The Black Cherries of Winter

It is the time of year when colour leaves the valley. The red choke cherries of summer are black. The skies are grey.P2140077 The sun we knew in summer is gone. This is the time to go inside the earth, to be with the small grey birds, to become fog, and to grow still.P2140121 In more tropical regions of the earth, this mystery is absent, but here it is the great clarity that is the ripeness of the year: not light but darkness, which is a different light.P2140124 The Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarson wrote that the long winter dark of Iceland is part of every Icelander’s soul, as much as the long sunlit nights of summer.P2140127 That’s the way it is in the Okanagan in November, December and January, when cold brings fog out of the lake to cover the valley from the sun and the stars,just as summer’s heat turns the lake into lightning storms that crash overhead through July and August nights, or June storms, raking over the mountains from the Pacific, turn the sky blue and draw us out of ourselves as water. But not now, now it is the time of darkness that the Celts knew well as the source of life, because they, too, lived in the fog seasons of seasonal earth.P2140131 Now is the time the Earth here has for herself, and the time we, who are her sons and daughters, have with her. This is for us, as family.P2140132

This is not a time to go to Mexico. It is no time to run from her embrace.


At dusk now, we find ourselves.

Grass and Poetry in Cascadia

The grass is a cultural being. So are cat tails and so is poetry.


Talk about a rhyme scheme, eh!

First, the grass. Not only does it have its own culture, but it is part of the body of human culture in these valleys, canyons and plateaus between the mountains, on the west of North America.


Yellowstone, North Gate.

You are not looking at dead grass here. You are looking at water catchers, upside down umbrellas, which the grass has made to draw water from the air. You are looking at upside down wells.


To keep them from matting on the ground and reducing the land’s productivity, fire burns them away, so they can be renewed. Traditionally, people have set those fires. It was the first stage in the primary, human civilizing impulse: cooking. First you make the land productive with fire (you make it into an art form), then you harvest it.


Bella Vista

Here’s a different way of being grass, one not native to this place, and one not harvested. It is, accordingly, not an art form, but is wild:


This is cheatgrass. It bursts like flame out of the soil in October, grows all winter under the snow (yes, under the snow) and has replaced hundreds of indigenous species in the tapestry that is the body of this place. Look how it collects water. It urges it to flow off into the soil, where old thatch holds it from evaporating, and then it uses it all up, denying its use to all other plants. It loves monocultures. That is not the bunchgrass way. The image below shows what happens when fire is suppressed in this landscape…


Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

Do you see that bunchgrass there, at the end of 8,000 years of history, encroached by soap berries and escaped farmyard grass? It will soon drown. Below is an image of what happens when trees are not controlled by fire. The ponderosa pine below has showered the land with fire, or needles, if you will. They burn the alkaline soil down to acid. Look at the bunchgrass drown.


Rattlesnake Mountain

This is happening on our watch, in our time, in our parks, in what contemporary culture calls nature and “wilderness,” while attention is directed towards smokestack emissions and pools of plastic in the middle of the sea. We don’t have to go that far. Nature itself is the culprit.


Turtle Mountain

Let’s be clear about this nature. All of the parks of the west were created out of former indigenous cultural space. That’s to say: around 150 years ago, there was no nature here; only social space. Then it became “wild,” when dispossessed of its people and left fallow. It became a different art form: one that created emptiness where there had been fullness, and a mechanical earth where there had been a living one.


Royal Gala Industrial Apple Plantation, Bella Vista

This process started in Washington in 1892, when all federal lands purchased for tiny sums during rushed treaty-making processes and not by then already dedicated to Nez Perce or Spokane or Skoielpi use (among many others), were rededicated as national forests. Land that had formerly been maintained by fire, now was expensively protected from fire, to preserve its “pristine” nature.This “pristine” nature is, in other words, a culturally-created thing.


The culturally-charged process of plant succession.

Rattlesnake Mountain

This process moved to British Columbia in 1922. The fire still burns. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to combat every year, to no avail. That’s the fire we can see. This, below, is also that fire, though:


It is burning within Syilx space. The grass that has almost been replaced here by “nature” is still a cultural being, but it’s now  viewed with terms appropriate to “nature,” which are not the terms appropriate for viewing culture: beauty, for instance, wildness, for another, health, for yet another, inanimate, for another, plowable, for another, and developable, for another. And that brings me back to poetry. Here is some Cascadian poetry (Please click on the link to view. It will open in a new window.)

Very Serious and Full of Vegetables

That is a cultural product produced in this place, one which heartfully honours a tradition, but it is, as you will have noted if you clicked on it, a poem about people and human attitudes towards all kinds of things, but includes no attitudes of grass or fire or rain to anything. It’s not about that, likely on the anti-romantic presumption (accurate enough) that no-one can speak for these things. In their place, I think the poem is about taking wild human energy (a created art form) and distilling it down to points of social utility, and through a process of manipulating that social machinery enabling people who live within it to ultimately come to a physical experience of grass through the only route the tradition allows: through the mind; not the body. The body plays the role of memory. This has been the American poetic project for over a century now. Here’s an early draft of it, from the American poet Hilda Doolittle, written a century ago:

Hermes, Hermes,

the great sea foamed,

gnashed its teeth about me,

but you have waited,

where sea-grass tangles with

shore grass.

Hilda Doolittle, from Hermes of the Ways

It’s beautiful, and lands solidly on grass and brings it to life in the mind, but it is a thing of the mind trying to escape itself by means of the earth. It can’t shake that. It is, in other words, bookish. Often Hilda tried the trick she uses in the following poem:

O white pear,

your flower-tufts

thick on the branch

bring summer and ripe fruits

in their purple hearts.

Hilda Doolittle, from Pear Tree

In this one, she uses the same memory trick but also speaks to the tree, yet her identification is incomplete; it is an artifice only; she is not the tree, nor is she its flowers. Her poem is a construction of words and energy contained with words — a thing of memory, in other words, a funereal ode. Her identity is untouched by it, and is not transformed by it. It is infused with it, for sure, and, no doubt strengthened, but, still, untouched. And the poem is very beautiful, too. It is not of this place, of course, nor did Hilda mean it to be. I use her words only as an example of how poetry and land can remain separate, even in intimate moments, and how American identity engineering often places the land within fences, called words — farms, cities or streets, if you will — and observes them from there. That is a very anglo saxon thing, of course, but for me, as a man of the grass, this is a step away from the earth not one towards it, because for me the grass is not just a part of a social group, but also of a self. To say “O white pear” just won’t do. It would be like saying, “Oh me.” And then there’s Paul Nelson’s riff on Whalen, with his

“having the curious ability to make one think

that a mind has been slowed down.”

Very Serious and Full of Vegetables

That’s beautiful, too, but it is predicated on the conceit that mind has been sped up in the first place, with a secondary conceit that any subsequent slowing down is only illusory. I dispute that. I think it needs to be strongly challenged. According to settler ideology, the grass is wild, and is the canvas for paintings of human will. In other words, it is this:


A weed-filled bunchgrass slope, a choke cherry tree, and a ponderosa pine, set in front of a monoculture hay field. Coldstream, British Columbia

No-one would want the social identity of that hay, because it is enslaved to individual and social human will. What’s more, to enslave it is to enslave (or fence) human selves, including those of the wielder of will. It’s not about a mind slowing down or not slowing down. It’s about whether that image above shows wilderness or cultural space. It’s about who you belong to: the grass, or other men. Unifying those opposites is not as easy as creating a national forest and building new parks within it for poets to walk through and find beauty.


Fire Pine, Yellowstone

They can. That work has been done. Now it is time for the land to speak. Now it is time for people who are the land to speak — not as a conversation within American or Canadian or Western poetry, and not as an address to or for that fire pine. It means, among many other things, making this tree the centre of the world — not as a symbol of anything. This tree, right here, right now. That kind of thing. Rilke found it a century ago. We are that far behind here. To find that tree probably means finding new words. That is good, honest work. It absolutely means finding new forms. That is powerful work for people engaged in finding poetry in the world and working with it. It means being present, not in memory but in the unfolding that is memory’s form in the present.

P2050845Yellowstone North Gate

That is why I have stepped aside from traditions of Cascadian poetry, although few people in this land know it so intimately or have been the channel for poetry within it for so long. I just can’t do metaphor anymore, that’s the thing. I can’t do nature, and if I’m to be bound by a line of will, I want it to come from that pine, not traditions of politics and the poetry of identity politics from a foreign country and foreign traditions. That is or the citizens of those fields. For me, in this grass, joy will do just fine. This is partly what I meant in my new book The Art of Haying: it’s possible to live well as the earth; the ego is just the book talking as it keeps us in line. It’s possible to walk out into the grass. Here’s an article on The Art of Haying in BC Book Look. P2010552

Big Bar Wet Land

Blessed be.

Native Wetland Apples in Horizontal Light

The Pacific Crab loves rain, swamps and wet feet.

She is the forest rain that has drawn wood and air to herself after flowing through them and picking up their energy on the way through the forest to the earth. Look at her catch the sun’s rain below.


Malus Fusca, November

Fun With Light

“Light travels in straight lines.” Yes, if observed from a science that measures straight lines. No, if observed from within light, within the world, within gravity or within perception. The statement is meant to be a universal truth, against which all other truths are subjective. It is, however, also subjective. You cannot see light. You see seeing. It lights you. That is not a straight line. That is all at once. A science built from this would be a science of presence.

Reeds Reflecting in Big Bar Lake at Dawn

Teaching Gravity in a 21st Century Classroom

First, two pictures of gravity. I don’t mean the effects of gravity. I mean gravity.

P2110722 Gravity is not mathematics.  It’s either here in these pine cones or it doesn’t exist.P2110571 Water carries heat and cold. Heat operates steam heating systems, and energizes clouds and ocean currents. Cold provides water for salmon, through the midst of hot grasslands. It also carries gravity.

P2110095Notice how it stills it. Notice how differently rock embodies it. Notice how differently you, as a human, read that. Gravity they are. Gravity is also linked to time. Here’s a pool of it. Gravity, I mean, but also time.P2110650 Light travels in straight lines, says physics, but then that means everything else doesn’t. These mosses on Turtle Mountain, for example. Look at them bend, where the light is not.P2110697 They, too, are pools of gravity.P2110698 Physical science has worked out theories of how gravity bends space and thus light, although travelling in straight lines, bends, to follow space. The math works, but, come on, isn’t that overly complicated?P2110702 What is that space? Look at it below. The answer is right there.P2110711 The answer is here.P2100946 Ah, life, yes, that’s a different thing than gravity. It’s a different thing than steam rising, rain precipitating, or stone eroding, and far different than space bending around a star. We have the math to prove it. But look. Here’s a pool of gravity. Look how it turned red, and now is filled to the brim with time.P2100972 Here’s a pool below it, closer to Okanagan Lake, in which time is still held by water.P2100975 Look at this trunk of time, powered by gravity. Remember: gravity doesn’t “fall”. It’s “there.” P2110284 It’s here. Look how now it is contained by the molecular forces of water molecules. That’s how weak it is.


Weak it may be, but look how it pools in this bunchgrass, in these amplified water droplets, these extensions of molecular water tension in time, powered by gravity.


Is that not bending light? And look below: is light not always stopping, because that’s what happens when it hits the earth? Are these not the flashes as it meets gravity?

P2110814Does not water, the core of life, carry them? Is that not time? Look at the grapes below, from a bunch too immature two months ago for the birds, a bunch at the end of the vine that bloomed late, with every flower on the cluster blooming separately.  That is many times at once, each in its surface tension, and all there, or, rather, all here now.


I have learned not to be diverted by usefulness. Usefulness is a powerful social force, but presence is stronger.


It might be as weak as gravity, but look at it at work:


Can you read that? Well, your body can. It knows where food is in the spring. It knows where power is, and differing intensities and combinations of light and gravity and all the other forces of the earth. Scientific theory puts it like this:

periodicThat’s beautiful and real and powerful and socially useful, but it’s not this:


And until it is that, or this …


… (for example), then it is not this.  This is gravity:


Humans live in it. Ideas of God bound within alchemical machines live here:

P2000675 P1930714 P1920539 P1820802 Look at this piece of time trying to get through that mess.P1830404

Scientific thought is an incomplete project. If you are a teacher of science, I urge you towards bringing it back to the world. Here’s the first step. Here’s your new classroom, your new black board, smart board, white board, projector, chatroom and smartphone app:


A Chemistry Teacher Climbs the Farwell Dune, Cariboo Chilcotin Grasslands

Please. Your life depends on it.

What We Need to Talk About, Darling

The land I live on was an island that crashed into a continent. It buckled and smashed and was pushed up into the air by the collision.


The old seabeds of its foreshore we dragged under the ground, pressurized, and their water, turned to steam, turned them to lava, and they rose and splashed over top of the ruins.




These landscapes were broken by glaciers, which lie now in long inland freshwater fjords in beds that sink far below the surface of the offshore seas.


There are many of these islands.


They stretch from Oregon to Alaska, all broken up…

P2100867 …, all welded together with old volcanoes from their deep stone seabeds.P2100825

Many are stilled rimmed by water. Many are still seabeds.


Many still have tide pools.


Many are still given to shoreline grasses…




… even though the skies, torn by newer uplifted islands to the west, are the reverse of ocean air.


We are still at sea. Storm still drains off of the rock.


Generation after generation …


… the creatures of the water have adapted to living in the air and making a living from the cracks in stone …


… that catch the sea the mountains, the old islands, strip from the sky and give back to them. Even a stone can be a tide pool in this ocean.


Our birds are sea eagles …


… that come from India.


But so do many of us. My ancestors did, long after the ice melted here.  We are travelling, among islands.

starlings We are gathering and giving away.P2100521 We are falling and rising up.P2060603

As humans, it is our gift to see all these things as one. All creatures have this gift. It is called being present.


Humans have developed a science that takes apart this natural ability to see, in order to create stories of causality. It is a positive and powerful tool, as are one of its products, photographs such as these.


This is not the human faculty, this science. The human faculty is to see all these images as one, as physical things in the world, and simultaneously as spiritual forces and as forces of energy deep in time, and to experience in something as simple as a breath of air or the movement of an arm, or a moment that humans call beautiful …


… because it too is profoundly present, which is to say, all its energies are combined at once. Awareness is a word, not a human faculty. The faculty belongs to the earth. The word is us. This is awareness:


The photograph is the word.


Humility is the gesture. Again, it is a faculty of the world, not of humans themselves.


We are given this gift of putting things together. Don’t accept it that science must take them apart.


Our bodies know more than that. Of course they do, they are of the earth.


And she is of us.


This is a different thing altogether:


The people who build a golf course like that, on a rich, living grassland, are not of this earth. This is their habitat.


They are now dreaming of going to Mars. They are practicing.


They are building their space ships.


In many ways, they have already left.


They are almost wordless now.

P2000484 They have become their words.P2000542 When someone becomes a word, and writes it in the world of manifested words …P2000506

… they erase it.


The world is a weed to them.  The people of the world are weeds to them.


They are shadows.



They are grand romantic shadows, physical spirits who use their bodies as puppets, cars, and other machinery of transportation and communication.


Their ancestors were trees…


…  living on islands on the sea.


These islands are still here.


We are still here.


Our bodies, which are of this earth are still here.


We need to speak of this.


Cascadia: Land of Fire

Cascadia rises out of the seabeds of the continental plains, where a hot, conductive current rises from deep in the earth and shears and curls around the impenetrable ancient rock of the North American Craton. We call this column of fire Yellowstone.P2040102It is a wave of energy and resistance that creates mountains.


They rise from fire and create zones of cold, commonly called snow, in the ocean they made into the dry prairies of the Upper Missouri River. So are rivers born out of mist.


So is winter born out of summer air.spill It too pours in rivers over the plains.livingston It reaches out.fog1

Rivers are everywhere in this ripple in the sky. They squeeze the sky onto the dry earth.


Just as they are squeezed by rock that is still rising in a massive wave.


Not all leave the fire mountains, having molten the sky, or at least not yet. First, they pour through the caldera of the volcano, in a country of fire.


The fire here is green, but it burns just the same. These are the great fire pines of the North West. They are born in fire and die in it.P2060570And are born in it again.


They live on the caldera wall.wall Look at them lick with flame among the bones of their mothers.P2060583 Look at them drink the molten sky.P2060606 Look at them grow on the ash of old volcanoes.P2060622 The fire is not still. It still drives hot water out of the deep earth: snowmelt and rain and water squeezed out of the beds of ancient seas.P2060527 Here, too, fire pines burst into flame from the soil…


…and the water …


…grow old in the sky…P2050485

… and return to the fire.


It is not a linear wave. It is happening all at once.

P2050346 The fire does not consume.P2050370


It is the fire. We who walk here are in the fire.P2060276 It is the water. We who walk here are burning water.P2060145 And it is the sky. We who walk here stop, as the land has stopped, and give ourselves over to new forms.pool Some volcanoes erupt very slowly.P2050790

This is one. In it, water and fire are one.


In it, we live, who live in Cascadia.


Nature is a foreign word in this fire country. As soon as you see nature, you know you are not here.



As I was making an image of the pines below …


… a woman walking past looked up and said, “I don’t see anything there. Just a whole lot more pines.” She didn’t see this…


… or if she did, she didn’t see that this lone aspen is this hot pool…


… or these splashes of magma…


… or that there are creatures …


… who eat this fire …


Calling it nature makes it random and wild. Look at it…


… it’s not random. Look at it …


… it’s not wild. Humans have the capacity to be this energy.

pool2 When they are not this energy …prismatictres

… they invent nature, where, before, the fire rose up…

P2050800 … and rose up higher …P2060145

… and sang.


Without poets, we would be living on a dying earth. We would be dying and contemplating turning ourselves in to machines. That is the age that abstract culture has made in its own image. This is the world that humans live in…

P2060042 These differing worlds are equally abstract. They are equally simple.P2070086

But you do have to choose.


I have. I hope you can find your way to the earth, too.

The Beaches of Cascadia

If your country started out as a chain of volcanoes …P1790654 …very exotic volcanoes…P1790660 … in the tropical Pacific, very different volcanoes ….P1790674 … in five different island chains over 150 million years …P1790692 … and if they then drifted across the sea and crashed into North America, lifting new volcanoes up into the clouds …P1790700 … and welding the bits together …. aP1790726 … and then if super-cooled, subglacial water had blasted all that away and the sea had a go at it for 10,000 years ….P1790729 … why, then your beaches might look like this, too.P1790764 All beaches are beautiful, of course, but these are the beaches of Cascadia.P1790782 To be more specific, these are the beaches of the newest chain of islands to crash on the shore, Islandia.P1790786 And if you lift your head and look across the last water to the previous chain, now uplifted and ice-carved and creating rain, why it might just look like this…P1790797

…and if you lived there, and if you knew that, you would never see a mountain again. You would see the earth, alive.