Western Yellow-bellied Racer

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

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

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

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Very curious.

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With a gorgeous yellow belly and huge eyes.

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

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

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Yellow Bellied Marmot

Note the racer-like stick to the upper left!

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

~

All images at Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

 

 

Marsh Hawk in Trouble

Still strong enough to fly, although not very willing, but that wounded foot is going to make it hard to hunt.hawk

 

I hope it heals quickly. It’s not a reprieve for the rodents, though.

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The badger (nearly extinct, but making a bit of a comeback) has their number. It is indeed a world of peril.

 

 

Beautiful Biscuit Root

High above Kalamalka Lake, it is gathering time.P1760015

 

Biscuit Root

In this old garden of sacred stone (I found an elderly Syilx couple sitting in their car, staring at this, reading it intently) …

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… I found a flower I have never seen before in this grassland.

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It likes shade and well drained slopes, in the till above the scree that biscuit root finds so desirable. It’s mighty handsome, especially before it fully opens.

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Hydrophyllum tenuipes, Pacific Waterleaf

The rhizomes and leaves were also greens. It makes sense in an old roadside garden like this, surrounded by many old campfire rings. I’m pretty sure this was an old gathering camp and that people, not so dazzled by huge romantic lakes as people are these days, spent many weeks here in the spring of each year, with a small stream below, deer in the hills…

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… and a view of this…

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Well, without the highway. Ancient trails would have led to that image of birth though, and the winter village below. They still do, even though the old trail would have followed the water.

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And the biscuit root still grows, although, as I figure it, women took one look at sacks of Hudson’s Bay Company Flour back in the day and realized that it was a lot easier to scoop up a cupful of that stuff and make bannock than it was to pound roots for half a morning. Still, the food is here.

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The guy who ran the chipper that did this…

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Even lifted his blade to leave it behind.

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Wouldn’t you?

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.

How to Find a Story on the Columbia Plateau

Note the grove of firs in the background here, between the Sinlahekin and Okanogan valleys (well, stories) of Washington. If you walk one way, they are the bristly children a toad is carrying on her back. To find out why, you’ll have to walk up into the trees and see what they’re up to. If you walk another way, this is a story of water — of how it does not flow here and shows itself on the surface of the soil mostly through life: ponderosa pine, douglas fir, big sagebrush, serviceberry, and blue-bunched wheatgrass, for example. To find out why, you’re going to have to pay attention to earth and sky. A third way to walk this story is to walk both of the above stories at once. P1730837

 

If you walk it right, you’ll be able to read it like this:

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I say “like”, because you’ll be in there, pushing the twigs aside, feeling the cold of the bark on your hands, breathing. These red dogwoods will be village plants, where water reveals itself and you, too, have come.

 

 

A Bee for Every Flower?

Like all sunflowers, balsam roots bloom in rings, from the outside in, like this.P1740124

 

Here’s a bumblebee showing her technique for working this kind of flower.

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Here’s the brown bee that has been out for the last couple days. You won’t see them later in the season.

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That got me to thinking. Perhaps there are specific bees that appear as each ring matures?

P1740398 Or could it be that there used to be a dozen species of flowers blooming at this time, each with its own specific bee, and now only the balsam roots have resisted cattle grazing, sagebrush, drought and cheatgrass, so the bees are all using them.antbee

 

And ants, as you can see above. Not to mention the crab spider hiding under the stamens, waiting for one of them to come close.  It would all make an elegant and exciting experiment.

Note: If the hypothesis were proven true, a secondary question would be: How many species of bee have we lost, the ones that were unable to adapt? It haunts me.

Of Mice and Men

Under the snowdrifts, mice ate between the thorns.chew

 

On the Columbia River, men try to catch their salmon in the same way.

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In the second image, however, you can see the wall of industrialization that attempts to write an end to life on earth, and the resilience of people to it. But let’s not romanticize the Yakama fishers. Here in the industrial West, all humans are weeds, like the cheatgrass in the retaining wall below.

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This is the place left for us to inhabit now. The following image shows the same place:

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The Vernon Heron Rookery in Light Industrial Hell

The following image, too:

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The Okanogan River (left) Enters the Impounded Columbia

It is all industrial. Any of us who wish to live on our own planet now, must live in the weedy spaces between the constructions of the technological elite, but that’s nothing: the earth and its other creatures must live there every minute of every day. I showed you a giant Douglas Fir the other day…

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This Quinault tree is one of what were once millions like it in Washington. They rose on the bones and bodies of salmon. Now it’s one of a couple dozen. The rest were turned into cities, which have already been torn down. Because the salmon are gone, trees like this will not come on again. What are left are the weeds we must live among, as the weeds we are. What is left to us is to make a new world. We have the ability to choose that world. These men, for instance, pulling one of the last White Sturgeon, the ancient ones, out of the Columbia in front of the mothballed military reactors of the Hanford Reservation, have that ability.

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Why Do Some Fire Hydrants Play Cowboys and Mexicans?

Russian thistle was one of the first weeds from the Russian steppes to destroy the grasslands of the North American West. It became one of the dominant characters in Country & Western music, when it was still the music of this place and hadn’t gone commercial. To set the scene, here’s Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers crooning away.

And here’s some tumbleweeds doing their Russian thing in the Mojave Desert:

I’ve seen them do this trick many a time, including down Main Street in the resort city of Penticton in the winter snow. On the Hanford Nuclear Reservation a few Junes back, with the plutonium dust blinding me, they came up over the hill like a hiya moosmoos* of mustangs, galloping away, and I had to wait it out. They were on me about two seconds after I took the shot below. I’d pulled off to give them space. (*’herd’ in the Chinook Jargon trade language of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the language of this place)

moosmoosHere they are hanging out in Vernon. Now, what I want to know is … why this fire hydrant?
P1720334Why does all this history stop here and refuse to budge? Why, could it be because Roy and friends were playing at being Mexican vaqueros, in celebration of the absorption of Mexican Texas and California into the United States, in the way other white boy groups played Black music as if it were their own?

It sure looks like it. A good number of the first ranchers in the grasslands of what became the Canadian Northwest were Mexican vagueros dispossessed by legal sleight-of-hand in California, who drove cattle north to the gold fields in 1858. They never went back. Now the tumbleweeds, symbol of restless wandering in the Old West, have their hidden stories to tell, still. As Roy Rogers said…

See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I’ll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

But there’s beauty still.

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And usefulness…

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Please, let’s tumble no more.

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When Volcanoes Crumble Flowers Come

When the earth is spoken of in its own terms it becomes poetry and is a language for spirit, like this…

When rock catches sun and snow, lupins sprout and sagebrush buttercups and desert parsley bloom. Meanwhile the rock draws water out of the body of the earth, cracks with frost, turns to salt, and feeds the soil, over a few thousand years.

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The sun draws water through the stems of the flowers in the same process, while the flowers follow underground water, which follows subsurface stone, in the same way …

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… and then comes the sun, as called …

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If the flowers are stone that has evaporated as salt into the air, then the wasp is salt that has fallen as rain from the air to the suns that salt has made out of water.

This too is science. (It is not, however, erosion.)