To get the real work done, first honour the ancestors.
Thanks for listening.
To get the real work done, first honour the ancestors.
Thanks for listening.
Or because they collect heat and rain?
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.
Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space, or is every rock’s heat finding expression in a saskatoon, which is the way of things?
Before you answer, look at the question again: “Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space?”
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.
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:
It is time to live in this place, as if we were not strangers, because we’re not.
Elves are all over the place in Iceland, like this one in the elf village at Skutustaðir.
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.
In Iceland, they take many forms for humans. This is one, on an island in Lake Myvatn, the Lake of Midges.
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.
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.
I’m thrilled that it is no different here. Well, a little different. Can you make out the Coyote elf below?
Here, look again, curled up but not asleep.
It’s good to have friends close to home. It’s difficult to always run off to Iceland.
Tomorrow, let me explain what’s going on. It has to do with some pretty powerful correspondences between mind and earth. Until then…
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.
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:
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.
Russian thistle was one of the first weeds from the Russian steppes to destroy the grasslands of the North American West. It became one of the dominant characters in Country & Western music, when it was still the music of this place and hadn’t gone commercial. To set the scene, here’s Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers crooning away.
And here’s some tumbleweeds doing their Russian thing in the Mojave Desert:
I’ve seen them do this trick many a time, including down Main Street in the resort city of Penticton in the winter snow. On the Hanford Nuclear Reservation a few Junes back, with the plutonium dust blinding me, they came up over the hill like a hiya moosmoos* of mustangs, galloping away, and I had to wait it out. They were on me about two seconds after I took the shot below. I’d pulled off to give them space. (*’herd’ in the Chinook Jargon trade language of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the language of this place)
Here they are hanging out in Vernon. Now, what I want to know is … why this fire hydrant?
Why does all this history stop here and refuse to budge? Why, could it be because Roy and friends were playing at being Mexican vaqueros, in celebration of the absorption of Mexican Texas and California into the United States, in the way other white boy groups played Black music as if it were their own?
It sure looks like it. A good number of the first ranchers in the grasslands of what became the Canadian Northwest were Mexican vagueros dispossessed by legal sleight-of-hand in California, who drove cattle north to the gold fields in 1858. They never went back. Now the tumbleweeds, symbol of restless wandering in the Old West, have their hidden stories to tell, still. As Roy Rogers said…
See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I’ll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.
But there’s beauty still.
Please, let’s tumble no more.
… was your world …
… but a world of many creatures …
… namely a wasp…
… and that’s just on one twig on one willow. Forty years ago someone planted this willow. It costs nothing to plant a willow. It costs thousands to plant rocks, the new fashion for responsible gardening. Please, stick a stick into the ground for your grandkids, and all the insects of the world, or they’ll be living on an asteroid.
Cascadia, the great ecoregion of the northeast Pacific Coast, is a term to describe something that deserves better. The short and skinny on it is that on the north eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean there is an arc of volcanoes in just the right latitude, catching the cyclones of the North Pacific and the winds of the turning planet to create landscapes of both water and drought. That’s right, the tide zone…
Ozette, Makah Illahie
… above tide …
Industrial Ruins Washed up in Storm at Ozette. Makah Illahie
… the rainforest …
Cape Flattery, Makah Illahie
… the volcanoes …
Wy’east, from Yakama Illahie
… and the shrub steppe…
Dry Falls Debris Field, Sinkiuse Illahie
are one landscape. And that’s where both the amazement and the problems arise. Cascadia is sometimes an independence movement, for a new state in Western North America, cobbled together out of pieces of the old pre-1846 Oregon Territory, divided thereafter between the United States and Canada, sometimes an ecoregion and a cultural region, most notably defined as the basins of the Fraser and the Columbia Rivers, and the coastal rainforest zone from the redwoods of California to the archipelagoes and fjords of Alaska. This is salmon country. We could define our country, our illahie, to use the old Chinook Wawa (the language of this place) term for it, as salmon country, and pretty much get it right, but the Cascadia Institute defines it by water. I quote:
By gosh, yes, but only if the following image is defined by water in ways meaningful to it…
Dry Falls Monolith, Sinkiuse Illahie
… that are the same as this…
Funeral Island, La Push, Makah Illahie
… and the rainforest …
Douglas Fir, Quinault Illahie
… is viewed as identical to this …
Old Growth Blue-bunched Wheat Grass, The Junction Sheep Range, Tsilhqot’in Illahie
… because what the volcanoes do is cause the rain to fall to the West and the air to lift water out of the earth to the East. Until there is a concept that sees those as the same process, Cascadia is a colonial dream from the wet zone, meaning the Willamette Valley, Portland, Vancouver (both of them), Victoria, Bellingham, Olympia and Greater Seattle. It’s not water that defines this region. It’s the volcanoes. They harness the wind to create surface water and surface drought, two opposites bound forever, but it would be as silly to describe the rainforest as being a land of drought as it would be to describe the shrub steppe as a land of water. Fortunately, the Cascadia Institute doesn’t do that. Once it gets its water story out of the way, it hints at a geological story. Again, I quote:
And then speaks, mysteriously, of creative energies …
So, it’s not about water at all, but about some kind of dynamism, as human life here follows the patterns of plate tectonics. That’s the story. Perhaps great rivers rise in the region, but the rivers aren’t the story. The forces that make them are the story.
Volcano Breaking Up, Nlaka’pamux Illahie
Water is only the story of coastal peoples in this zone. The rest of us are defined by the absence of water, here, where all knowledge of water is reversed. As long as Cascadia is defined by water, or by coastal population centres, Cascadia is just its coast and a hinterland, and that’s the old colonial story rewritten on our lives, that we just need to get past. There’s more, though. The cities on the coast, Portland, Vancouver (the Canadian one) and Seattle most spectacularly, are cities in the great nation states of Canada and the United States. They are the point at which the energies of those distant lands intersect with the illahie. They exist within this dynamism, but do not define it. To use them as models for the future culture of a “Cascadia” would be catastrophic. If there’s going to be a country in this place, it has to be a shared story, not of rivers running to the sea and salmon swimming back, but of how you can feel the mountains pressing down on you in the cold rain to the west, and feel the absence of the mountains turning you hot in the east, and if the land is the story, then, I’m sorry, but the land is the story.
Ancestor, Syilx Illahie
Anything else is colonialism.
Note: the texts from the Cascadia Institute are taken from the Cascadia Poetry Festival Website.