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 …


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 …


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:


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:


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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


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…

vww P1410138 P1410139

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.


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:


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:


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:


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.


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 …



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.


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:


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:

schreber 2

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:


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:


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.


Two Different Methods of Science

Yesterday, I pointed out parts of the scientific colour theory of the poet, statesman and early scientist Goethe. That theory is based on the belief that a science built from a foundation of wholeness will deliver far different (and in Goethe’s mind preferable) results from one built on breaking wholeness into its component parts, measuring the behaviour of those parts, and reassembling them again through logic. The latter is the kind of science we have. Goethe’s science became the kind of art we have, at least in the intellectual European tradition. The distinction, however, is largely cultural. It is entirely possible to have a science built on Goethe’s principles, which are based on measuring the wholeness of light (its white appearance to the human eye) rather than its spectrum after it has passed through a prism. To Goethe, the latter only measured the kind of light that had passed through a spectrum. To Newton, it was the foundation of an entire technical form of science. Goethe preferred measuring light with the human eye, and recording the effects it had on human measuring devices, rather than the effects that technical devices had on it. Following Newton’s kind of science, we could examine the ant lion trap below by measuring the dryness of the sand, the particular size of its grains, the exposure of the slope its on, the degree of shade offered by the Douglas fir tree above, the particular species of ants being hunted with this trap, and so on, in comparison with other locations in which ant lions are found, to derive a set of principles about the behaviour of ant lions, which could be expanded into a set of principles about desert adaptation, or hunting behaviour, and so on. Fair enough. That is certainly a scientific approach. Following Goethe’s method, we could also, however, measure the totality of this scene, the human response to it, and (among many other non-quantifiable qualities) its predominant greyness…P1390816… and even, perhaps, compare it to the greyness (and brown balance) in this image:


… and in this one …


… and this one …


… and this one …


These areas are all sharing a band of light energy in one landscape, to varying degrees, and mixed with other spectraI (again, to varying degrees), as observed by a human. Let it be noted that on the day most of these images were made (the grasshopper was found 2 days later, on a different slope of the same old seabed, but one ground up and mixed with young glacial clay to form a roadbed) one measuring device (me) found these grey images especially worthy of note. Together they speak of something no science has yet put terms to, because no science has built those terms. Goethe asked us to. Certainly, narratives of life on earth, narratives useful for organizing society and human relationships with other humans and with the earth, are capable of being built out of such attention. Take the grey values in the image below, for instance…


This is a wire crib, which holds soil, so that grass will build a stable slope and allow more housing lots above, with greater views over the lake below. Unlike the greys in the previous images, however, these are new greys, not ancient ones, and they are built, largely, out of zinc-coated wire and dead algae — a sea plant, that is growing here in the desert. That observation, derived from an attention to colour, and the kind of understanding of what this intervention into the life of the grassland slope is doing (returning it to ocean conditions, just like the conditions of the old seabeds protruding through other parts of the slope), has the ability to profoundly alter future interventions in the grassland slopes. This kind of observation is also called inspiration or a creative hypothesis in Newton’s form of science. In Goethe’s form of science, there is no inspiration and no bolts from the blue. There is, instead, a continuum, of which humans are a part. It is worth noting that after three centuries of Newtonian science, societal understandings of the earth, and many of the earth’s simplified processes (oceans stripped of fish, the great plains of North America reduced to millions of acres of one single species, where there were once hundreds, and now relying totally on petrochemical supports, and so on) are reactions to Newtonian science. If Goethe were alive today, he would point out that the outcomes of sciences are predicted by its methods; if we want different outcomes, we need to choose a different method. We don’t know what that is, because we haven’t explored that path, but one possibility is illustrated by the following images. First, three beautiful moth-like insects (perhaps they are moths) fertilizing a Canada Thistle, as taken through the lens of a Newtonian device (a Panasonic digital camera) …

can thistle

Have Fun Finding Those Insects Now!

Hint: 1 is out of focus and looking rather yellow.

And here is the same thistle, with a different focal length…



Blurry Thistles!

Useless in terms of Newtonian measurement, but very interesting indeed in terms of human measurement of context within wholeness.

Since Goethe isn’t here to make his point, I would like to make it in his stead. We have the capacity to renew ourselves. To do that, the first step is to revise our methods. We might find that the way forward is not through art but through the multiplicity of methods which art still champions, to the chagrin of the deconstructionist theorists who would like it to choose one Newtonian method forever. The human drive for multiplicity makes any ultimate success of deconstructionist theory highly unlikely. I will go one step further: continued development of society on lines leading away from multiplicity will lead to increased diminishment of the earth. To chose that is highly unethical.



Reading the Colour of the Dry Season

In the northern fringe of the Intermontane Grassland of the West, the grass mingles with water and trees.

P1390856Oregon Grape, Kalamalka Lake

Here’s another view:

P1390859The earth generates colour here on contact with light from the sun. What it adds are profound differences of soil and water — light-fixing mediums. Just a few feet from the above image, the constellation of water, soil, and light, creates a different energy entirely…

P1390860The poet Goethe taught us how to read these changes of energy as changes in mood: the mood of us, the viewer, the mood of the light, that comes from the sun, and the mood of the land. That is a profound gift from the past. But it’s not really from the past, is it. As the image below shows (a hundred metres from the three images above), it is a gift from the present.



Young Ponderosa Pine, Kalamalka Lake

The human eye is a better recording device for the moods of light than a Panasonic Lumix. Notice how the camera has burnt out the light caught in the hollows and dried out chloroplasts of the grasses. The eye would have just seen light. Still, the photograph serves as a hint of what can be seen with the proper gear. The light of the day has the capacity for an infinite number of moods in very close proximity. Here’s a juniper on a cliff just above the previous image and 30 metres to the east.

P1390813 Note that the reds in the grasses are invasive cheatgrass. The hot mood they set (and the drought they bring to the grasslands) are the signature of European settlement in most of North America. The sun records this mood precisely. These moods are not for human entertainment. They are the life within a place. Perhaps the following image shows that clearly.

oneball Brown-Eyed Susan, Waiting for the Wind

This structure at the heart of the flower, is the mature form of the flower. Once sufficiently dried out by the maturing season, it will break apart in the wind (the effect can be hastened by being brushed by a passing deer). The mood of the season and the flower are one.

For humans, all this stuff is beautiful. Beauty is the word that describes the ability to read the landscape and to be at one with its moods. It’s not a word that describes a human faculty, but the one in which a human characteristic is one with the world around it, in accordance with the experience and training of that particular human, his or her refinement, so to speak, as a recording apparatus, that uses this information to spring to action.

sageballSagebrush Grove

To say that the colour of leaves is green is to represent late 19th century German industrial culture and the early 21st century advertising culture built upon it. If you wish to be a free human living on and with the earth, you have to throw away that industrial tool, because, as you can see above, it does not fit. Goethe went further, arguing that all of these colours, and the moods that go with them, are edge effects at the intersections of darkness and light. This is an edge effect …

buck This is an edge effect …

waspkiller Wasp Killer on an Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root

This is an edge effect …

ANT Ants Farming Aphids on Sagebrush

This is an edge effect …

BADGER2Badger Burrow

Yes, the badger is home. Note that the green plants here are invasive species, and are another signature of the 19th century European conquest (so too is the reddish cheatgrass covering most of the scene.)

If humans look at the earth, they see themselves, but not as they imagine themselves. The land can be read, instead of merely passing. Nearly 200 years ago, Goethe pointed out that humans could develop a science that did not break but extended a unity of spirit, humanism, and earth. It’s around us, every minute of every day, just as it was in his time. Forget his complicated explanation. Just look at the world. Note the different moods between this image…

P1390843 Wildflowers, Kalamalka Lake

… and this one made about a second later…

P1390841 … and this one, a second later again…

P1390840Of course, a human viewer (That was me.) sees more than the camera has captured here, as the human view is not framed and cut out from the living flow of light. Landscape painters once knew how to record such effects. By bringing them into social conversation, they added to social conversation and the refinement of the human ability to see. Against that, the technology of the people who could not see in this way, the machine-guns of the Great War of 1914, managed to obliterate the pursuit. That was a hundred years ago. It’s time, I think, to put that great crime to rest. Look at the energy just streaming from the scene below.

spiderCrushed Roadbed Absorbing Little of The Sun But Reflecting Most of it to the Stars

And a spider harnessing that energy and turning it into movement.

It is time to learn from spiders. Anything else increases human and earthly poverty. Our fates are one. Just look.





Colonialism and the University in the Okanagan

The Canadian stretch of the Okanagan-Okanogan is not just the northern tip of a vast intermountain grassland created by the pressure effects of wet air being desiccated on its rise over the Coast Mountains and the Cascade Range to the west, or an endangered environment with aboriginal land abuses stretching back into the 1890s, or even the heart and soul of its children, like me, or like this mariposa lily above Okanagan Lake in Vernon…P1390561


It’s also the seat of a profound form of neo-colonialism, some of which is centred around a Vancouver university seeking to establish itself as a university of this place. Judging by the current excitement the alumni association of this university (I confess. One of my degrees is from this institution.) is trying to whip up…



… it has a long, long way to go. I must have missed something. I thought that universities were about knowledge, research and creativity. I am so behind the times on that, I tell you. A food truck rally? Games? A DJ? A beer garden? A historically ridiculous Hollywood movie? Meanwhile, the grassland is dying, the fruit industry is dying, the lake is in deep trouble, the cities are impoverished, wages are below the poverty line, the schools are on strike, the arts are anemic, the land claims are outstanding, and the history of the place is virtually forgotten. I could go on, but there’s no point. Here’s what the university says about itself:

Purpose-built for the 21st century, the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus opened in Kelowna in 2005. UBC is one of North America’s largest public research and teaching institutions, and one of only two Canadian institutions consistently ranked among the world’s 40 best universities.

…The Okanagan campus is an intimate learning community embracing bold new ways of thinking that attract exceptional students and faculty. More than 8,300 students from throughout the Okanagan region, across Canada and 80 other countries are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs in eight faculties and schools. Here, students interact with one another and their professors on a daily basis, while becoming global citizens through interaction with their community and the world.


A beer party to celebrate Indiana Jones? That’s a bold new way of thinking for the 21st Century? Here’s the constitution of the alumni association itself. It’s dry reading. Feel free to skip it and scroll down to the important part I’ve placed just below it:



As promised, here’s the important part:


What on earth kind of responsibility is that? Does a beer party full of food trucks and a foreign movie that abuses very real history help with that? Hey, what do I know. Maybe it does. Here’s the vision of the university…



One of the world’s leading universities! I wonder if the Sorbonne engages in the kind of neo-colonialism practiced by the alumni association. I wonder if the Oxford University is showing 1980s American movies with deep Disneyland merchandizing links to bond its current students with its former ones in a larger intellectual community. I wonder if Berlin’s Humboldt University is showing Sleepless in Seattle to showcase its intellectual strengths and achievements or to anchor itself deeply into German culture. The concept is absurd. Here, apparently, it is not. Luckily (or maybe not) the university has values (whew):



Those are nice statements. I wish the alumni association would adhere to the integrity and respect that these statements express, because they are worthy of a world institution. Rather than answer the failures here one at a time, let me just say this: as a citizen of the Okanagan of German heritage (something very common in both British Columbia and this valley) I am deeply offended that my university’s alumni association would throw out scholarship and its expressed collective and social values to show a ridiculous, historically misleading anti-German and pro-American movie, when it could have shown a Canadian or even an Okanagan movie in its place (or heck, even one that treated German or American history with some scholarly respect) and upheld the academic and cultural standards admirably expressed by the university. The culture at play in such an act is one that does not in any way express the expressed vision of the university or the long-standing cultures, histories, or very real social and economic realities of the valley of which the university is trying to make itself a part. What the upcoming event does, perhaps, is express a new colonial culture that has imposed itself upon this place and replaced most of its pre-existing social forms. Well, that’s not new. That’s been happening here for decades. The only thing is, though, we’re running out of time to stop this runaway train. The writing is on the wall:


Cheat Grass and Concrete

The little of the grassland that is left is mostly a garbage dump full of weeds. If the university, which is one of the few institutions with the capacity to do something about very real problems (and which is adept at garnering most of the resources for doing so), fails at returning a much-abused land to abundance, the valley doesn’t have a chance, and if the valley doesn’t have the chance, then the colonial, cultural lie will devour the university’s values from within. There’s only so much hypocrisy even humans can stomach before they start to embody it, even in their research and scholarly and artistic activities. This stuff matters. I went to this university because I believed that words and scholarship and knowledge of tradition matter. I went because I believed that inclusiveness mattered and that by extending my knowledge and my art I could add to the cultural growth of my valley and the province and country that claim ownership over it. At the moment, I am only deeply ashamed. I think that all of us in the Okanagan, alumni or not, should be. The university owes us more than this.


Coyote, Bella Vista

Pollination Dance

When one insect …

P1380650 … crawls, buzzed on nectar …

P1380652…out of a mariposa lily and flies off to the next flower …

P1380653Zebra Wasp Takes Wing

… another insect that was over on the next lily …



Sweat Bee Gathering Pollen

… is not far behind. And when she’s gone, if you go over to the lily just up the hill…


… and the one just to the left of that …


Crab Spider, Waiting for a Nectar Lover

… you may find you’re not the only one waiting. Not to worry, there are other flowers, with other insects, all flitting between the same 200 flowers (except maybe that one with the spider… best to take a pass on that)…P1380694


Tiny Grey Bee (about 1 cm. long)

Of course, some bees are not grey, or neon green, or yellow. Some are as black as ants.

blackbee … and some flowers are, for the moment, without visitors.


There are just a few days for this every year. Out of them is made the next year. That’s the kind of planet this is. Everything else follows.



This is the Best Day

The future starts today. The Tsilhqot’in people have been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as having title to their own land. It has been a struggle lasting over 140 years. For those of you who might not know the background, the northern part of Oregon, the former British colony of British Columbia, more lately the westernmost province of Canada, never settled treaties with one of the most complex assemblages of indigenous peoples on the planet. Instead, it just took their earth and made it into a new thing: land. Now it has given an important piece of it back and, better yet, accepted the Tsilhqot’in, the ancient trading people who (back when Egypt was just beginning to organize itself) brought obsidian, ochre and flint to most of the North West and into the Great Plains, as a fellow level of governance. Our roads still follow the ancient trading trails, and, finally, we can build a country together. Here’s the news in full:

I gave my heart to this country years back, when Canada was moving into its cities. Out in the Chilcotin (as the region shows up on maps), the stars are different, wild, untamed and almost audible, and the lakes, well, they look like this:charlotte3

Charlotte Lake

This is the Illahie, the homeland. Whatever British Columbia, the government, or Vancouver, the city, is going on about, well, today, that all changed. 

I sing my joy to the skies.