic needs (from the Rhine and the Rhone rivers in Europe) and the petrochemical fertilizers that are their environment. When they lose their leaves to the winter, the winter they lose their leaves to will be as much the petroleum industry as the weather. There’s an interesting principle at work here. Notice how the grapes above are set up to catch the sun that their genetics and their fertilizer aren’t tuned for. A little mechanical intervention is meant to make up for the difference. In any other context this would be called art, or at least artifice or artfulness. Look at them from a different angle…

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See, they are designed to filter the cold down the hill, and away, and to catch the afternoon and evening sun, which comes in from the West (to the left of this image). Look how the bunchgrass and sagebrush, native to this place, do this.

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They do it by responding to the water when it is in abundance and to the sun when it is in abundance, through specific adaptations of their growth, including stem structures and growth cycles for the bunchgrass and water-trapping leaf hairs for the sage. Winter is not an issue for these plants, because it is part of them. Not so for this apple orchard halfway down this hill:

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The trees are trained like grapes, with vertical walls to catch the sun, and lots of nitrogen fertilizer to push sap through the wood of dwarf trees. The fruit would be bland and colourless, except that two weeks before harvest, all the new growth is cut off, to expose the fruit to the sun. You could do all this by growing big old apple trees that droop their fruit down on hanging limbs and drop their leaves in accord with water, light and temperature, but it wouldn’t fit with the desire to derive profit from the land, rather than to become it. The result looks provisional. That’s because it is. You can see that, perhaps, in the next image of the same apple orchard.

P1520565This is not really a living environment. The grass is barely surviving. The trellis system can’t cope. The trees aren’t thriving. In fact, they’re overgrown. The orchard was meant to turn land into an image of capitalism, and to be replaced after ten years. It has outlived that, but, such is the nature of capitalization when it hits the land, no farmer can afford to tear the trees out to start again. This is because the system is not designed to last. The image below shows a system that is designed to last. Here’s a gully, that harvests morning and evening sun, one flank at a time, to produce one long row of fruit watered by the forces of gravity at work in the slopes and the way they interact with light and heat.

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It will last forever. Instead of thrusting up above the land, it moves within it. Instead of creating a profit over ten years, or the myth of one, it creates a steady state over 1000s of years. The profit is the excess of production, which is naturally designed to carry the plants into new territory, but can be harvested by humans and other animals. In other words, you can have your profit in ten years (or not), in systems that are fragile and require an entire system of supports, or you can have it over thousands of years. You can take profit from the land or you can become the land. Anything else is a romantic image of Autumn as death, because that’s exactly what it is: the point at which the earth asserts itself over artificial folly. The inability of farmers to beat the ten year capital cycle is an example of that folly, and the earth’s retribution. Our folly as observers is to see the ruin after the cropping of this land as the bittersweet fruitfulness of Autumn. It’s not. It’s our culpability we’re looking at. A crop in balance with this place looks like this at this time of year:

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Choke Cherry in That Gully

That cherry is not our profit. That profit fell onto the soil, when we neglected to pick it. This berry is for a bird that’s going to need it mid-winter. A waxwing, most likely.

So, remember, if you’re buying a product of the fall, and it comes from green leaves, you’re not buying sustainability. You can read it that simply, and that well.

 

Of Fog and Human Bondage in the Okanagan Valley

Fog up high.

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Fog down low. Yes, grass. It’s as much a pressure condensation as airborne water.

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Fog up high and down low together.

P1520380Fog in the gully (Bushes squeezed out of the grass by gravity.)

 

P1520857Fog in vineyard. P1520355

 

Note that the vineyard is not fog. It imitates it. In other words, it stands in for people, in the way that Nike and Imperial Shell Oil do. People all in a row. Tied up to wire.

 

The Problem With Canada

Welcome to Canada. The Wild West. Tumbleweeds. Sagebrush.p1240495

Wild animals in the forests.

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Beautiful nature.

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Hi-technology showplace.

dishWorld class highways.

P1370994 Beautiful Cities.P1370010

Exciting Street Life.

P1220105World Class Architecture.

P1210123 Outdoor Recreation.P1190855

Beautiful! And now, in all her glory …

Canada_map-4Yup, that’s her. She’s a great big sprawling map that covers half a continent. Notice that she’s made out of a little more than a dozen cities, mostly strung along a rail line. What’s going on outside of them? This …

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Well, this too:

big2Now, Canada is not one of those countries that rises from its people and asserts itself in the world. It didn’t come about like that. It came together out of some people in Central and Eastern North America deciding to make common cause, and then tying a few million square miles of British controlled industrial (Hudson Bay Company lands) and colonial  (The metis-British colony of British Columbia and the asian-British colony of Vancouver Island) space to that with a railroad.

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For awhile, the railroad carried people around from place to place — mostly immigrants from Europe to fill up space cleared of indigenous peoples on the Prairies. Then the railroad started carrying grain over the mountains to the sea, then coal and sulphur, some forests stacked up on their sides as lumber, and now petroleum. The railroad above exists today to carry away the trees that have filled in the grasslands of the intermountain west.

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No, This is Not a Forest. These are Weeds.

How can a country built out of industry but not out of its people or its land survive? It has to sell what it can. In the image below, we can witness Canada selling itself for all its worth.

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Well, what do I mean? I mean, don’t confuse Canada with the geographical space it occupies or the people who live on it. They are not the same thing. The image below, for example, is not Canada. It’s actually the Okanagan River at Gallagher Canyon, south of McIntyre Bluff above Vaseaux Lake. This is Syilx land, and the greatest surviving salmon spawning bed of the vast Columbia River system… all two miles of it.

rivergallagherfish

If you look on a map, though, you’ll find it, in Canada, with a bit of searching. X marks the spot.

gallagher

OK, indigenous land is not Canada, yet it is within Canada … weird, isn’t it. Don’t worry. It gets weirder. When I said that the image below was a picture of Canada…

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… I was leaving out some details. The grassland that this road was imposed upon nine years ago is not  Canada. It is an ancient Syilx medicine grassland. Okanagan Lake in the background is not Canada. It is an ancient post-glacial lake 135 kilometres long. The mountain across the lake is not Canada. It’s part of a mid-Pacific volcanic island chain that drifted across the seabed a centimetre a year and eventually rode up for 100 kilometres over the other (Eastern) shore of the lake (including the dark peninsula in the photo above), in a great volcanic conflagration, before being turned eastward with the slowly advancing continent. As for that dark peninsula and the ridge behind it, that’s not Canada either. That’s an in-grown Syilx grassland. What then is Canada here? Physically, it’s a tumbleweed (an invasive species), a road, a sidewalk, some streetlights, buried power, sewer and water lines, a retaining wall, a strip of grass, a couple half-dead hawthorn trees, and a group of houses and vacation rentals and boat jetties down on the lake. Less noticeably, it’s a collection of weeds and overgrown sagebrush in the over-grazed and nearly extinct grassland, the infilled trees in the grassland across the way, and the clear cut forest (white) on the mountains across the lake. Canada is, in other words, an administrative concept. It is a social thing. It’s a human arrangement for dealing with other humans. It is not, however, the land. It is, as it always was out here in the west beyond the West, something imposed upon the land, and what is imposed upon the land is what it always was: a railroad and the industrial products it was meant to carry, plus the new immigrants it has brought here from around the world, to further the development of those industrial products. Now, by industrial products, we mean stuff like this:

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That’s right, a Secwepemc Douglas fir in an overgrown savanna in the upper Cariboo grassland at 150 Mile House. That is what the forests were here before Canada filled them in with weed trees (such as those skirting the trees in the image above), which it now harvests and ships to the other social arrangement, called Germany, as wood pellets, so the forest people living in that industrial arrangement can heat their houses without using Russian natural gas. Now, Canada, Germany and Russia are not about to disappear in the next few years, but it’s good to recognize them for what they are. Still, even though millions of people come to Canada every year, they don’t come to see the real Canada, which looks like this…

backyard

… or even the hectares of abandoned log haul trucks in Williams Lake, at the heart of Secwepemc Territory, after most of the Secwepemc and Tsilhqot’in trees (in an area the size of Belgium) have been cut down, with the profits invested in New York and Toronto, cities in the Eastern administrative districts of the social organizational projects called the United States and Canada respectfully.

logtrucks

They come to see a nineteenth century image of the land (not Canada), which looks like this …

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That’s an image of a construction site at Banff, Alberta, at which an arts centre on Tunnel Mountain is being converted into a business management centre, under the name of ‘creativity’. Honest: what is being created out of these iconic Blackfoot mountains is Canada, which is precisely that business management program and the class of people serving it. It’s thus no accident that in place of the view that the artists at Banff once enjoyed, of those ancient uplifted seabeds, they now get new Canadian mountains, which look like this…

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In other words, the artists of Banff now have a view of the tall, mountain-like buildings of Canada (a business management organization.) Well, that’s the way things are in Canada. It gets more intriguing yet, though. For instance, in the most westerly portion of this social arrangement, the collection of British-Asian colonies on the Pacific coast (and the northern third of Oregon Territory) and, by their own definition, the land they are laid on top of …

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… a map of population densities makes for a more accurate map of Canada in this place …

British_Columbia_2006_population_density

As you can see, most of the place doesn’t have all that many people living on it. Let’s concentrate for a moment on the densely populated areas. Here, I’ll blow that up a bit …

big4

The orange areas are also Canadian retirement communities. That’s one of the things Canada, the social organization laid over the land, does: it allows for, and even encourages, the treatment of half of a continent as one continuous social space, without regard for the land that lies beneath its own administrative and industrial concerns. In terms of the map above, it means that 80% of the population of British Columbia lives in area 3, Greater Vancouver. Most of those people are intimately tied to Canada, but only peripherally to the land, and most are here as new settlers. They have, understandably, quite specific dreams and concerns. Within area 4, the area which I live right beside, Greater Kelowna, similar issues are at play, except here the newcomers are from Ontario and the Canadian Prairies, but, still, they also have quite specific dreams and concerns. There are, however, many consequences to having a population built out of people foreign to the land. One, just one, is this…

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That’s a Eurasian Milfoil harvester, which is a machine that is operated to mow off an invasive water weed so that Canadians can swim in this post glacial lake in the summer without having to swim through an underwater forest. One water manager in the valley calls this “water triage” — the dedication of government resources to the appearance of water purity. In other words, it’s one way of maintaining an image of a pristine, nineteenth century land to serve an important Canadian industrial product: tourism. As you can see from the image, however, the land is anything but pristine. The Syilx grassland (under land claim since, shamefully, 1895) on the hill, for instance, has no native grasses left, but a big forestry seed nursery, to provide enhanced breeding stock for the forestry industry. Even the people who live here in Vernon, British Columbia, live around the edges of these industrial metaphors laid over the land, and that’s why I said earlier that Canada will sell whatever it can to survive …

p1120005… in this place, even when it comes to this cow, grazing a recently-burnt, long-overgrazed Syilx hillside (a teenager was playing with matches) for the last scrap of life left on it …

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That is one of the rights that Canada accords its citizens, to do this to the land as a “private landowner”, and is, in fact, one of the logical consequences of Canada and one of the demands that Canada makes on its citizens. If one doesn’t want to take part in that, one must forfeit no small part of one’s citizenship and live, as people have always done in whatever regime they find themselves in, including that of Cold War Era Soviet Russia, in the cracks between the social and administrative idea called the state and the land itself.

P1070131Community Theatre Parking Lot With Oil Cars, Kamloops, British Columbia

Either that, or one must retreat to fantasy, such as the image of Provence below …

ok

…instead of this image of Canada…

P1070136 … or this one, which reveals it as a construction project (remember, this is the training centre for Canada’s artists aka business managers) …P1070147

… while the people are living here, however they can, shooting at American cars:

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People get by. They’re very resilient. The land, however, and its ability to support those people and its other creatures, is not.

P1490114Vineyard with Weeds and Hunting Hawks

Trashed.

This is not romantic and not Provence, but you’re not going to see this from Canada, which needs to sell itself, and you’re not going to see this as a stranger. The gap this image represents, however, is so huge, that if Canada doesn’t somehow bridge it, it is doomed as a country at the same rate as is the earth, and it should have been so much more. It breaks my heart that to live on my own land I have to follow the same winding trails through Canada that the deer and coyotes do, such as the two mule deer bucks in the weed fields surrounding the barricaded vineyard below.

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But I do, because the alternative is to leave my land, and the earth, and become a Canadian, and, frankly, that’s not very attractive.

P1070156 Here, let’s zoom in on a couple citizens of that creative country.

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Of Bears and Men and the Stars

Bears build their highways in the shade.

P1510732Look at the planetary forces they live in. You’d think they were creatures of the stars.P1510792

 

Now, here’s a golf cart highway up the hill to the left.

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And the view?

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Hail on the last day of September. More of that life among the stars thing. Conclusion? We have a lot in common with bears.

P1510826North

Yet treat the earth as if it were ours.

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 South

Bears, though, share, with us…

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… while we build alien landing strips.

P1510810Note the blue rocks!

 

 

Putting a Face to Nature

This is not nature.

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It is a shrub. This is not nature.

P1500096 It is another shrub. This is not nature.

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You got it. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500160It’s grass. This is not nature:
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It’s choke cherries at the end of the season. Yeah. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500653It’s wire weed, reclaiming a road shoulder, with a beautiful disrespect for gravity. What then is nature? It’s a human concept. These things aren’t. But, you see, there’s a trick here. Look again. This is human.

P1500105This is human.

P1500096 This is human.

P1500083 This is human, too.

cc And this. It’s you.

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Yes, you. And even this.

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By nature, a specific kind of human attention must be meant. Otherwise the term is just no use at all. Unless, of course, you believe that you are not of this planet. If that’s the case, then you can use it. If you do, however, this is not human…

P1500105 This is not human…P1500096 Nor this… P1500083 Nope, not this, either…,cc… nor this…P1500653

… but this is, perhaps…

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Grassland Artifice

This grass was humanly sown to stabilize a slope after road construction. It has replaced a rich, living landscape with a single species.

This is how profit is drawn from the earth and turned into human economies. The life of a thousand species is concentrated down to one (humans). How could it be otherwise. It’s the mirror of human economic organization under the current world economic model. All discussions of the earth are ethical discussions.

 

Rain is Fun!

After three weeks of hot, hot weather, stretching the summer deep into the fall, gloriously, rain! Here are the first drops…P1490976 It’s like the moon!

P1490977 Why not. The moon came from here.

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And the scent that the rain and earth give to the air on impact!P1490988 Oh my! There’s just nothing like it.

P1490989 It’s like Proust and his madelaines, it is.P1490990 Now, here’s a cool effect: a tiny drop hits a rock and expands. I mean, really expands!P1490995 Oh, a bigger view (yes, I’m getting wet and hiding my camera under my shirt in between snaps)… P1500016 Neat, huh. Pshaw, that’s nothing. Look closely:P1500034Look how the earth just embraces that water, eh! That’s the way things are done on this planet. And from the other direction, so see how the light handles it:P1500033It handles it well! And pulling back again (because we can)…P1500022 Ah, we could delight in this moment all day, but it’s just that, you know, a moment. It passes. You have to enjoy it when it comes.P1500039 What a party it is!

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Whoo-hooo! That moment billions of years ago when the comets first struck the hot earth, well, it lives on! How cool is that!

Light and Shadow in the Grass

I promised I would show you some images of a tension I’ve noticed in Western culture. It’s a living tension, that comes in variable forms. First…

shade

 Shadows of Grass on Stone

… and second …

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Lit Grass Within Shadow

… and a third variation of the same effect …

P1500604Light Glowing Within Shadow and Outside of It

… and a fourth …

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Leaf Shading a Leaf

We could go on all day playing with such interwoven images of light and dark. That they are easily viewed as light and shadow is cultural, however. They could as easily be named as two separate forms of light, the light, for example, on the brighter cottonwood leaves below, and the dark on the others …

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… but, really, they are all lit. There is a kind of light cast by the mind (call it naming, if you like), which consolidates understandings of energy by mapping out their recurrence. You can use it, for example, to map the same patterns as seen above in the image below…

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Light and Shade in a Chinese Elm

You could go on to map the variations in this pattern in many different plants, and then make classifications of the effect. If you follow this path long enough, you can see the same pattern, extended across a season, and even across maps of evolutionary time, here…

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 Fall Garden

That is largely the science of nomenclature, but it’s also the basic way in which culture operates in the West: it consolidates discoveries by mapping out all possible instances of their recurrence in the world. Heck, you can even find it here…

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Red Dogwood’s Time Map

But, of course, if we’re going that far, we’re into the territory of naming as a power of extending patterns. That’s a second kind of naming. Here’s a big leap within it from light to hormonal patterns laid down by light.

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Chinese Elm Sapling

On the one hand, there is a leap of understanding here, that the chemical map of the plant is the same as its interaction with light. On the other hand, the intellectual tools for mapping that effect were laid down long ago in different contexts. To view it here is to classify their existence in a new instance. There is no gap between these two forms of naming. They lie on a continuum. A further extension of the energy of naming as extension …

P1500206 … is found in the grasses that evolved to harvest this energy of extension. Each blade is a shadow of carbon in the light, and yet each blade dying in the fall holds a little more light than strikes it in any moment…P1500172

… in a complex pattern determined by the interaction of each blade and stalk with each other one around it, in a pattern continually transformed by the wind. The form of naming I mean here is the one that can see this pattern and add it to the realm of knowledge, so that it can be extended by the other, classifying energy. The two work together, like shade and light. When they don’t work together, effects like the wind-blown patterns of rain-weighted grass below (without the weight of rain, the wind would not have laid it down in its own shape, or at all) are seen as random.

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They aren’t. They are a measure of grass health, sun, nutrients, rain and wind. In the grassland, such effects make the difference between productivity and drought. In other words, they make the difference between the continued survival of species in this landscape, including but by no means limited to humans. The tension between these two forms of naming powers Western culture, and it is through it that all who live within that culture view the physical world. In fact, this tension is the physical world, for people in this particular culture. This, for example, is an image of the tension between these two forces.

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That these are late-season wild cherries is a part of the classification energy. That the fruits are laid down as concentrations of darkness is a part of the power of extension. Anyone who might suggest that these two energies are separate is likely to think that the world they see is not an image of their culture. It is dangerous to think like that too often.