Oh, Grass, My Beautiful One!

Grasses are the children of a warming earth, and this is their season. I’ve been talking of science lately, but a science based in poetry and in ancient earth knowledge, so I thought today, walking out in the grass, hey, why not show you the magic of the grass? Have a look!

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Asparagus in Glory: Science and Language Part III

The other day I was discussing how the language of science influences the world that scientific exploration and method allows us to see. Behind that is the observation that if the language of science were fundamentally changed, the world that humans could perceive would be changed. I will be speaking more about the nature of such changes later in the week. For the moment, let’s work towards those observations step by step. First step, the lowly asparagus.

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Female Asparagus in Her Glory

Remember her from the springtime?

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So, that’s a pretty basic shift, eh! Each of the bud scales on the young asparagus stalk above will open into a fern stalk, which will open into ferns, flowers, and ultimately berries, seeds, and spiders.

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Which is the real asparagus? The white shoot, below the ground, that the Germans eat to honour life sprung from the dead land (a truly ancient practice)? The green shoot that Canadians eat to honour spring life? The fern? The spider? They are all the asparagus, of course. The entire cycle is the asparagus. Human time-biases, however, encourage human observers to label the plant by its best-known form, as food, such as these wild stalks I picked and brought home in the spring…

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Those are, however, no more than asparagus than is this…

P1490422 … or this …

spider1It’s an important point, actually. As humans, bound to time, we tend to see events unfolding along a line, from spring to fall, so to speak. It’s harder to see them opening up into themselves, passing through a set of stages (openings, really) , each of which holds the others in completeness, or at least in complete potential open to chance. It’s also hard for us to see individuals (such as this asparagus) achieving full life by becoming part of a community, as this plant does with its spider and the fly it has caught and the deer that grazes it in the spring (or the poet who cuts off one of its stalks for a spring dinner,) but it’s not that hard. In fact, once you’ve experienced the plant in that way there’s no going back — which suggests that it’s not hard at all. In scientific nomenclature, asparagus is classified, as are all plants, according to its origins, its descent from a primeval form. It could, however, be classified according to its ends, the point at which it reaches in completeness — its ability, for instance, to host spiders and attract the flies on which they feed. That particular classification system might not be terribly humanly useful, mind you. One, however, that classified it by the compounds in its berries might, and might give it such unexpected friends as apples, cranberries, bearberries, and so forth. In such a classification system, the harvesting of young asparagus stalks would not be seen as cutting a crop in its prime, but cutting it in a juvenile stage. The pressure to leave more of the plant for full, mature development would be strong under such a system, and environmental protection would be furthered … by nothing more than a chance of language. This is just one small example of what is possible, and what is currently being ignored. Without it, it’s no wonder the environment is separated from what it needs to survive.

Tomorrow: Varied forms of nomenclature and their benefits. After that, we’ll get into social effects of all of this, because humans, the social animals that humans love to speak of, are part of this story.

Ethnobotanical Knowledge: The Language of Science Part 2

Remember? Yesterday I pointed out that each of the plants below, although far apart in botanical class-action, share the power of redness, which arises at different points on each plant, stem, leaf and fruit, at different intensities, at different times, and in different ways. Here they are again.redsstuff

To refresh, the various points at which the colour red are manifested take on significance and can be developed into technologies. Two observations.

1. This was once common knowledge. Indigenous plant usage, especially medicinal plants, did not come about by trial and error. People could once read the natural world in its own language. In other words, they could read this with the ease with which people today read their smart phones.

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Staghorn Sumac (Female)

Have you ever wondered why universities don’t teach this stuff?

Most new pharmaceuticals come from harvesting substances found in indigenous plant materials, patenting them, and then marketing them. Think of it. The scientific tradition, with all its wealth and power can often do little more than refine discoveries already made, and then profit from them. I bet your local pharmacist would have difficulty reading the image above. Or this one:

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Staghorn Sumac Opening into the Light

2. The progression of plants into and through the colour red is much like the variations of plants themselves as they respond to different environmental zones. I used the example yesterday of two red osier dogwoods with degrees of redness differing because of their particular growing situations. Here’s the redder one:

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The redness of this plant is the result of shutting down photosynthesis — not because of a decrease of fall light, but because of a decrease of fall light in relation to leaves that have grown in great drought and heat. If the red appeared because of fall conditions in and of themselves, then the neighbouring red dogwoods wouldn’t look like this:

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These colour differences encode very specific differences in the efficacy of the medicinal compounds in these plants. Magic was once based on such readings, to various degrees of accuracy. Science largely set it aside. Pity. Perhaps these plants could all be classified according to their degrees of redness, rather than according to their genetic lineages. After all, there is nothing particularly special about genetic lineages. Their use as a classification system is purely random, yet has profound results. In terms of genetics, however, those red pigments come from common sources, and thus form very alternate genetic lineages of their own. What those are remains unexplored. That is an effect of language. If one says that the shape of a leaf and the manner of fruiting are the signifiers of a familial relationship, then it is so, and other relationships are seen as adaptations arising in parallel, but subordinately to the main genetic line. That might, actually, not be the case. Take, for instance, the lowly pinot (little pine) grape.

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Pinot Noir, Meyer Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

This is the wild grape of Southern France, which has thousands of variations, all farmed, and even appears with differently coloured skin (pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot auxerois), with all of their different flavour characteristics. This is not a matter of breeding. The genetic material of this ancient plant changes to fit environmental conditions. In fact, change is a major characteristic of the plant. The point here is that within the plant there exists a huge potentiality for variation, which manifests itself in different conditions. It is a lesson to remember when looking at any plant. Here are three variations of mariposa lily growing on Turtle Point in Kalamalka Lake…

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That’s not all. In most places where this exquisite grassland lily (and vital food crop) grows, it isn’t this colour at all. It’s usually white, but, well, not exclusively so, and not without variation…

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If you travel through the northwest, you will find the same thing with Indian Paintbrush, as it varies geographically from pinks in the John Day, up through whites and scarlets in the Columbia and the Methow, to crimsons in the Okanagan, deep crimsons, almost purple in the Cariboo, and Oranges up against the shield volcanoes in the West Chilcotin. If you travel across the land with a system of scientific nomenclature in hand, you will be able to record those differences, but you might just miss the story, that there are qualities in the land, and in the plants response to it, rising from an original potential essence, that are causing the changes, and that they show up in more than just lilies. If you travel with the system of scientific nomenclature, you might find it a little to easy to claim that the differences are the result of random variation. It’s the same thing, but it misses the answer to the question of why. People used to be able to answer those questions! They wrote them up in complication systems of spiritual belief, that looked like this sometimes:

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Part of a Reconstructed Map of Giordano Bruno’s Memory Theatre

All areas of knowledge are codified under the influence of various gods and astrological signs.

Sound Whacky? Sound like those rolled-up astrologies you can buy for a buck at the drug store and that look like candy cigarettes? Maybe, but the gallery of the Abbey of Saint Gallen in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and a top listed UNESCO world heritage site, is arranged precisely like this. And those were the monks who created handwriting and attempted to recreate the world as a book and thus restore God’s creation to its original form (Eden.) Putting all the religious stuff aside, they were trying to find a kind of ecological or environmental balance or unity. Aren’t we all.

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Sankt Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Source

There’s a bust of a goddess (Agriculture, Physics and so on) above each stack. The volumes in the stacks are not “books” but bound manuscripts.

Shakespeare was in on it, too. His stage was a room in which memory was organized in much these ways.

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And so was an alchemist’s workshop.

olaus worm bigger2 And so are early scientific collections. I’d show you the amazing ones in Gotha, but I lost my photos. This will do…

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Science is a continuation of this process of editing, collating and organizing. The how of the organizing is a language, and that language means that some things get spoken and others do not. This, for example, gets left out:

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Japanese Red Maple in the August Sun

I read the colour and the sun here, with the ability to reach deeply recessed parts of the human body and psyche that are probably codified on someone’s zodiacal chart somewhere and rejected as fanciful nonsense.

Of course, much of it is. A series of principles for sorting alternate spiritual systems out would be most helpful.

Tomorrow: Other organizations.

Geese are Smart

Geese are geniuses at being geese. We couldn’t do anything like it. We suck at being geese, but we are capable of recognizing goose goosiness when we see it.

P1480271Yet we put them in ridiculously small, crowded cages. Don’t have to. We could display them in a goose-friendly setting. We don’t. Our shame.

~

This is an image from the Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede in Armstrong, in the north of the Okanagan.

 

Vineyards in Germany and Canada Compared

Here’s the wall of a vineyard road in Germany (Schlossberg, Rüdesheim am Rhein)

 

Vineyard Stair, a Self-watering garden zone.

The wall collects water and delivers it to a reservoir. Here, the land is reformed to grow a native plant, riesling.

Here’s the wall of a vineyard road in Canada (Vineyard at the Rise, Vernon)

P1490073Erosion!

The native plants are gone (erosion), the soil is flowing away (erosion), water is piped in (erosion.)

So live the Canadians, on land that is not theirs. Pity them. They don’t have a clue.

 

 

Okanagan Okanogan: The View From Here

Friends, it’s a happy day. Today, just over 35 months since I began with an image of the grassland (6 hits that day), and a gut feeling that a blog might prove a useful writing process, and 47 months since I had a vision of a new way of living on the earth, I have a manuscript. It’s about this land I love and all its stories and surprising histories, and it’s about the salmon coming home and my coming home with them and getting down to the real work, of remaking the land. I’ll finish it up in the next few days. I have a surprise, too: a second manuscript, which I thought was just going to be a short blog post today. I thought it was going to lead into another three years of writing. To my delight, it is largely written, scattered (and I mean scattered) throughout the posts on this blog. It’s rough, and stretched to encyclopaedic length with photographs, but I can feel its body scattered in space around me. It’s not far off. So, on this 800th post, on this journey of discovery from the Fraser River to the sea, from the Okanagan Valley to the Columbia Plateau, from Palouse Falls to the John Day River and East Iceland to the Mosel, the Rhine and the Rhone, deep into East Germany and back again, following the thread of a story like a salmon following a thread of scent up its birth river, in a sea of over 17,000 images (and another 200,000 in reserve) and about a half million words, it’s with excitement that I can show you a bit of my desktop today while the canning pot burbles on the stove and the scent of peaches fills the house:

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Harold at Work

Cool!

Julia’s Sunflower Has a Visitor

Julia Aleynikova is a young poet from the north east Ural mountains, who gave me six sunflower to plant while she went to Minsk for the summer. Her poem “Lady Fallen to Earth” is one of the finalist’s for this year’s CBC Poetry Prize. On the day the finalist list was announced (Monday), this American Goldfinch visited her flowers, that watched over my wildflower garden and greeted visitors for the summer.P1470959

I am saving seeds from one of the heads. If you would like a seed from Julia’s sunflower, let me know. I’m hoping you might plant it, to pass Julia’s gift along, but, hey, if you’re small enough and have the right beak they’ll make a meal.

P1470942That’s pretty good, too!

 

 

 

Garage Sex, Okanagan Style

The marriage bed.

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Go away for 3 weeks and the neighbours move in, with each other on their mind. Madam came first.

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Yeah, she didn’t pose very well, but there was all this, um, mosquito netting in the way of my lens, so I did what I could. Notice how she has learned to blend in with the black “Tuck Tape” background, to stay out of my way. She’s grown about 30% since I came back home. The gentleman arrived 2 weeks later …

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He’s about 25% of her size. The black sheets don’t help him. He is, as you can see, going for red, the colour of love. It’s a slow dance. Well, that’s what’s going around here with the black widows. How’s the action at your place?