Where the Heart is Home: A Celebration

I love this land. I guess you know that. I am this land. Other writers might talk about identity and ego and alter ego and personality, but I just want to take you out to the bitterroot, to the old ones, and help you to see what I have learned to see. Look!

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Straight out of volcanic ash 55,000,000 years old, way down south in the John Day Hills. This is the land itself. Look at her. I don’t expect you to understand. How could you? But if you want to know why I keep at this, look.

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Isn’t my country beautiful? Aren’t I blessed to be a part of her? Isn’t this a great responsibility? I used to think my country was the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. Now I know it is a collection of tropical volcanic islands that are continuing to collide with North America, stretching from Yellowstone and the Giant Redwoods, north to Alaska. I live in the middle of all that, but way in the south, ah, my heart is there as much as it is here. Others who live in my country, who call themselves Canadians and Americans, as I did before I began these journeys of close attention to the red earth, have their universities and their literatures, their psychologies, their economies, their arts councils and business investment banks. I just have the land now.

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Ah, but look at her!  Today, it has been 1000 journeys into the grass for us here on Okanaganokanogan. I have learned to read the land’s stories. Look.

turtle3That’s an ancient story, in the bed of Dry Falls. Most of the fresh water of the world, when the world still had fresh water, flowed over this stone turtle, and made it in its shape, out of basalt cliffs like the one you can see in behind. Now I get to walk through it at 45 degrees Celsius, which is about the right temperature, if you ask me. I’ve learned to see gravity, too.

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And good friends have battled up against it with me, in a kind of dry land surfing. Oh my. I’m still the farmer, though, although I’ll never have a farm. I’m the man with his roots in 10,000 years of a conversation with the land, or is it 20,000 years, or 50,000? Look below. This is the place. It’s on the John Day River. It’s seen better days, sure, and has been replaced now by the industrial farms of the Columbia Basin, but look at her. I could live there, if borders didn’t cut my country into bits. The junipers on the hills, with my grandfather’s spirit in them. The volcanic rock, the only rock for me. The bunchgrass, that drinks the sun and the rain. The willows on the river, that speak the wind, the river running over tumbled stones, that sing, the sagebrush that drinks the heat, the heat, the mountain’s shadow, that is always moving, and the trees, with their peaches and cherries for Portland, all grown in conversation with the land. It could be ancient Persia. It could be Afghanistan. It could be Iceland, but it is here. This is my rock. The reward for working here is just the chance to be here, talking to the earth with my hands and my eyes and the heart in my chest. Go ahead, click on the picture. It’s wide. It might not speak to you of the coming together of forces it speaks of to me, but then, perhaps, you didn’t learn the world first from peach trees, as I did, and only then from books and people, in that order. These are my people. Look at them, thriving there in the sun! Look at them catching it in their arms.

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A thousand posts! Look at my people, soaring above Umatilla Ridge.

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So what now, eh? Well, there have been efforts to turn me into a salesman, to sell this story. There have been efforts, to take the vision out of me and replace it with arguments of utility, for the building of new agricultural technologies, but, come on. This is my real story. This is why I’m here. This stone raven at Peshastin. Click on it. Look at the head that’s in its eye.  Someone has to tell the story of how to live on the land, and how to be it.  Someone has to say, we can do this. It’s easy. You just have to give yourself away with a full and open heart.

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Oh, I have new crops and new technologies here. I have a history, that starts here, not in London or New York. I have a book about the sun, and about rethinking nuclear fission, using this land and its sun. I have all that, and you soon will, too. The books are in the works, but it’s a huge job. After all, I don’t have the university to do this work, and my brothers and sisters, the writers of this country, they’re largely writing for Canada and the United States.They might not want to be, but we have to walk this path together, step by step, with the bunchgrass brushing at our thighs. We’re getting there. By the end of the year, things should look pretty grand. Look at what I’m working on now…

When I raise my arm to point out a hawk diving on a quail in a field of wild grass, I am plunging my arm into the sun. It’s all sunlight, right down to the surface of the soil. I walk through it. It flows over my skin.

I love that. I love living in the sun. It’s like that here. I can’t explain it. I’ve tried. But, hey … it’s a big job. Look, I can take you there, if you like.

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Yes, that’s right. The sun is the earth. The earth is the sun. They complete each other. They were never apart. That’s Mount Hood above there, to give her a traditional name, if that helps. Beautiful, isn’t she. In my country, the earth is within the sun. I can’t explain it. But I can take you there. That’s what I can do. Here’s where I found my heart in the land.

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That’s my self portrait. That’s Palouse Falls. Does it look like a man? Of course not. But it’s where I am now, after 1000 posts on Okanaganokanogan. We’re not done yet. We’re still walking. There’s still so much to love here. Thanks so much for walking with me in this grass, and through this rock. I could not have done it without  your encouragement. A thousand posts. 30,000 photos. 20,000 hours.That’s just amazing. This, though, just below, is what it’s all about. Look at the goddess of this land, the cicada, shedding her skin.

Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she worth living for? Isn’t she worth great praise?

 

Beautify The World for 2,000 People For $20

Orchard with flax in the ‘hood.P1820273

Orchard without flax (3 kilometres down the road.)

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Currently, flax fibre goes for $10 for every 50 grams. Plus, once you’ve made a set of wedding sheets, you can have a healthy breakfast, with flax seeds. You can share with the birds, right?

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It’s perennial. The poisoning in the next image has to be done over and over again. I mean, if that’s your thing.

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$20.

P1810242That’s a big bag of seed.

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$20 to rebuild the world. No irrigation required. (The stuff is indigenous.)

P1820269$100 for a light-duty weed eater, plus $12 for every replacement monofilament spool. No wedding sheets, either.P1810524Plus gas. And hearing protection. And steel-toed boots. And a leaf blower to “clean up.” Starting at $150. Plus the same additional costs. And noise. Lots of noise. Like an Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter taking off inside your head. Unit cost $45 million. US dollars.
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No contest. Spend the $20.

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Lamp extra. Um… you need a lamp? OK, here’s one.

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Calliope

(Click on him. He’ll catch your eye. )

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.

We are Marmot!

Do rocks collect saskatoons because they are focal points of life in the story of the land?P1770657

 

Or because they collect heat and rain?

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It’s a question that goes to the deepest and most specific points of the land, as the mature saskatoon in the split rock above and the young one in the split rock below show.

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Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space, or is every rock’s heat finding expression in a saskatoon, which is the way of things?

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Before you answer, look at the question again: “Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space?”

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That’s the language of the American and Canadian invasion of the West. That should be a warning. Here’s one of those rocks, with its spirit, a yellow-bellied marmot, and the daughter of the birds it shares this space with, a saskatoon.

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It’s a major tenet of evolutionary theory that specific species colonize environmental niches, but that’s just language, that’s just words, that’s just cultural material. What is really happening is this:

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It is time to live in this place, as if we were not strangers, because we’re not.

P1770052 We’re this.

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Elves in “Canada” and Iceland

Elves are all over the place in Iceland, like this one in the elf village at Skutustaðir.

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Well, elves are human-shaped, really, but they can vanish into stone and reappear from it, and more besides. It’s a long story. Imagine my delight when I found them alive and well in a hunk of exposed seabed at 600 metres elevation in my volcanic valley in the west of what is called Canada.

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In Iceland, they take many forms for humans. This is one, on an island in Lake Myvatn, the Lake of Midges.

P1340210 Here’s another from Skutustaðir. Here, the elvish power has formed itself in lichens.P1340083

And here we are again in the Okanagan Valley today. Less Nordic and more like Coyote and his friends from the dreamtime, but, hey, they look like they’re doing well. I’ve passed this hill a couple dozen times, and they haven’t been out. In today’s sun, they sure were.

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Is Harold crazy? No, not exactly. I’ve been hanging around elves in Iceland, that’s all. I’ve learned that the moods that animate me, emanate from the rock.

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I’m thrilled that it is no different here. Well, a little different. Can you make out the Coyote elf below?

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Here, look again, curled up but not asleep.

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It’s good to have friends close to home. It’s difficult to always run off to Iceland.

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Tomorrow, let me explain what’s going on. It has to do with some pretty powerful correspondences between mind and earth. Until then…

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Well met!

The Future of Okanagan Okanogan

We have been on a journey together for three-and-a-half years. In that time, I finished up this blog as a book (twice!), but then I was reading up on a lynching in Conconully, Washington in 1891. Things just didn’t seem to add up, and as I snooped around and dug into things they didn’t add up some more, and finally I rewrote the book almost entirely. It found its shape on Easter, when I printed up its pixels, laid it out on the floor in a long line, dated each paragraph, moved the things that were out of place, and found its natural chapters, as a history of an agricultural valley in the west of Canada, rooted in the American Civil War. It concludes with a way forward from unresolved conflict through a very specific resolution of the outstanding Indigenous land claims of British Columbia — especially the pivotal ones, in the Syilx Illahie, this gambling and travelling space, the S-Ookanhkchinx, this place in which I am home. Here’s a picture of the excitement.ms1

 

 

A Book is Born!

I have been calling it “Okanagan Okanogan: One Country Without Borders”, but on Easter I scribbled down this: “Commonage: The War for the Okanagan.” Hmmm, Hmmm, Hmmm. The first is better, I think. Titles are always the hardest darned thing! Note: don’t you try to read my hand-writing now. You’ll hurt your eyes. Why do you think I need those reading glasses!

I will follow up my book with a companion book of images, a book that retells this history as a Coyote tale, and, before both of those, a practical handbook on new crops, new energy regimes, new agricultural strategies, and new water technologies and ethics that support, strengthen and sustain the land that this blog has helped me find more deeply for all of its 960 posts. But first, the blog has another child! I have received a grant to spend 16 months to write about this:

P1730506The Beautiful Steam Punk Urban Core of Post-Industrial Vernon

On Wednesday I hold my first interview with one of the street people who has offered to help me. He is excited and has many plans for me. I’m excited, too. And to think, it all started with a thought: would it help to write a book (another grant) if I used a camera to record what I see, to act as a form of empirical proof in a series of environmental arguments. Might as well try, I thought. Give it a couple months. Look at the gifts that moment of curiosity and that willingness to be led by it has given me! Not the least is  sense of writing and poetry that has expanded beyond literature into the world. Amazing. I am so grateful.