We Are the Earth and the Earth is Us

I want to show you an image of the mind. Since that’s difficult, let me show you an image of the world instead, with my fingers crossed that the mind will be revealed in it if I give you the context. It’s an image of an abandoned rangeland fence high above Okanagan Lake. It speaks of the end of the ranching industry and the development of the land into a residential golf course resort. Given that this is the most sensitive and threatened grassland in the north of my valley, and one of the few left, this development required special approval. (In fact, the road built up the hill to service this resort destroyed an 8,000-year-old rattlesnake den, which seems to be way more than rude.) The way to get approval to build houses and golf courses on sensitive land is to sell ‘green’ or ‘environmental’ values that will ‘conserve’ species for ‘posterity’. Such conservation is pretty darned unlikely, but that’s why this stretch of land has been left ‘wild’ as ‘habitat’ for native species: it’s a social negotiation. In my mind, it’s less a living landscape than a zoo, but let’s just leave that, because this is Syilx land and thus sensitive in its own right. And just look at the view. As romantic as can be. You could sell $350,000-$1,700,000 golf course house lots like hot cakes with a view like this, especially to someone from cattle country, who’s changed his Angus herd in for a covey of oil wells and is missing them terribly. Fair enough, but that’s not the image of the mind I promised. That’s just a little background. Here’s the mind:

P1510311You see, the ‘wild’ness promised consists of a hillside overgrown by sagebrush (overgrazing in the past, combined with fire suppression) and trampled by deer (barred from the valley below by very operative orchard and vineyard fences) which have no business here where there is nothing for them to even nibble on. In other words, the ignorance that sees this rich landscape, transformed by ignorance into an impoverished landscape of weeds, is the same ignorance that the land displays in its weediness. The fence is the means by which that was accomplished. It remains, its work done, as something no longer extricable from the land. In other words, it too belongs in this transformed landscape, or this impoverished mind: just another weed, in a landscape of weeds. It is as if the land reflects precisely the attention given to it: settlers who come in as alien species, leave behind a landscape of alien species, and for images of beauty choose records of the moment of claiming a rich land, such as this fence and the bittersweet image of the loss of that richness (again, the fence). Now, let me make a proposal: it is exactly like that. The Earth is us and we are the earth. Calling the view in the image above “nature” is the problem, because that proposes an active force separate from human forces. It isn’t.

You Say Tomato, I Say Apple

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I’m still slowly picking and savouring this first crop of Benvoulin apples in 20 years. Here is one of them hanging out with the gals from the tomato patch, just for fun. There are three left on the tree, too. You can read the story of this unique apple here. The discovery, breeding, saving, grafting and distributing of apple varieties is an art form older than most others. It is illuminating to contemplate it beside such new forms of intervention with the natural world, such as farmer’s markets, community gardens, food banks, and university-based GMO breeding programs. Those are all social forms of art, while this is an individual, poetic one that comes from a man being the land he walks. I doubt any of the newer art forms would ever lead to an apple so powerful that one bite beats a $30 bottle of riesling— and yet which everyone can afford. In this respect, the simple image above is an image of wealth.

Teleportation, Anti-Gravity and Art

Defying gravity?P1540796

It’s a trick of light.

bright If the sun had moved its substance to earth physically, there would be no water and no life.

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Reforming itself in a new form, that’s the trick.

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The process of the sun transferring itself is not finished.

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At the moment, it is both here, and there. Look at it caught in this old, exploded star that my ancestors call, variably, water and Wasser and wetter and wody.

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It is the sun, defying gravity and moving itself across space by turning itself into energy, and then, through the lens of the earth, turning itself back.

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Art matters.

 

Wine Secrets

Wine making is such a romantic business.P1530740Noble Ridge Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

It’s a way of selling peasant culture as elite culture.P1530745It’s done within a metaphor of capitalization. Only industrialists need apply. It is very expensive.
P1530726Instead of people, it employs machines. This is part of the adaptation of agriculture to a capitalized model. Capital depreciation replaces wages. It is a way of concentrating flows of energy in single hands.

P1540498Vineyard at the Rise, Bella Vista

Standardization is part of this process. The image below is an image of what the contemporary social culture of Canada looks like.

P1540471Against that are the anarchists.

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This is a coyote vineyard access road. Every year it gets dug at a different spot. Every year it gets blocked, and the coyotes let it be, until a week before harvest, when they dig it again.

 

The Tragedy of My Generation… And Its Hope

This is what our parents’ farms largely look like today, after we were taken away by promises of distant glories.oldfarmThis too is an image of war. Our parents came through the Second World War as children. We came through its consequence, the Cold War — again as children. After all of that, this. We left it for arts, of various kinds. That was also the story of war. Perhaps we come back to it with art as well. Perhaps that art has been cleansed. That tree is hopeful. That is one beautiful tree.

 

The Art That Insects Make

In the summer, light strikes the leaves of the dogwoods unevenly, as they flit about in their environment of light and shadow filtering through other leaves that move and shift with sun and wind and the turning of the earth through its days. Look at the result!P1540244Amazing!

P1540242There’s more to this story than just sun and light, and I’ll get to that in a sec, but for the moment look at how small patches of some of these leaves are delayed from maturing and shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for fall.
P1540241Frozen in time, that’s the thing.

P1540239Now, here’s the other player in these beautiful game. See the aphids on the underside of the leaves below, below the fruiting cluster?P1540233They are very responsive to light and growth and settle in the choicest spots, and then, as they divert the sap flow through their own digestive systems, they change everything. In effect, they become part of the plant, and the plant’s living processes are blocked and re-routed by the intervention of the insects and the whole year’s worth of redirected minerals.P1540227Aphids, light, shadow and the mysteries of an earth continually in motion.P1540224The scientist in me thinks this process could be put to use. The farmer in me knows it can. The poet in me is in love with the earth. The artist in me is just plained thrilled to see his body alive in the earth like this, down to the tiniest thing.

 

Betraying the Earth

Good intentions are not enough. Contemporary systems of governmental organization and the structures that support them ensure that principles of conservation can become something else entirely. The Government of Canada is currently in the process, for example, of side-stepping its own environmental-protection legislation by the simple device of declaring lakes of use to mining companies to be mine effluent ponds, and not lakes. Under that definition, no environmental standards are at play. You can read the full article here. This kind of thing shows up in our valley, too. The image below shows a new stretch of highway, designed to make traffic flow more rapidly through the valley. It has been in operation for a year. Notice that a large amount of input on habitat restoration and protection has resulted in laying (no doubt at great expense) dead fir trees on the crushed rock of the infill slope, as habitat for insects, birds, seeds, and, hey, maybe porcupines and bears. But, look at it in comparison to the slope above. It’s not habitat for anything except for dead trees. A serious attempt at maintaining environmental integrity would not have separated one side of the hill from another, or would, at the very least, have planted oregon grape, sumac, saskatoon, choke cherry, douglas fir, mock orange, rocky mountain maple, poison ivy, wild clematis, blue-bunched wheatgrass, prickly pear cactus, and whatever else is growing on that slope, but, no. A few dead trees and the rest is supposed to follow. In the end, the trees are an expensive art installation, but that’s about it.

P1530091Highway 97

Lake Country, British Columbia

There is a point at which an ideological system takes more effort to maintain than the benefit gained from it. Sadly, we crossed that barrier long ago.

 

Romantic Images of Autumn

It is possible to read land by colour. The Douglas firs on the ridge line below are ready to pass through the coming winter. So are the yellow choke cherries in the gully in the foreground.P1520857

 

These grapes, growing just a hundred metres below and to the right of this image are not.

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They are responding to different climatic needs (from the Rhine and the Rhone rivers in Europe) and the petrochemical fertilizers that are their environment. When they lose their leaves to the winter, the winter they lose their leaves to will be as much the petroleum industry as the weather. There’s an interesting principle at work here. Notice how the grapes above are set up to catch the sun that their genetics and their fertilizer aren’t tuned for. A little mechanical intervention is meant to make up for the difference. In any other context this would be called art, or at least artifice or artfulness. Look at them from a different angle…

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See, they are designed to filter the cold down the hill, and away, and to catch the afternoon and evening sun, which comes in from the West (to the left of this image). Look how the bunchgrass and sagebrush, native to this place, do this.

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They do it by responding to the water when it is in abundance and to the sun when it is in abundance, through specific adaptations of their growth, including stem structures and growth cycles for the bunchgrass and water-trapping leaf hairs for the sage. Winter is not an issue for these plants, because it is part of them. Not so for this apple orchard halfway down this hill:

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The trees are trained like grapes, with vertical walls to catch the sun, and lots of nitrogen fertilizer to push sap through the wood of dwarf trees. The fruit would be bland and colourless, except that two weeks before harvest, all the new growth is cut off, to expose the fruit to the sun. You could do all this by growing big old apple trees that droop their fruit down on hanging limbs and drop their leaves in accord with water, light and temperature, but it wouldn’t fit with the desire to derive profit from the land, rather than to become it. The result looks provisional. That’s because it is. You can see that, perhaps, in the next image of the same apple orchard.

P1520565This is not really a living environment. The grass is barely surviving. The trellis system can’t cope. The trees aren’t thriving. In fact, they’re overgrown. The orchard was meant to turn land into an image of capitalism, and to be replaced after ten years. It has outlived that, but, such is the nature of capitalization when it hits the land, no farmer can afford to tear the trees out to start again. This is because the system is not designed to last. The image below shows a system that is designed to last. Here’s a gully, that harvests morning and evening sun, one flank at a time, to produce one long row of fruit watered by the forces of gravity at work in the slopes and the way they interact with light and heat.

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It will last forever. Instead of thrusting up above the land, it moves within it. Instead of creating a profit over ten years, or the myth of one, it creates a steady state over 1000s of years. The profit is the excess of production, which is naturally designed to carry the plants into new territory, but can be harvested by humans and other animals. In other words, you can have your profit in ten years (or not), in systems that are fragile and require an entire system of supports, or you can have it over thousands of years. You can take profit from the land or you can become the land. Anything else is a romantic image of Autumn as death, because that’s exactly what it is: the point at which the earth asserts itself over artificial folly. The inability of farmers to beat the ten year capital cycle is an example of that folly, and the earth’s retribution. Our folly as observers is to see the ruin after the cropping of this land as the bittersweet fruitfulness of Autumn. It’s not. It’s our culpability we’re looking at. A crop in balance with this place looks like this at this time of year:

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Choke Cherry in That Gully

That cherry is not our profit. That profit fell onto the soil, when we neglected to pick it. This berry is for a bird that’s going to need it mid-winter. A waxwing, most likely.

So, remember, if you’re buying a product of the fall, and it comes from green leaves, you’re not buying sustainability. You can read it that simply, and that well.

 

The Most Beautiful Apple of Them All

Joy! Here she is… the Benvoulin apple. Lost, and then re-found. I left this apple in 1992, when I moved north, hoping that other people would care for her, but things being the way they are in this world, she was almost lost. I got some grafts, from a hunch, from an unidentifiable old tree, with twenty years of wobbly memory to guide me. (Three months later, the tree was cut down… call it fate.)

P1520895 And after two years of hoping that I had guessed right, I tasted her again, for the first time in 20 years.

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She is still the queen. She tastes like a fine glass of riesling, and look at how white her flesh is! I promise, I won’t lose her again. Here’s the story of her discovery, from my book Tom Thomson’s Shack (2000).

WILD APPLES

I worked for Hugh one year. Late one October day after picking apples I found an apple tree in a ditch beside Benvoulin road in Kelowna. The tree was fifteen years old, rising out of a tangle of overgrown wild roses. In the brambles was a carpet of yellow windfalls. Wasps were feeding on them, clustering, golden, around puncture holes in the skins. The apples were marvelously distorted, the flesh of each one cut by five deep lines, paralleling the five sections of the ovary. Never had I tasted an apple like that! With cars swishing past me, I clambered excitedly through a break in the brambles, over a rusted barbed wire fence, and into the field behind. There were two more old trees. One was broken down, overgrown with wild plums and the long, trailing vines of wild clematis. Its apples were shrivelled red husks. The other tree stood alone, surrounded by a thorny ring of her seedling daughters. As I walked towards her, a horse looked up at the far end of the field, then started walking, then running, towards me. We reached the tree together. There were still a few apples in this tree. I picked up an old ten-foot-long prop that was lying in the grass Ñ once used to support branches heavy with fruit Ñ and knocked an apple off. Before I could get to it, the horse had bent down and was eating it. Horses are big! I kept my distance! I knocked another apple off, and another, and another. In the end, of all the apples on the tree the horse ate half and I kept the other half in my pocket. It seemed a fair trade. The horse pushed roughly against my pockets as I left the field. As I climbed over the fence, and then up onto the shoulder of the road, he whinnied softly. I walked back down the road to my car. The cars that swished by me sounded like huge animals, roaring.

That night, as the room licked golden and orange in the firelight, we sat on chairs in front of Hugh’s fire. Hugh lit his pipe with a long sliver of wood he pulled from the flames, lifting it slowly to his mouth and drawing it in. His father slit each apple open from blossom end to stem end with a planter’s knife. As we bit into the apples, six different flavours burst on the tongue, slowly, one after the other, in a slow wash bursting farther and farther back in the mouth and cresting up over the palette like spray from a wave, until the whole mouth was as tender as a blossom.

“This is a great apple!” said Hugh, after biting into one of the apples the wasps had been eating in the ditch. “Maybe it’s related to Maiden’s Blush. There used to be apples in that whole area down there in the Benvoulin. And pears. It was the best pear land on earth. Once! Pear land makes good shopping mall land, too. They brought a lot of old apples here and tried them. Everyone almost went bust at first.”

The next morning snow lay two inches deep over the ground. I drove down to Benvoulin Road, cut some grafting wood off the tree and buried it behind my cabin. The next spring the Highways Department cleared the ditch. The tree was gone. I got there just in time! I’ve kept that wet walk beside the dark road in the rain, the cars pouring past me like salmon fighting up a spawning river, driven, and the feel of the apples in my pocket: the golden apples of the Hesperides, the apple that Paris gave to Helen when the three goddesses lined up and said, “Who is the most beautiful!” and he chose.

The Problem With Canada

Welcome to Canada. The Wild West. Tumbleweeds. Sagebrush.p1240495

Wild animals in the forests.

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Beautiful nature.

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Hi-technology showplace.

dishWorld class highways.

P1370994 Beautiful Cities.P1370010

Exciting Street Life.

P1220105World Class Architecture.

P1210123 Outdoor Recreation.P1190855

Beautiful! And now, in all her glory …

Canada_map-4Yup, that’s her. She’s a great big sprawling map that covers half a continent. Notice that she’s made out of a little more than a dozen cities, mostly strung along a rail line. What’s going on outside of them? This …

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Well, this too:

big2Now, Canada is not one of those countries that rises from its people and asserts itself in the world. It didn’t come about like that. It came together out of some people in Central and Eastern North America deciding to make common cause, and then tying a few million square miles of British controlled industrial (Hudson Bay Company lands) and colonial  (The metis-British colony of British Columbia and the asian-British colony of Vancouver Island) space to that with a railroad.

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For awhile, the railroad carried people around from place to place — mostly immigrants from Europe to fill up space cleared of indigenous peoples on the Prairies. Then the railroad started carrying grain over the mountains to the sea, then coal and sulphur, some forests stacked up on their sides as lumber, and now petroleum. The railroad above exists today to carry away the trees that have filled in the grasslands of the intermountain west.

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No, This is Not a Forest. These are Weeds.

How can a country built out of industry but not out of its people or its land survive? It has to sell what it can. In the image below, we can witness Canada selling itself for all its worth.

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Well, what do I mean? I mean, don’t confuse Canada with the geographical space it occupies or the people who live on it. They are not the same thing. The image below, for example, is not Canada. It’s actually the Okanagan River at Gallagher Canyon, south of McIntyre Bluff above Vaseaux Lake. This is Syilx land, and the greatest surviving salmon spawning bed of the vast Columbia River system… all two miles of it.

rivergallagherfish

If you look on a map, though, you’ll find it, in Canada, with a bit of searching. X marks the spot.

gallagher

OK, indigenous land is not Canada, yet it is within Canada … weird, isn’t it. Don’t worry. It gets weirder. When I said that the image below was a picture of Canada…

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… I was leaving out some details. The grassland that this road was imposed upon nine years ago is not  Canada. It is an ancient Syilx medicine grassland. Okanagan Lake in the background is not Canada. It is an ancient post-glacial lake 135 kilometres long. The mountain across the lake is not Canada. It’s part of a mid-Pacific volcanic island chain that drifted across the seabed a centimetre a year and eventually rode up for 100 kilometres over the other (Eastern) shore of the lake (including the dark peninsula in the photo above), in a great volcanic conflagration, before being turned eastward with the slowly advancing continent. As for that dark peninsula and the ridge behind it, that’s not Canada either. That’s an in-grown Syilx grassland. What then is Canada here? Physically, it’s a tumbleweed (an invasive species), a road, a sidewalk, some streetlights, buried power, sewer and water lines, a retaining wall, a strip of grass, a couple half-dead hawthorn trees, and a group of houses and vacation rentals and boat jetties down on the lake. Less noticeably, it’s a collection of weeds and overgrown sagebrush in the over-grazed and nearly extinct grassland, the infilled trees in the grassland across the way, and the clear cut forest (white) on the mountains across the lake. Canada is, in other words, an administrative concept. It is a social thing. It’s a human arrangement for dealing with other humans. It is not, however, the land. It is, as it always was out here in the west beyond the West, something imposed upon the land, and what is imposed upon the land is what it always was: a railroad and the industrial products it was meant to carry, plus the new immigrants it has brought here from around the world, to further the development of those industrial products. Now, by industrial products, we mean stuff like this:

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That’s right, a Secwepemc Douglas fir in an overgrown savanna in the upper Cariboo grassland at 150 Mile House. That is what the forests were here before Canada filled them in with weed trees (such as those skirting the trees in the image above), which it now harvests and ships to the other social arrangement, called Germany, as wood pellets, so the forest people living in that industrial arrangement can heat their houses without using Russian natural gas. Now, Canada, Germany and Russia are not about to disappear in the next few years, but it’s good to recognize them for what they are. Still, even though millions of people come to Canada every year, they don’t come to see the real Canada, which looks like this…

backyard

… or even the hectares of abandoned log haul trucks in Williams Lake, at the heart of Secwepemc Territory, after most of the Secwepemc and Tsilhqot’in trees (in an area the size of Belgium) have been cut down, with the profits invested in New York and Toronto, cities in the Eastern administrative districts of the social organizational projects called the United States and Canada respectfully.

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They come to see a nineteenth century image of the land (not Canada), which looks like this …

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That’s an image of a construction site at Banff, Alberta, at which an arts centre on Tunnel Mountain is being converted into a business management centre, under the name of ‘creativity’. Honest: what is being created out of these iconic Blackfoot mountains is Canada, which is precisely that business management program and the class of people serving it. It’s thus no accident that in place of the view that the artists at Banff once enjoyed, of those ancient uplifted seabeds, they now get new Canadian mountains, which look like this…

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In other words, the artists of Banff now have a view of the tall, mountain-like buildings of Canada (a business management organization.) Well, that’s the way things are in Canada. It gets more intriguing yet, though. For instance, in the most westerly portion of this social arrangement, the collection of British-Asian colonies on the Pacific coast (and the northern third of Oregon Territory) and, by their own definition, the land they are laid on top of …

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… a map of population densities makes for a more accurate map of Canada in this place …

British_Columbia_2006_population_density

As you can see, most of the place doesn’t have all that many people living on it. Let’s concentrate for a moment on the densely populated areas. Here, I’ll blow that up a bit …

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The orange areas are also Canadian retirement communities. That’s one of the things Canada, the social organization laid over the land, does: it allows for, and even encourages, the treatment of half of a continent as one continuous social space, without regard for the land that lies beneath its own administrative and industrial concerns. In terms of the map above, it means that 80% of the population of British Columbia lives in area 3, Greater Vancouver. Most of those people are intimately tied to Canada, but only peripherally to the land, and most are here as new settlers. They have, understandably, quite specific dreams and concerns. Within area 4, the area which I live right beside, Greater Kelowna, similar issues are at play, except here the newcomers are from Ontario and the Canadian Prairies, but, still, they also have quite specific dreams and concerns. There are, however, many consequences to having a population built out of people foreign to the land. One, just one, is this…

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That’s a Eurasian Milfoil harvester, which is a machine that is operated to mow off an invasive water weed so that Canadians can swim in this post glacial lake in the summer without having to swim through an underwater forest. One water manager in the valley calls this “water triage” — the dedication of government resources to the appearance of water purity. In other words, it’s one way of maintaining an image of a pristine, nineteenth century land to serve an important Canadian industrial product: tourism. As you can see from the image, however, the land is anything but pristine. The Syilx grassland (under land claim since, shamefully, 1895) on the hill, for instance, has no native grasses left, but a big forestry seed nursery, to provide enhanced breeding stock for the forestry industry. Even the people who live here in Vernon, British Columbia, live around the edges of these industrial metaphors laid over the land, and that’s why I said earlier that Canada will sell whatever it can to survive …

p1120005… in this place, even when it comes to this cow, grazing a recently-burnt, long-overgrazed Syilx hillside (a teenager was playing with matches) for the last scrap of life left on it …

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That is one of the rights that Canada accords its citizens, to do this to the land as a “private landowner”, and is, in fact, one of the logical consequences of Canada and one of the demands that Canada makes on its citizens. If one doesn’t want to take part in that, one must forfeit no small part of one’s citizenship and live, as people have always done in whatever regime they find themselves in, including that of Cold War Era Soviet Russia, in the cracks between the social and administrative idea called the state and the land itself.

P1070131Community Theatre Parking Lot With Oil Cars, Kamloops, British Columbia

Either that, or one must retreat to fantasy, such as the image of Provence below …

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…instead of this image of Canada…

P1070136 … or this one, which reveals it as a construction project (remember, this is the training centre for Canada’s artists aka business managers) …P1070147

… while the people are living here, however they can, shooting at American cars:

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People get by. They’re very resilient. The land, however, and its ability to support those people and its other creatures, is not.

P1490114Vineyard with Weeds and Hunting Hawks

Trashed.

This is not romantic and not Provence, but you’re not going to see this from Canada, which needs to sell itself, and you’re not going to see this as a stranger. The gap this image represents, however, is so huge, that if Canada doesn’t somehow bridge it, it is doomed as a country at the same rate as is the earth, and it should have been so much more. It breaks my heart that to live on my own land I have to follow the same winding trails through Canada that the deer and coyotes do, such as the two mule deer bucks in the weed fields surrounding the barricaded vineyard below.

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But I do, because the alternative is to leave my land, and the earth, and become a Canadian, and, frankly, that’s not very attractive.

P1070156 Here, let’s zoom in on a couple citizens of that creative country.

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