This is How You Make Bread and French Fries

First, you take the shrub steppe of the lower Snake River. Then you add petroleum-based fertilizer (white tank) and water (six deep well pumps). This combination makes bread. It’ll be seeded again in the fall. This is called letting the land rest. When humans farmed their food, it was a way of allowing the microbial communities of the soil replenish themselves, often with soil-building crops. I’m unclear as to what stubble is supposed to contribute.P1920520To make french fries, you need to rush around a bit more.

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More plastic water pipes on the way!

Farming is a construction enterprise these days, not much different than building freeways or resort hotels. You can see the pivot point for a circular sprinkler system on the left.  Note how the wind turbines in the background, above the Columbia and Walla Walla rivers, power the pumps and sprinkler engines. If this isn’t sci-fi, I don’t know what is. The poplars in the back are part of a system designed to cut the wind, to allow apples to be grown in this shrub steppe, too. This is how you colonize a planet you don’t know. In case you’re wondering, in the shrub steppe across the road, someone is growing peas… at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you know anything about growing peas (or about the recent history of farming in California), you know how silly and doomed that is.

Snake Leaves the Snake

To the Nimiipu, water was the strongest spiritual substance. Note that the snake that leaves the Snake River here at Buffalo Eddy, never arrives at the (older) shamanic figure.
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That’s because it’s not a character in a narrative. It’s a representation of potentiality — or tension, if you will.  It is water. The tension between the old shamanic figure and the newer (but still old) snake, or water figure, is a new thing, something in the air. It is there the people are, hidden and revealed between action and stasis.

The Snake and the Eel

What is a river, then? It is a stream, a flow, a run, which gives a Rhine, a Rhone, a river and a row. But what is it, when those words aren’t there, and it is just a man or a woman or a child and the flow, the stream, the run itself? Ah, look, here is the home of the moray eels, or it was before the dams stopped them coming home to the Columbia and then up the Snake and then up this little stream at Asotin to spawn.

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And what are eels but the flow itself? Water, embodied, that’s what they are. The dry land collects as a flow and there it is, not water, not a creek or a river or a stream, but the land in this form of coming forth, of embodying its energy, first as the Asotin stream, then as the eels, then as the people who come to the eels. Here we are farther up the Snake looking downstream.

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Before the dams upriver, this flow would have been twice as strong. It would have roared. Look at the eel of it. Look at the salmon of it. Look at it as one continuous muscle, as a part of your body that you come to, just as the eels, which are part of the river, come to Asotin Creek. It is the land’s voice. You could say you are the land’s voice, but you’re not, because you’re the land. You are this water. That’s what it is to be fully human, and not a thing made of words.

Time Travel Gone Bad

Petrochemical agriculture is a program that uses statistical risk assessment to balance the need of farmers to extract a capital profit out of farming commensurate with the profit to be extracted from oil-based industries (which severely damage or even destroy the land in order to produce that profit, at least in Canada), the need of people for food, and the need of the rest of the earth to remain alive, in the web of relationships called “life”. In this model, farmers produce food for international export, using imported labour and imported capital, on local land and water (with minimal local employment). Much of this “food” languishes on supermarket shelves or gets turned into juice, which isn’t any good for anyone, as its sugar content is too high for it to be healthy. It becomes only a form of caloric investment. These are, however, the products that a capital-intensive model can support. What it means up close is this:   P1800912You’re looking at a farmer spraying highly-engineered poisons toxic to insects (and birds and humans) on a dwarf cherry orchard, to produce oversize hormonally-manipulated cherries for a speciality market in China. Millions of dollars are involved per farm. Local people don’t eat these cherries, and, frankly, they are only good to look at. Unfortunately, just a few hundred metres away, this red-winged blackbird …red… and his family need those insects. Deeper into the reeds, the yellow-headed blackbird needs them as well. yellow Risk assessment calculates the relative safety of these chemicals, in respect of their toxicity to both humans and wildlife, such as the red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds above, but it does not calculate the risk of alienation that this approach makes permanent. The humans who share this environment with the blackbirds, the insects, the cherries and the poisons, for example, see “nature” as a reserve area, some place separated from exploitation. That’s understandable, given the social context in which humans today are embedded by their general failure to address the kind of exploitation made evident in the factory farm above. From this social stance,”nature” is an area in which certain human activities are curtailed (but not the general reduction of available insects for birds), rather than a space with its own energies and requirements. Indigenous ways of thinking set aside reserved areas for human habitation, which makes more sense. The reason for this turnaround is that humans are such terrific predators, prone to such insane violence, that in large enough populations, supported by large enough surpluses of excess petrochemical energy, only through a carefully-maintained and carefully-worked-out system of balances can they be prevented from trashing the whole joint. Here is a view of the blackbird’s (and turtle’s and blue heron’s) environment, complete with abandoned boat, four-lane highway on rich wetland, mini-storage, equipment yard, and the ruins of vegetable farms and orchards stretching up the former grassland hill. It might be green, but it’s a ruin, and scarcely productive, although 150 years ago it was a rich source of food. P1800918 This land above Swan Lake in the North Okanagan Valley was originally alienated by men who grazed 4,000 years of human care down to dust in a decade, to support cattle for which there was little market, most of which died in cold winters due to lousy farming practices, leaving the Indigenous people, the Okanagan Indian Band, poverty-stricken. This (illegally) alienated land was then alienated further before World War I by men who were attempting to invest Belgian rubber money (derived from genocidal rubber extraction policies in the Congo), and alienated yet again by a collapse of local farming under the pressures of industrialized farming in the American section of the watershed, which alienated most of the water and the life-producing potential of an entire Canadian province, British Columbia, in exchange for the expanded industrial capacity of the American Pacific Northwest. Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer, land has been treated as a commodity, and the basis of a capital-based economy, when, in fact, it operates on a different principle. (Well, actually, it’s not land, but a web of mutually-supporting interest, but that’s a story for another day.) Here’s a muskrat, living in his world of checks and balances. If there are too many muskrats, they starve. P1810044 If there are too many humans, they build capital-based economies, to borrow capacity from the future, which then lead to the discovery and exploitation of capital-based energy sources, such as oil (Canada) and hydro-electric power (Washington, USA). Both of those are energy sources which draw down natural energy in the same way that the rubber-based land development of the Okanagan, and that of the cattle barons which preceded it, drew down a culture in which people lived in a sustainable way on the land — not because they didn’t have the smarts to exploit it and draw it down but because they were smart enough not to. The trick with borrowing capacity from the future is that it changes the future. Time travel, a fantasy literary genre, proposes that a person travelling into the past will change his present in such a way that it will be impossible to travel into the future. It works the other way in real life: cashing in on the future changes it so that it will never arrive, except in a form representing that cashing in. It’s not, in other words, that nature is a field of chance and random activity, but that capital, and the energies which represent its force, has created randomness out of order. P1810073 To define the living world as “nature”, and to define that as a field of chance operations, is to grow ever more distant from it, as illustrated in the picture of the hillside above. You will never experience it by this route, and it will, ultimately, die. Here’s what death looks like on the grassland hillsides. This is cheatgrass. It will be dead in a week or two, and then for half a year nothing will grow here, because cheatgrass has broken the water cycle. V0000076 It is one of the gifts of the cattle barons. Even insects can’t survive here, and if insects can’t, then the whole chain of life can’t, and that includes, sorry to say, humans. The alternative will be to produce increasingly technological crops, including genetically-modified crops which embody the principles of randomness created by capital-based energy and its theft of the future (which includes theft of the earth-based energy productive capacity of webs of life) for non-earth-based capital objects representing its energies, such as this: door This is an alley in Vernon, BC. It could as well be the hillside above. This is what the past productive capacity of the land has gone into, generation after generation. It is an artwork, certainly, and a representation of human bodily and social space, in many complex ways, but it speaks more of people just trying to survive in the little street space left outside of privatized human space rather than social health, while balancing that with a need for private space within the capitalized environment. Other than those drives, there is nothing alive here, though. That is not meant to be a value judgement. It is meant as an observation that this is the end of the process that began with the capitalization of the land from 1858 to 1893. Against this energy, life has to be put in reserves. I’m arguing that those reserves look the same as this. We have jailed ourselves. P1790236 Within this drawn-down future (now our present), we are nothing more or less than those weeds.

The Problem With Petrochemical Agriculture

It’s too easy to do it wrong.

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View of Spallumcheen Farm from Swan Lake

A 10,000-year-old lakebed gets thrown up into the wind while boaters get ready to be pulled around at speed on a bird nesting lake in a dip in the old post-glacial lake’s bed.

Cascadia: Where the Sea Breaks on the Land

Cascadia is the place where water, air and land meet …P1790797 … in waves …P1790671 … and boundaries.P1790695

The stones here …

P1790702 … are also part of the mixing of water and light ….P1790681 … in foam …

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… just as the mountains are the foam on waves of stone…

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… or cloud…

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This is life on the Cascadia subduction zone, where the seabed dives under the land and lifts it into the sky. Even the smallest stones hold this energy …

P1790700 … created as they are …P1790654 … out of chains of widely varying, volcanic tropical islands …P1790774 … that have crashed like stone surf on the North American shore.P1790783They are as varied as each wave is varied..
P1790729 … broken and welded together time and time again as each wave is broken and reformed.P1790726 These are the mysteries.

P1790708 This is how you know you are home.P1790661 Here the elements are brought together in a roll of eternal energy.P1790674

On the other side of the mountains, this roiling surf becomes the story of time, or gravity, which is to put it more clearly.

P1800583Here, all life is jumbled together, just as on the stones on the beaches hundreds of kilometres to the west, but they follow each other, each using the water, the stone, and the light in turn.

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Already, in early May, the lichens and mosses have finished their half year in the light. Now their winter begins. Their spring was in October.

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The cheatgrass that started growing then, is also finished. Look how red it is between the native bunch grasses, which also began growing in October, and are in their glory now. In a few weeks, they will retreat to smouldering green cores, while the lilies shoot out of the soil and catch the bees in the air.

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Plant by plant, water is used in a  balance with the changing pressure of the air, and so the breaking water of the Pacific is stilled. The wild sunflowers have already put out their seeds, before spring has properly begun. The mule deer have already grazed them off, while the choke cherries flare in the arroyos and the lupines turn the yellow sunflower hills blue.

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Wave after wave after wave, that is the action of the sun and the ocean crashing on the continent’s shore.

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Those of us who live here …

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… make trails, like this mule deer and coyote (and the porcupine in winter) track…

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… that flow like water over the land, always finding the easiest gradient, always going to the interesting places. If you don’t follow coyotes and deer in this country, you will get lost. It’s all topsy turvy, in a balance of gravity and wind…

burn … and water. This is the Farwell Canyon grassland … as much a part of the rainforest as the giant, moss-hung cedars of the Coast, where the winds off the Pacific, and the Pacific’s stone, first strike the shore …middle

… but here, where they break in foam. This is Cascadia, where even winter and summer meet in waves…

moses … and mountains speak ….umatilla … and shore dunes are hundreds of kilometres inland and lifted hundreds of metres into the sky.dune It is a sacred land.wenatchi It is not breaking. It is opening.P1770653

There is work to do here.

P1740106 Good work.

flapb

Sacred work.

bonneville

There are many misunderstandings to be healed. Here is a buck swimming across the Hanford Reach to the plutonium reactors. In a minute he’s going to climb out and walk among them.

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Yes.

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Cascadia is the greater reactor.

stones P1680668 grasssky grass It has its mysteries.ripply2 It has an owner.

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We are the children here. We are the new ones. The land is old.

P1680996 It covers our errors, if we give it a chance.white It is watching.

P1650635 It is waiting.

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It is on fire.

P1640386 There is no time at which the fire is extinguished, and not time at which the fire is only fire.P1640324

There are words for this.

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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.

 

 

How the West Was Won and Lost

Oh, here we are in the Hanford Reach, where we find a bit of Canadian Water going home. No, wait, it’s American water. No, wait, it’s everyone’s water! Oh, heck, just look…

 

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Every day, a volume of water equal to the flow of the Okanogan River, one of the major tributaries of the Columbia, is piped into this irrigation system. This is what is left at the end of its long journey through the fields of the shrub steppe, returning to the Columbia at Richland, Washington. For this sleight of hand, which turns water first into a universal value, belonging to all, and then into a commodity, we have to thank the English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, darling of the scripters of the American Constitution. Locke claimed many things, but one of them was that consciousness was the result of experience. At birth, we are blank slates. Perception, education, training and action create individuals out of that, says John Locke. The same applies to land and water: it is a blank slate as well, which only belongs to someone as the result of his labour upon it, which is what is called an “improvement” in the parlance of the Canadian and American governments: all the land of the plateau peoples did not belong to the plateau peoples because they had not built fences, barns, roads, telegraph lines and so forth upon it. Under the umbrella of Locke’s principle, the dispossession of the people’s land was all perfectly legal: a prospector or settler could move onto it, anywhere, build land and then instantly have the right to defend the privacy of that land with a gun. When objections were made, even if out of pure ignorance, there were more guns, and even the army, to keep the peace. The men who ran the army in the early days of this process went on in their careers to lead the Confederate Army in the American Civil War, to defend slavery. No lie. The thing is, we no longer believe that we are born without any character or identity, or that we are blank slates to be written upon by will, and yet we still consider private land, and privatized water, to be legitimate concepts, and they are still defended by armies. Amazing. One suspects that this bluff is what armies are for.

Why We Need Treaties

I live in a place that illegally occupied land, and signed no treaties for it. Here we are at an old village site on the Commonage Claim above Kalamalka Lake.

 

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A parking lot! And when the rain falls here, where does it go?

 

 

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The culvert is not really needed, but regulations are regulations, eh. Look how it’s full of bricks to … what? filter the water? Keep beavers out? And what does the water look like when it comes down from the campground above the parking lot, and the highway above that? Aha…

 

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Gross. Respect is respect. Disrespect is disrespect. There is no way around it. If we had a treaty, this society would finally grow up.