Imagine, you’re a crabapple tree, just hanging out. Kind of a foggy day.
And they are here, covering every tree in sight, taking turns to dip down and eat.
I mean every tree.
The waxwings are here.
And the grasses and sages use the energy from these travellers and peck-peckers…
… to cast their seeds on the snow.
Lots of seeds.
It’s easy to see how the melting snow will carry the seeds into places on the soil crust of mosses and lichens that capture the water, making for germination, but there’s even more going on. It’s a fascinating microclimate down at snow level. The snow surface is surprisingly warm. It melts and refreezes daily, soaks the seeds, freezes in complex crystal shapes that then focus the sun like lasers, adding intense heat, and then thaws in a repetitive cycle, breaking open the seed cases— all modulated by water’s temperature range.
Now, that’s a beautiful thing.
A cuckoo is a bird that lays its eggs in other birds’ nests and lets them go about the hard work of raising them. It’s like that up on the hill. As the sun recedes from the southern grassland slopes, the bunchgrass nests (yes, nests, I mean look at them!)…
… rise up out of the skin of the earth (a covering of tiny plants that are the life of this place). The cheat grass has a different plan. Under the snow, it incubates, and the day the snow is gone (literally), it hatches.
Cheep cheep cheep.
In this way, cheat grass replaces the earth’s skin and creates midsummer drought. Those dry summers that the tourist Okanagan is proud of? Just thank the aliens up on the hill.
1. Pines, Sun and Water
Look how this ponderosa pine’s needles are designed to radiate heat. This helps for cooling in the summer. In the winter, the design helps the tree to collect water from the air in the cold of the night, and then release it in the warmth of the day (when the fine needles are unable to retain cold, fill with sun, melt frost and drop it to the tree’s base instead of allowing it to blow on by.) Just because there’s snow doesn’t mean it’s not still a desert!
2. Sage, Sun and Water
Look how the sage does it! It melts its way out of the snow. Here’s how it starts …
Look what happens a few days later, from this small beginning, deer tracks and all:
See how the sage has made a sphere of heat around itself and melted the snow as if it were on flame? No? Here’s a better image, perhaps:
Any snow that melts within the sage’s sphere of heat (a re-formed sun, after it has been transported by photons across cold space) goes to the community of mosses that cover the soil…
…which provide a lung-like interface between soil and air. After that, the water passes on to the roots of the sage itself. The sage melts snow, in other words, to take a breath. This is not a conscious action, but it happens just the same.
When the fog and the frost roll in and the snow crunches underfoot and the air nips at the fingers and the toes freeze in the boots, it’s time to go pruning fruit trees. In some cultures, it’s the symphony season. In others, it’s the season for trips to Mexico, to lie on the beach and turn brown (or red) in the sun. In my culture, which, unfortunately, as died out, it’s time to go out and prune fruit trees. My nectarine tree and all my memories are calling.
My apricot tree and the starlight I learned to prune trees by is calling.
My Fintry apple tree is standing in the open sky, rising out of the snow, with all my hopes for her as a native apple pie apple for this corner of the earth.
I know little about the seasons of Facebook or the intricacies of the poetry circuit in slam festivals in global cities, in which the young put their bodies on display, in electrified dances with their beautiful bodies, because I learned to dance with peach trees, and know them as my people. I learned to climb to the sky on a peach tree. I learned how to come back down to the earth: strange knowledge in the Anthropocene Age and the Age of Cities and Performance Art:
Nature is a creation of the Romantic Age. With the old, earth-based and community-based, consciousness set aside for revolutionary individualism, the place for the precise knowledge of how to move through and sculpt bodies in time, in concert with the earth and fruitfulness, has become an emotional reaction. That is such a profound romantic way of being in the world, that it is scarcely noticeable, yet it is what it is. The photographs that punctuate this note, with their emphasis on bodily perception and spiritual sublimation in perception, are a technology of that age, but I know an older technology. Its images are made in life, and in the channels of life.
Ah, Fintry, There You Are Again
There is knowledge in the romantic approach, and other knowledge in living inside the world it transformed. In my country, Canada, sadly enough, the pruning of trees is done just before harvest now, not as an art but as a technological intervention, to remove branches and to colour the fruit by exposing it suddenly to the fall sun. The fruit gains colour but no flavour, and the men who do this work (for it is men who do this work, men from the Caribbean) need no training and do not follow their trees through the years. There is no history in this. The result looks like this:
This is not pruning. It’s hacking, and the apples taste of it. In the country in which I live, an ancient art of gaining sustenance from the land, in which winter is a time of the greatest joy and creation, has become an unskilled industrial task dependent upon the technological insertion of chemical fertilizers to replace human skill, and, I’d just like it to be on record, of joy. Here are the pink blossoms of spring and the peaches of next summer. I have been caring for this tree for four years. This twig is an extension of myself. I am these peaches.
I don’t ask, or expect, you to understand. It’s an uncommon idea. Still, with that important social task, once shared by thousands, now being an almost private ritual of memory, I am left with memory and nature, not as loss, in the romantic sense, but as replacements for an entire language and wisdom tradition that was once known as art, and once in awhile a vineyard in the fog, planted much like a photograph.
It is for this reason that I have been wandering away from the orchards (and vineyards) in this blog, as much as they tug at my heart, and deep into the land that was here before they came.
My country was never about romantic images of the past. It was about definite knowledge and personal work on and with the land to create material of social use, with deep roots in the past and deep fruitfulness in the future. As a pruner, my job has always been to pay very close attention to growth, and to sculpt time. With the orchards now turned into industrial plantations, it is in old Indigenous land that I find a remnant of my culture. Yes, people in the romantic tradition of radical selfhood will call the image of a combined porcupine, mule deer and coyote footprint on a well used trail below a picture of nature …
… but to me it is joy. This is how life is spread across the land. This is how the sun is captured and winter is extinguished. You can’t get that by flying to Mexico. This is what the future looks like, rooted in the past. This is what I know when I’m pruning fruit trees: potentiality, which can be developed into new technologies for the earth. Strange, I know, but I want this knowledge to go on record, in a country which has, for the most part, walked away from it, while still claiming ownership of the land under the concept of nature. Don’t get me wrong. Nature is beautiful. It’s just that the sagebrush twig melting its way out of the snow in the image below is not nature. The image is.
This is a concept so foreign, I expect, to people in my country, that I can do little except leave it here as a record that in 2015, one man had a kind of knowledge that came down from 20,000 years of human care (and likely more), and would like to pass both it and the earth down to others who followed, before they both are lost. I used to think that I could pass on this knowledge through poetry, which I learned from pruning peach trees, but poetry has become an industrial art, embedded in book culture and a complex culture of courtly social clues, not in the culture of the earth. Perhaps, though, I can show you a few footsteps I have taken through my days. Perhaps you will share them and pass them on, like these crabapples, that the waxwings will come to in a few weeks as they pass north …
Perhaps you will come and walk with me for awhile in the snow.
Our earth is not just a glob of rocks …
spinning around the sun, and not just vast seas of water sloshing around at the pull of the moon …
… but is also an air. Like the ocean coast…
Heron at Willow Point, looking East. That’s Quadra Island to the left.
… the air has a shore.
We are intertidal creatures on this shore, like these fellows at Willow Point …
It’s not just us. The sagebrush, bunchgrass, trees and weeds here…
… are also intertidal creatures on this shore, reacting to pressures of light, air, wind, atmospheric water, and heat (and to human reactions to them.) It’s easy to think that those are all instantaneous pressure effects, but I don’t know. Look at this snow:
It fell all at once, flat as could be, but it’s melting now, according to patterns, waves shall we say, of wind, and how that has driven the snow, partly in reaction to energies of air and ice crystals, but also to minute edge patterns of heat…
… and in reaction to the forms of the bunchgrass below the snow, which shapes the snow as much as the wind does, and both through this shaping and through the heat tubes of its stalks, shapes the way in which the sun is drawn into it.
And not just that! Here’s the snow itself…
Every grain of snow repeats these effects of sun and shadow, acting in concert, along the vectors of the wind and the other vectors of the hidden grass, to create waves and rivers of focussed light.
Snow is time. Here’s an image of the snow above once the patterns of melting have been integrated into the patterns of the grass itself.
And wouldn’t you know it: grasses, too, are creatures of the wind. This shorescape, this lightly breaking and focussed sky, is the primary human habitat.
Spring is here, friends, and it looks like this. That’s some mighty fine fog rolling over from the “Head of the Lake Indian Reserve”, isn’t it. That falling action, though, that’s part of spring. So is the rising up. You can see them both in the image below, with the mustard, russian thistle, salsify, and, gasp, some native Big Sage.
No? Don’t see it? Ah, let’s go walking in the snow and see what we can see. Despite all this fog, there is a sun, see?
Not only can it make it through the fog, but it can make it through fog’s daughter, snow, to catch in the dark twigs of the big sage beneath it.
Faster and faster.
In this way, it teases it out from that weight of gravity, at first slowly …
…until it breaks free…
… and rises to the light, shaking gravity, and winter off.
And it is spring.
Don’t let the snow fool you.
That’s just gravity. It’s no match for the sun. At the base of each of these molten patches, water is already entering the soil, and is already being drawn up into the plants, as they prepare for increasing heat. The cylinder of absent snow (gravity) around each stalk of big sage, in other words, is this…
There is no winter. There is only a slowing down of time. Beautiful!
Trees are boundaries. They are creatures of the air, but are anchored to the soil. Most birds are like that, too. Many put their nests up in the sky, supported by trees. They even ride the wind. Many even use unnatural materials to weave their nests, as the orioles did when they wove the nest below.
To them, all materials are natural, even this invasive Chinese elm tree. Other than sheltering this pair of orioles, it really does very little else in the ecosystem. But what is this ecosystem? Why, a collection of insects that have managed to adapt to human landscaping, as these orioles have done, and a collection of fruits and flowers planted by humans for their own aesthetic enjoyment.
(In back of the tortured juniper)
If humans did not go in for beauty big time, there would be no orioles now.
That, however, is only a short term effect. In my community of houses, most of them 45 years old, built on an old orchard, most of the fruit trees are abandoned. They won’t last long.
Tick, tick, tick, tick…
New houses plant sterile plants that do not feed animals or birds, or even are just surrounded by gravel, with a bit of artistically arranged driftwood and maybe a shrub or two, without room for orioles.
This is 90% of the entire green space of the housing plot. Note the rocks. They rest on sheets of plastic, to keep things from growing there.
This is nature now.
New Landscaping, Wrapped to Keep out Deer
The kicker is that orioles are more beautiful than elm trees, gravel, golf-course inspired low-maintenance landscaping, or driftwood. How did we, the artists, allow beauty to become the agent of death, on our watch? We are the orioles. What’s next for us?
E = mc2 is Einstein’s attempt to express the spirit of the universe in numbers. The principle he is getting at looks sort of like this:
I say “sort of” because snow is vaporized water that crystallizes when it loses energy below a certain threshold, which for convenience is called zero degrees celsius (or thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit). If water comes out of a gaseous form above this threshold, it looks like this:
That kind of transformation of form is not what Einstein meant. He meant that energy, such as the energy required to hold this water in the air …
… is a form of matter (as is the water), just as matter (such as water) is a form of energy. He also meant that time is physical. It is a distance at the same time that it is the speed of light. He was talking about a theoretical and mathematical world, not about the world of matter and time found on earth. Here, the sun mixes with the planet and extends itself in time, like this:
Ring Necked Pheasant in a Moment of Panic
The pheasant above is moving fast enough to change its position in space, but not fast enough to experience space bending around it, because on earth things are physical and interact by chemical means. That is in no way a duller conception than Einstein’s, and in no way deviates from it. The female asparagus plant below, for instance, represents a continuous, unbroken chain of life stretching back to early plant evolution in what is now South Africa.
That is, of course, not the experience of the single individual above, but even in her life, as evidenced by the berries spread along her branches, all of which rapidly opened in one year, she grew into a space, that existed in potential and was then realized, shifting her centre from one growing tip pushing out of the spring soil to further extension in space through the medium of other individuals and seed dispersal. We might as well call that space time. The difference between her experience and Einstein’s conception is profound. It is the difference between a drop of water ….
… and the sun that makes it visible to humans.
That difference is an example of what it is like to be from the earth and to live on it, as humans do. Here, on this planet, there are both individuals, and communities of individuals, and they are the same thing, just as matter and energy are the same thing to Einstein.
Notice the Yellow Smudge of Asparagus in the Lower Right!
Individual Plants? An Ecosystem? The concepts trick us into thinking that they are different. They aren’t. They are rainfall and snow. They are light and shadow. Perhaps you can see that in the patterns of grass and shrubs in the Okanagan hill below.
And what are those? They are effects of light and shadow, of the presence and absence of the sun, and how it is carried in water, and frozen in snow, to be released again later. These effects are as complex as Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, and as beautiful.
Female Staghorn Sumac in October
The thing about energy on Earth, or anywhere, is that energy doesn’t disappear — which means it doesn’t grow cold. It changes the way in which it occupies space. It grows — not by growing in and of itself, but by building relationships. We might call those branches, like in the sumac above, or we might call them fruit, such as in the hip below…
… but in both cases they are a means of extending relationships in both time and space. You can observe this effect in the opening of every one of the millions of blue chicory blossoms along the roads of the Okanagan in the summer time, and the way in which the wind lifts their petals but never lets them fall.
Falling is always there. We call that endurance gravity, which is just a word to describe endurance. Even the apostemon bee gathering the white pollen of these blooms is working within the bonds of that gravity, even when she sees her larvae through the winter, underground. What differs in her from gravity, is that she represents a long, unbroken line of life, back to the first cell on earth, that does not just fall but rides her falling in what is called flight. Life is an opening. It is unbroken. It is, however, breakable, and can be enslaved. Here is a plantation of cloned apple tree slaves.
Here is an image of how wasteful this entrapment is of light, and how it turns light into geometric form ….…. when before enslavement, it was an image of wonder. Here it is, by the name of God, in the Convent Pasture Orchard of Prague.
Only one can humans walk freely through. The other is a machine, built for machines. Remember, though, that this is the planet of growth. Humans are from this planet. They grow into it. They grow through it. A child in a slave orchard, or a child in the pasture garden above, are different spiritual creatures. They will see the earth differently. They will care for it differently. They won’t both care to keep slaves. The consequences are profound.