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.

Life is the Edge

… Here’s an image of water, made with light.

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Here’s an image of light, made by water:

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Nice game, huh. The real story is that both are edges, at which light and water mix. The way they mix leads to life … and other forms of crystallization, such as photography, or thought. The thing about edges is that they are amazingly variable. Here’s one….

sand2 Here’s another:

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… and another …

 

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… and here’s a whole bunch at once …

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Same lake (Kalamalka Lake), on the Same Day

In each case, energy transfers across mixed states, part physical, part potential. Art is no different, nor is photosynthesis. Edges: the human habitat. It’s the way of the earth.

 

 

Water Brings Time to Life

…One of the moods of water, I suggested yesterday, is life. Here’s another:

sailing Okanagan Lake (Looking West towards Ewings Landing)

It still looks full of life. Now here is some of it on its way down to the lake…

 

 

 

 

P1690955 Yes, now instead of the blue of oxygen it has the green of cholorophylll. Here it is just metres from the lake.

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Smooth Sumac

Still found inside life. Those rocks look like they’ve lost their water long ago. Life holds it. It slows it. The degree to which it does so, even when completely dried from coming through a winter, such as these sumac drupes on the shore of Kalamalka Lake…

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… is another measure of the moods of water… in this case, its interface not with light or oxygen, but with time. Just as life can be seen wherever water is present, time can be seen in the organic compounds water crystallizes through the anti-entropy forces we call life.P1660803 In this case, the berries are dead but the seeds within them are alive. Nonetheless, it is the colour that speaks to us as life. In the lakeshore lichens below, we are drawn to the water pattern that life has solidified and held in time. P1660992Same with this oregon grape colony, spreading on a hill.

P1660987 A few years of water, recorded by life? Pretty impressive, but look at this below:p1240013

Okanagan Grassland Above Okanagan Lake

That’s six thousand years or so.

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Life is a mood of water, I think we could say.. So is time. In fact, it would be fair to say that life is a mechanism of turning into time the flow of water, and of turning into matter water’s tendency to evaporate. In turn, water gives matter the ability to move, and that, too, is a way of manipulating time and space. So, not only is life a mood of water, and water a mood of life, but our eyes are able to measure these moods of water. We call it light, but it’s not really light we’re measuring.

closebee

We are seers of water and time.

 

Climbing The Waterfall

On Friday, I talked about The Moods of Colour. In short, I argued that the different plants, lichens and rock in the image below were all different moods of light, different levels of energy excitement, for instance, which humans like you and I can read very precisely. Notice how the red oregon grapes, the yellow lichens, and the green mosses are all tracking water across the face of the rock and in its crevasses. cliffred

 

The water, in other words, has taken on moods as well. We can talk about the diversity of plant life here, or the diversity of water, its moods, or that the oregon grape is climbing the water, rather than being washed down with it, as are the mosses. The latter sounds good to me.

Next: more on the tricks of water.

 

 

The Moods of Colour

Look at the colour of this water.P1680668

Pretty nice stuff, for sure. Look at the colour of this water.

lakeFun stuff, isn’t it. And this water.

bottomWhy, it’s hardly there! And this…P1670546It’s coming to life. And this …track

Glorious! We could go on all day with this kind of fun, but think of this: that’s two stretches of water, not five, on two separate days. Here, I’ll show you…

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three

Of course, in the cultural manners in which we’re all trained today, I’m being poetic here. I assure you, I’m being something more than that. To begin again, my moment of awareness looked a bit like this …

P1660987and a bit like this …

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… all at the same time! I realized in a flash that the images, of oregon grape (upper) and poison ivy (lower), were the same colour.

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To unravel this odd (to scientifically-trained eyes) colour shift, maybe it’s best to go back to the water.

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Ah, that’s better.

I know, I know, what we’re looking at here is light not water, and all of it interpreted by our minds, too, and by a camera, AND by an electronic screen set to parameters that pleased a designer in a cubicle in California one day, or perhaps that was India, but it’s still water, even so, or an image of it. Standard physics will talk about angles of refraction and reflection, clarity of water, wavelengths of light, electron excitement, and so on, which all add up to what we see above. Pretty brilliant series of deductions, really. Goethe was onto something different, though. Maybe this image will help get at that …

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 Winter Grass and Water Cress in Mid-February

This image shows two moods of the colour green, or to break that down further, two moods of the colour blue. In the bottom one, blue is in a yellow mood (blue + yellow = green, right?)

bottomcress

Note: rather than speaking of moods of colour, classical physics talks of this:

threecolours

Note how the colours are jazzed up to give our brains a good kick. This is just one of the many ways in which physics and psychology meet.

In the bottom image (below), the blue and yellow have faded to pale pastels. Both have shifted together into a red mood.

top

In other words, it’s like the sun casting shadows, or ever-changing ripples of light.

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Perhaps, though, that is all illusion. The poet-scientist, Goethe, said as much in his treatise, “A Theory of Colour” (Die Farbenlehre) in 1820. Colour, he pointed out, is not light. Light, he pointed out, is white. When you break it up into a spectrum of colours you are projecting an emotional image of the device by which you broke it up. (Physics would call this “vibrations of energy” and would dismiss the “emotional” term as poetic. Both, you will note, however, are poetic terms.) Goethe’s version of the above image, in other words, would look like this (without the frame):

white

Except, of course, Goethe wouldn’t have made such an image in the first place. What he wanted to do was make images of those emotional states, and he wanted to do that to show the link between perception and God, as he conceived of God to be. That was, mind you, also the approach of Newtonian physicists, with their talk of wavelengths of light. To Goethe, the light was not colour, but illumination itself, which came through the human mind and saw its emotional states cast on the world, and the emotional states of the world cast within itself: a unity, in other words. To Newtonians, who used physicals tools of measurement, it was all physical. This drove Goethe to distraction. He stressed again and agai nthat Newtonian physics looked at qualities of light that had been technically manipulated, whereas the goal was to consider light in its totality, as no colours at all, only the effects of light upon the receiving apparatus (whether that was eye or cantelope), which caused certain vibrations, depending on the mood of the object. By ‘mood’ of, say, a hard-backed chair, he didn’t mean its psychological state. He meant the amount of energy it contained of a person in the world, as a radiation of divine energy. Now, you might be particularly interested in divine energy, fair enough, but Goethe was. Whereas the Enlightenment made a science out of folk knowledge by structuring it in a hierarchal fashion predicated upon objective, experiment-based measurement of physical phenomena, Goethe wanted to extend the Enlightenment, to include the part it left out as being too poetic to measure: God, spirit, emotions, what-have-you. The Enlightenment left that to art. Goethe was only pointing out that it stopped too soon, and that a fully ‘modern’, self-aware consciousness did not have to discard the knowledge of the past, or the dignity and power of human observation, or relegate them to other forms of investigation, such as religion or art. He went even further, in fact, to suggest that colours themselves were created by the human mind, but that is, perhaps, splitting hairs. The moods, though, can be read precisely. So, to look again …

two

The grass and the cress are the same. They differ to perception and measurement because they’re in different moods, recorded not by a camera (a device proficient at recording precise measurements of the spectra of light and thus registering them as difference colours, in accordance with the science used to envisage the camera) but by an emotional, water-based, organic creature — a human, in other words. Moods are what we have. Goethe pointed out that people are the absolute most powerful technology for measuring and viewing light, but he never said why. I think this is what he meant. When the grass is growing, it has a certain energy. When it is dead, it has a different energy. All colours are present, which is to say “light” is present, or illumination, but they vibrate differently, displaying the ‘state’ of the object struck both by the light and the observation of the light. Classical physics hands this one over to classical biology, which points out that these are effects created in a long series of incremental evolutionary changes, and do not, in and of themselves, have ‘meaning’ or ‘significance’. They are tools of manipulation and survival. Again, a brilliant series of deductions, based on millions of hours of observation, experimentation and deep thought. Nonetheless, we are the product of that evolution, and have a complex ability to register tiny nuances of energy in the landscape. Any discussion of their evolutionary purpose, to aid with hunting and gathering and survival, is secondary to that truth. We can do this. Here, I’ll put it another way:

pine

All parts of the ponderosa pine above, bark, needle brushes and cones, are moods of blue. The needles are in a yellow mood. The cones are in a red mood. The branches are in a nearly purely blue mood. The differences in colour that I see in the image (I presume you do, too, unless you are a Google robot checking up on the humans today, in which case, Hi.) are contrasts. They’re like shadows of black and white. This observation doesn’t negate Newtonian physics and the marvellous world it has revealed to us all…

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… but it has added this …P1660612

 

Think of the image above as a dark field, illuminated by a colourless “white” one. The boundaries between these energies, the points of intersection between them, creates an expression of the substance and state of the smooth sumac bushes here, the cliffs, the lichen, the moss, but also reveals characteristics of linearity, angularity and extension. Like the moods of the colour, those are moods as well. In those terms, the cliff and the bushes have the same linear (and angular and extensional) energy, but the way it manifests itself in them displays different tendencies, which are corollary to the moods of colour. Any tools we use to measure or analyze these effects are always going to be lesser than the mind that sorted them out of the world in the first place. Here’s another example:

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Oregon Grape? Or water, collecting at the base of the cliff, rising up again, drawn upwards by the sun? In other words..this is a mood of water. I hope to suggest that this way of thinking has the ability to present as complex a model of the world as conventional science, and that it should never have been hived off of it. Our earth would be in better shape if it hadn’t. What’s more, socially it seems that by controlling the tools by which humans, such as you or I (Sorry, Google Robot, but I think you’re up to something different, but, hey, Hi.) individuals can be channelled into certain forms of social behaviour and political organization, to the exclusion of others. I don’t particularly like that. Do you? (Yes, Google Robot, I know how you feel about this, shhh, don’t scare the humans, would you?) Social parameters aside, there is still considerable ability in the human measurement tool, to precisely observe complex relationships, like this:

ripply2

Colour, mood, linearity, extension, time, edge effects of myriad kinds, life, angles,and so forth, are all instantly perceived above by the human mind. Forget for just a moment about the social cues placed upon them, that see them as “beauty” or “water” or “gas effects” or “refraction” or “gravitational effects” and so on, and look at them. You see it all, instantly. That’s what Goethe meant about light. And so the four images of sumac below, display different moods. You can read them as well as I.

smoothshore smooth2 Remember, the only difference (in this line of thought) between these images is their mood …wall2 … the boundaries between forces, and their energy…P1660803 smooth

 

… and, of course, how you receive them, and what you do with them. Whatever it is, though, it’s not ‘nature’ and it’s not ‘science’. Goethe was trying to point that out, too. So was I, when I showed you this…

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… and said, so to speak, hey, it’s this:

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Put it this way, the difference between the energy of the bottom image and the top one, or the difference between its colours, which are the same, because they receive the same light (and absorb different parts of it, reflecting the rest), is what I mean by mood. Out of that mood (in the guise of reflected light), physicists can measure the precise chemical composition of either the poison ivy berries or the oregon grape leaves, and Goethean scientists can measure particularities of life energy within them, to the same degree of precision, or perhaps greater, because of the ability for creative interaction and inspiration. Here’s an image for next time …

reach

I’ll be extending this discussion into “paths of water”.

 

How the Mind and the Earth are One

Thatch and sod grass rising.newgrassBunchgrass rising.

grass Water bunch grassing.

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Sky bunch grassing.grasssky

 

Lichen following the gaps between the bonds of water (which are part of water.)lichen

Balsam root lichening (in a tension between gravity and evaporation, which is one of the bonds of water).P1680716

 

Light balsam rooting (following the bonds of water, which are a form of light.)ripply2

Light bonding with water in tension with gravity (the race is to catch the coming rain, not with thatch but with dead, upright stalks not crushed by snow.)

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Gravity and shadow are one.

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Their alternation acts as a pumping mechanism.

balsamsproutsBalsam Root Rising

It’s a vertical equivalent of the way air is caught along the stalks of the dead, water-soaked grass below. In both cases, gravity is being denied.

grassbubbles These ecosystems of gravity, carbon, water and light, which mine the lines of tension between them are complex.P1680677 We have eyes that are formed from the same process, and which are capable of measuring them to a high degree of refinement, not outside of the process but within it, as part of it.

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Culturally, that gift is called “an appreciation for beauty.” We say “I have found my creativity” when we tap into it, but it was there all along.

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Only words hid our selves from us. With a new vocabulary, we can follow more complex conversations, although built on the same grammar. Look how light is laid on the ground of the mind in tension with gravity and water!

cliffred

 

 

 

 

The Future of Life

Life is the ability of self-replicating organisms being able to react to the environment. Life is also a quality of an environment. When an environment is said to have life, it means it is energized, which is a way of saying it holds enough energy for dynamic growth and change. It is an older use of the word “life”, but not a use that has been superseded, and not one which is purely the business of poetry.

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A Living Landscape

Spring runoff after a frosty night.

I think it is possible to join the two senses and to say that environments are alive.

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As the German philosopher Martin Heidegger argued in the 1920s and the anti-nuclear activist Jonathan Schell argued in the 1970s, life is future potentiality, and only secondarily present realizations of it.

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Lichen and Moss on Sagebrush Trunk

(Steep hill.)

In the image above, the future of the living sage is its current ‘dead phase’. It has shed one form of life, but retains another, which is expressed environmentally. There’s only one thing that separates such life from individual biological life, and that is independent action. The action is there, but it comes from without, often by accumulation.P1680298

Black Birch Twigs After a Night of  Spray

In biological science, accumulation is not “life”, because individual life forms can move into the environmental space and out of it, while the space remains. Yes, but the environment does not. What’s more, this characteristic of life as “individual action” is a reflection of a science based on individual observation, which is based in turn on Christian faith, which places an individual, Christ, at the meeting point of heaven and earth. At that point, neither one thing nor another, Christ bears witness, as do all others who follow him. The German philosopher Gottlieb Fichte put this relativizing sense of the individual awareness at the core of scientific procedure in 1793, at the University of Jena, in what is now Germany. I am neither a pre-Romantic German philosopher nor a practicing Christian, but I respect the power and integrity of this belief and recognize the profound structural force it has in Western thought. Christ, however, is only one manifestation of God. The environment, surely, is another.

P1670865Grassland Dirt Actually Does Look Like This, When It Is Healthy

Is it not within an environment that an individual can be an individual? I mean, if we took away the environment above, we would all be dead. Surely, then, it’s appropriate to say that it is us.

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From an individual point of view, the seeming three dimensionality of the above image, the framing of its elements, the relationship between them, the qualities of light caught by the camera, all these things are human signatures on the environment. From an embedded, environmental point of view, they are the way we fit into an environment: seeing the thin-ness of the grass because our minds are coded to track thin-ness and to see in it the mind and thought; seeing the roundedness of the water because our minds are coded to see in it bodies and movement; seeing the intersection of these forces, because our minds are coded to notice boundaries and difference and have the capacity to either unify or divide them in complex ways. Collectively, we have created complex systems of science, including profound and dynamic systems of psychology, which map out many of the dimensions of such mirroring, yet, even so, they are all based on Fichte’s replacement of Christ with the critical, empirical, individual self, on which the definition of life is based. The neatness of that correspondence is troubling. Being in the world can be an antidote to that.

P1680415 Literally: being in the world …P1680098

 

The images above were made in a riparian zone one kilometre west of this one.

 

… not just in an individual body.

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