Matisse and the Nez Perce

Reading the sky, I’ve just realized, is not a matter of translating the dramatic movements of clouds and light into words or ideas, but reacting to them in the manner of responding to art. This moment, in other words…

P1960203 … is like this one …

openwindow

Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Open Window, Collioure, 1905. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The differences are ones of culture, not differences in kind. Translating this kind of knowledge into words is not going to lead to understanding, but it does lead to windows, which can be opened. However, they’re not the only ones. In the Matisse, the contrast between the two-dimensionality of the canvas, the scene that is rendered on it, the three-dimensional techniques of the painter and the three-dimensional brush work opens up entire universes of body-mind-spirit experience. You don’t have to translate it. You just have to enter the edge of those brush strokes. There’s life there. The same with the image below, from the Snake River in Idaho.

boulder

Note the depth of the palette of the dune forms in this ancient medicine plant field, from the sand dunes on the hill (brought to view by light-coloured weeds brought on by over-grazing) to the bunch forms of the wheat grass in the foreground, to the domed form of this sacred rock (like a sweat lodge with a mouth). The patterning opens many doors which can be apprehended and read without language. It was this presence in the earth that was one of the things that made it so hard for the Nimíipuu to accept agriculture when Henry Spalding, the missionary who tried to lead them to a gentle image of Christianity by whipping them, tried to bring them to in 1836. Putting a plow to this would have been like slashing this …

stilllifeb

André Derain (1880 – 1954), Mountains at Collioure,1905. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

… with this…

plowing

It is an incredible degree of violence, that Henry David Thoreau equated with slavery. It was industrial agriculture which he saw as the threat to the success of democracy in the United States. In the image below, we are on the Fort Bethold Agency in North Dakota in 1941, just months before the United States entered the Second World War after pushing the Japanese into a corner with sanctions.

800px-Horse_pulling_plow_-_NARA_-_285314

Source.

The image below, also from the Snake, which shows the moon trapped by a road cut (inhabited by swallows), an abandoned fence and a community of weeds, is the view from one of those windows I mentioned. This one is the window of history.

P1900324

Walking back is not possible. Walking forward is. Art is a path with great potential. Hey, it might lead us here…

P1910799

… to Buffalo Eddy, where Matisse would feel at home.

P1920160

I do.

When Quail Leave the Grass, It’s Time to Party

P1950598Ah, the sweet berries of June!

P1950621This is the best year in a decade for saskatoons. They are so sweet.P1950619 And so juicy. Even the ground birds have left the cover of the grass for these ones.

P1950595

 

Ain’t that the truth.

History and (Dis)Respect on the Clearwater River

Here’s Curtis’s 1910 photo of a Nez Perce dugout canoe. This was the low point in Nez Perce life. Over the previous century, they had lost over 90% of the territory, much of their culture, and their population had dropped from 10,000 to 1500, and was going down.nez_perce_canoe_2

Note the rough pole. A century before, men would have used a paddle that was a pole on one end and a paddle at the other, to navigate the very special circumstances of the Clearwater River. Fine enough. But, look, here’s the example of a Nez Perce canoe that Lewis and Clarke and the Nez Perce built at the forks of the Clearwater River in 1805, at what is now known as Canoe Camp. It holds water, at any rate.

P1860943 Here’s another one.

P1860946 Really? Traditional canoes had gunwales 1″ thick, but were heavy on the bottom and the front, for running rapids. They had a flat prow, angled back at the right angle for beaching on the Clearwater shore. Great, but I doubt there’s any experienced boating culture in the world that would have thrown a thing like this into the water and attempted to steer it. For example, here’s Curtis’s photo of a Syilx canoe at Fort Okanogan in 1914, at the confluence of the Columbia and Okanagan rivers.canoeclip

That’s the kind of elegance one would expect, and even it is a craft built two generations after the culture had taken heavy blows from American settlement at least it still looks like a boat built by a boatman. The one below looks like a toy built by people playing at being woodsmen, or woodsman soldier, which was pretty much the case.

canoecamp Five canoes in 10 days, with mostly Nez Perce labour, as the Americans were sick and starving and near death? No wonder one of the boats cracked on a rock in a rapid in the first few minutes of the trip downriver. Respect takes a bit more effort than this. At the very least, the captions could describe this as a military log-hacking site, or the spot at which the Nez Perce decided to keep these fools alive, so they could use them to build a treaty, for help with their traditional enemies, the Shoshone, who were being armed with American arms from the Missouri and, under spatial pressures of their own were settling old ceremonial wars with increasing violence. At the very least, a proper Nez Perce canoe could be put on display in a town on the Nez Perce Reservation which was sold out to White settlers in 1893, on the grounds that small homesteads not allotted to individual Nez Perce families were “surplus.” At least, the site could lose the Canoe Camp name and be given its 12,000 years of history back. Or, the boats could be put the right darned way in the current in this plaque, instead of the right way to balance the image as a still life:

ahsakha

At least. It’s a valuable colonial image, but, really, it would just be better to rewrite history from scratch and write some respect into it from the start.

The Power of Two

This is a land that divides.

P1840124 Or is that upon this land people divide? Here we are on the Colville Indian Reservation, looking south across the Columbia River, as it begins to flow again after being stopped dead by the Grand Coulee Dam, off to our left. The red seeds of the invasive chick grass, that has rendered the short-lived farmland colonial culture made out of productive grassland into not even a place for birds and rats, speak well for the social divide here.

P1840172

Ruined “Ranch”

I’m thinking of something in the land itself. Here’s the most famous divide in the North West, the Wallula Gap. When the last ice age melted and filled the valleys of Idaho, Montana and British Columbia with water, it all released at once and took 60 hours to pour through this break in the Columbia Basalt and cut the Columbia Gorge to the sea.

P1840925

 

Looking South from the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Walla Walla

Water cut this rock in two. This rock in the Grand Coulee, as well, where the water flowed before the ice dam on the Columbia broke.

P1840232

The water cuts the rock in two, then in two again, then in two again, not because water is a divisive energy, but because the rock is crystallized, and divides on divisions between crystalline structures deep within the rock. Here, on a hotter day, at the edge of the Columbia Basalt in Lewiston Idaho is a glimpse of what that looks like.

P1910171

Water, frost, and even plants find the spaces between the crystals and pry them apart. The result is Coyote Rocks, like these on the Colville Reservation.

P1840160

And, as more water gets a grip on the rock, this:

P1840124And that’s where we began. Note how the initial basalt flow was cut into a residual butte, which was cut into two, then into two again and two again. That these remnant stones have animal characteristics is because they are being read by an animal mind, which sorts those kinds of things out of the world. That’s a serious business, but for the moment, just look at how these animal shapes are paired. That’s what this land teaches. It is narrative formed of unified terms that divide, and divide again, in groups of two. Here is an image taken from the same spot, facing north, away from the little narrative of the Coyote rocks above.

P1840116

You can see some Coyote rocks up on the left. The major landform here, though, is a divided valley, with a central mound, around a welling shape (laid by water.) It is an image of birth. The land gives forth landscapes like this continually as well. Usually, the largest, most dramatic ones form the backdrop of a village site, or a fishery site (as this is). This one, of course, has had a child:

P1840124

That’s right, the Coyote Rocks! Those are the children of the earth, and the old ones to us, although not as old as the body of the earth itself. There are mysteries here that our bodies understand better than our minds do, but any art that comes from this land will follow these principles, or it will wither.

P1840172Division can be a positive or a negative force. One’s original intent carries through to the end.

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.

P1920539

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.

Reports of Father Pandosy Starving in 1846 Are Greatly Exaggerated

He’s the Boy from Marseilles, the French Oblate Priest who came on the Oregon Trail and started two of the first missions in Washington Territory, singing the whole time. His first was at the Chamna summer village at the mouth of the Yakima River. Reports were that he was starving. I think it’s fair to say that those were actual reports on the degree of racism within the speakers, because I was just there today and even now, with the delta gone, the river impounded, the salmon extirpated, the deer shot to bits, the shore full of radioactive sludge from the plutonium reactors upriver, the sturgeon slaughtered for fun and steaks (that would be like slaughtering T-Rex for steaks, so, yeah, duh), and so on, still, still, it’s a garden of plenty. There are birds, so many you can’t hear yourself think, and ducks and geese, loons and fish and bass boats and ant lions and pelicans and Mexican fishermen,  and look who found me in the middle of the day in the lone cottonwood on the island, in a grove of ingrown locusts and russian olives, despite everything.

P1840674 Owl on Bateman Island

No, what Pandosy’s supervisors were saying was that those darned Oblates and their obsessions with poverty and self-sacrifice were just going to go Indian and betray the White cause, or at least their political access to it. And so Pandosy did. He stopped a war with his friends the Yakamas and was hounded out of this rich land and away from its people by the U.S. Army, led by the future leaders of the Confederate Army and manned by a bunch of vigilantes it took the post-civil war army thirty years to get under control. Just an example of why it’s important to write history from what you’ve seen with your own eyes. In this case, look into the eyes of an owl and say it is not so.

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!

bitterroot

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.

jday2

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.

jd3

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.

gravity

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.

jdorchardpanorama

 

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

soar

 

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.

peshastinraven

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.

hood

 

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.

pf

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.)

p1010439

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?

p1080665

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

p1600732

$20.

P1810242That’s a big bag of seed.

P1810232

$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.
P1810528

No contest. Spend the $20.

linen

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

P1820090

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.

P1810059

 

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.