Environmental Crime in the Grasslands

It is time to set the one ton beasts out to munch.P1980895

 

Here is a muncher in her lunch.P1980843

 

And here are the kids playing on the rocks.

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Now, in the spring these folks aren’t out here on the grass, but now, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius, as they have for a month, out they go! They don’t have time for me. Here is one of the cows giving me the once over.

 

 

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But it doesn’t last. She is awfully hungry and it’s a lot of work finding something to munch. The grass, as you can see, is cheatgrass. Although in March and April it is lush and green, and would make good pasture, at this time of year it’s an ocean of spear-pointed seeds that you’d have to be insane to try to eat. Still, you have to try. It makes you a little dazed, really.

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The image below shows one of her sisters demonstrating just how slim pickings are, by standing in the midst of a stand of mustard gone to, well, wood fibre, really. Plus the cheat grass. Note how she appears to be picking her teeth with that stuff.

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Is this the look she’s aiming for?

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Josh Harnett: American Stick Chewer

Dunno. She did, however, show me her survival technique, out in this time warp of weeds:

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This is yellow salsify, an invasive weed. It covers less than 1% of the land area, and is the only thing that these cows have found to eat here. Well, there’s the dalmatian toadflax. That’s the nibbled-on green stuff sticking up out of the cheatgrass below, but it’s mildly poisonous to cattle and they hate the taste of the stuff, hence the mild nibbling only.

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Someone should tell those calves …

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 … that before the land was mis-grazed by their ancestors, it looked a bit like this:

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Blue-bunched wheat grass was high in protein, because it was rich in seeds.

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If you graze it for more than two weeks in the spring, you exterminate it. Note how little green is growing amidst those dead, rain-gathering stalks. Now, take a look at the difference in the land in the image below. The top half of the image is the territory of 1000s of acres belonging to these 6 cows and the man in the large truck who bumps along inspecting his empire. The bottom half of the image below shows the bunchgrass they’d get out to — a couple acres of deer grazing land burnt off by a fire two years ago and regrowing nicely.

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This is called farming.

 

Growing Food Without Water in the Hot Okanagan

Well, it’s dry, eh. And hot. Whew. P1960593

This is 9:30 A.M. The afternoon was 38. (That’s 100 for you folks down south.)

Forests are burning up. Smoke everywhere. P1960538 All the upland water still being evaporated by the city on the dry hills. Surreal. P1960611 People in town are being asked not to water their lawns. “The lawns will come back,” the officials say. Yeah, right. P1960603 Shrubberies are toast. Wait. Aren’t those coastal shrubberies? What’s with that? I count 7 dead ones at $30 a piece. Crikes! P1960616 And look at this hill, eh. Nothing will grow here without irrigation, that’s for sure. (Those are irrigated trees around a house up top.) P1960687 But, wait, what’s that in the centre of the picture? P1960688 Ah, asparagus growing wild. Without water, except what is shed by that rock. So, maybe not that dry, eh. Maybe it’s a matter of getting one crop off and then having a rest. How many crops come off an agricultural field in a year, anyway? One, usually. Whoa, what’s this, two months back? P1810242 Flax! P1810232 That’s two crops! And, blow me over, what’s this, just to the left of the asparagus, growing on no water but what is shed from the rock? P1960690 Feral plums! P1960696 That’s three crops. Oh, and on the rock? Yeah, watch your step. Again, two months ago. P1830598 Prickly pears! And what grows in cracks in these rocks? P1950621Saskatoons! P1950619 That’s five crops. How many is enough? They are growing with no water. This land isn’t dry. Inappropriate agricultural and water technology is dry. The land is fruitful. It’s close to the end of the year. In a couple weeks it will be the dry season here: effectively winter. People will be on the lake, splashing around in their summer, but that’s all in their heads. So, are those the only crops? No, not exactly. In a ditch down the hill, where it’s even hotter, there’s this:P1960559Feral apricots! And in the ditch just around the corner from our asparagus, cared for and watered by no one, there’s this: P1960626 Feral apples! I could go on. The only drought is a drought of knowledge and technology, coupled with an insistence that food must be grown on private land and then either sold for a profit or donated to charity, by people who have paid for it, to be given to the people who can’t afford to pay for technologically-produced crops. It’s insane. To take productive grasslands, with a dozen or more food crops across a season, and reduce them to farmland for two generations and then let them go to this, on a principle of private ownership is a betrayal of the common good. It is theft. P1960705 You see, that’s not hay. That’s weeds being baled and sold for whatever marginal amount of nutrition there’s in it, to maintain low farm taxation status. Oh, and this…P1960666 No, that’s not a fallow field. A fallow field isn’t weed-killed from one end to the other and let to bake to nothing. A fallow field has a rejuvenating crop on it, to build up its microbial environment, which is the real soil. That’s a dwarf apple orchard in the middle of the picture, and a field of decorative pumpkins in front of it. This is not farming. This is farming:   P1800658That’s the fall crop. (The sagebrush are the result of unethical over-grazing by cattle.) By the time the deer can be harvested in October, early spring’s crop will be sprouting. When the sunbathers by the lake are skiing on the mountain, spring’s crop will already be growing under the snow, which is not, by the way, cold. It acts as a grid of tiny lenses, creating a greenhouse 5 millimetres high. That’s enough. In mid-March, it will look like this, on what are now the driest of slopes. p1600207   Lambs quarters! Better than spinach. This is not a dry country. If there is dryness, it means someone created it. That means it can be reversed. The real global warming is not an effect of smokestack and tailpipe carbon emissions. It is the effect of 19th century technology and thought applied in ignorance. It’s time to apply what we know and start over, in earnest, with open hearts and open eyes, and to listen to the robin wait. P1960557   Everything in its season. rowan1

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 …

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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.

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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 …

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

… with this…

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Ain’t that the truth.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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.