Industrial Agriculture is Unethical

Earth, or machine. One increases diversity. One reduces it. P1220995Or is it so? When the Syilx managed these grasslands with fire and selective harvesting methods, they increased species diversity. The species-rich landscape that the first Europeans found here was created. The settlers called it wilderness and set out to tame it, perhaps in the way one would break a horse. Now that it is domesticated, or broken, as one would say of a horse, most of the species are gone in the wild land and the tamed land produces energy only with the input of fertilizers, water, capital, labour, petroleum and poisons. Two notes on that:

1. with the removal of one year’s intervention, the tamed land reverts to weeds and a desert — the true wilderness; with the removal of Syilx attention, the land is still reclaimable after 120 years.

2. making the survival of the land, which gives food for people, totally dependent upon the banking and petrochemical industries is to cede the power of the people to those industries; a people which has done that can only survive if the power of those industries remains unchallenged; any break in the chain leads to the poverty and starvation the first European settlers encountered on this land when, surrounded by hills literally covered with food, they proceeded to starve to death.

In this light, the vineyard above and the royal gala apple planting below are unethical behaviour.

P12200403 Species out of 1000: Grass, Dandelions, Apples

When the apples die, that leaves 2.

Such behaviours are reckless and are based upon structures of profound disrespect. Nothing good will come of that. Sadly, once the capitalized farming model collapses, as it has done here numerous times in the last 150 years, the land is broken up into smaller pieces, resulting, eventually in its complete removal from the earth-sun cycle and its use as housing. That, too, is a dead end. Currently, the food and water deficit created by this removal and the resulting overpopulation in the Okanagan is supported by the import of food from Mexico and other areas in the so-called developing world, which are currently transforming their earth into industrialized agricultural land, while the people harvesting the crops largely go hungry. Such behaviour (the use of the earth’s energy to amass power for humans and their social structures) is unethical. It has an end-date. In the short term, it embodies an ethical trade-off: a living earth for huge volumes of food now. However, since it retains no capacity for renewal after its inevitable collapse it is as unethical as the Battle of the Somme. It has a certain beauty, though:

lineVineyard Gravel Pit with Water Line

Does a vineyard need a gravel pit? The question is a red herring. They are the same thing. They are both forms of desertification and erosion.




Badgers: Gardeners of the Sun

The balsam roots are tossing in the wind.P1220733This grassland is on a hill because it is created by hills. Wind and water never stop moving there, powered by the turning of the earth among the stars.

P1220708Badgers help. They go into the hill, hunting marmots that live inside the hill.



Balsam roots and badgers get along famously together. Here’s a nicely tilled seedbed, ready to go.

P1220762And bees.  They dig holes into the hills, too.



Badgers, marmots, balsam roots, the turning of the earth among the stars, and bees. All on an ancient seabed ground up by a glacier.P1220745


On a hill. What a stupid place to build a house.







Oh To Be a Heron in the Springtime

The Okanagan hosts the world’s only urban heron rookery. Things are full of action there at the moment.


The Rookery, Vernon

The rookery, however, is on private land, surrounded by tire dealerships, a walled housing village, and various mechanical shops. Currently, the “owner” of the land is protecting the herons’ right to this, their space, despite the protests of neighbours about the danger these trees present. If life is to survive the industrialization process in the Okanagan, land ownership rules will change to give priority to these birds, in the way that agricultural land uses are currently protected. When all thrive on this land, all thrive. Blessed be.

Sagebrush Buttercup in Its Natural Environment

Sagebrush buttercup, the first of the grassland wildflowers is blooming in the US Okanogan, and up into Canada, on the south slopes, on sandy hills south of the big lakes.

P1170361Note the absence of sage and the lingering presence of deer. Note the absence of vineyards and the intact microbial crust beneath the thatch, too.

Earth is not powdered rock.

The Urban Planning Paradox

Without planning, there is chaos.
landingGoose and Gull Chaos

Oh, wait, maybe it’s with planning that there’s chaos.

P1170113Okanagan Paradise

A park bench, a valley view, and the grassland hill behind. 

Might it be that that only looks like paradise because we are trained (domesticated) to see it that way? Look again.

rec2Everything Has a Purpose …

… and all purposes can co-exist. Well, as long as one ignores the fact that the land was stolen back in 1895 and has been in land claim ever since.

Well, let’s look more closely, eh. A garbage can beside a park bench so you have to smell fermented dog feces while cars whizz by at your back, while you’re looking over productive grassland fields irrigated with sewage outflow, which are grazed by cattle, full of unexploded military ordinance (in places), used as a gravel and soil dumping ground (in places) and leased out to a forestry nursery? Maybe it’s better not to know, eh.


Close Your Eye, Buddha Boy

That’s the stuff.

Sure, there appears to be total chaos up on the hillside, but maybe it’s not, eh. Maybe it’s a message, written crystal clear, like this:


Gull Cleaning Up the Lake

Go, Gull, Go!

So, yeah, maybe that there garbage can is a message, and an indication of the attitude of [someone in authority] to “the people”, that might go something like this:


Sensible, that’s for sure. Mind you, just a tiny suggestion for improvement? Sure, why not, in the spirit of community solidarity. Might it not make it awfully hard to enjoy the recreational opportunity provided by governmental zoning here when that message is at your elbow and dominates the scene and really says:


It’s like, you know, not all that respectful, really. Maybe part of the problem is zoning and government budgeting. Maybe all that goes something like this:

1. A city truck can only deliver a pre-manufactured park bench where there is a road, so the bench must go at the roadside.

2. Same goes for a pre-manufactured concrete garbage can…

3. … and the garbage can only be collected, by truck, if it, also, is near the road, because there isn’t the budget to pay people to do this work independently of machinery.

Let’s admit it. Problems like that must bring grey hairs to city planners in a petroleum economy. Maybe all parts of the scene are dominated by messages in the same way? Like this?


Forestry Nursery, Irrigated by Reclaimed Sewage

The hand is pointing out various slumps in the land from excess water and retaining dikes that try to contain it from filling the ditch beside the path. Maybe the thinking that lead to this expensive governmental construction project went something like this:

1. The land is covered in grass (and grazed by the cattle of the cattlemen who ahem, inherited it, blush, from the Syilx, thus it is considered farmland.

2. In terms of zoning, that allows for agricultural use.

3. A tree nursery is agricultural use. It’s about growing trees, right?

4. Agriculture requires water. Plants like that.

5. Earth purifies water. Humans like that.

6. The application of water to an agricultural use, on agricultural land, built out of earth, purifies water.

7. So we can put our reclaimed sewage up there and use the Syilx grasslands to turn it into lake water that we can swim in.

8. Gravity helps.

9. This is a very good thing and an image of environmental stewardship.

I dunno. Take a closer look.

Forestry Nursery on Post-Glacial Lakebed

The trees in behind have largely grown in since Syilx burning was outlawed in 1920. The trees grown in the nursery are designed to renew forests like that (once they are logged), although this one, being in plain sight and all, is retained for its aesthetic properties.

Isn’t that beautiful? An ingrown forest of weeds in a grassland is zoned of aesthetic use, and it works. It makes tourists and residents happy, makes for lovely views, and sells real estate. Aw shucks, that would be enough to bring great joy, but there’s more: apparently, an appropriate agricultural use for a grassland habitat is to grow trees to represent in physical form  a racist, legal directive. These trees are, in other words, one of the reasons the indigenous people, and their forms of land use, were suppressed in British Columbia a century and a half ago. And, you know, that would be enough to turn the world into an artwork, but there’s something even more beautiful and up-to-date about it: all this is considered environmental stewardship and social support for the people, on the principle that caring for people follows the creation of “jobs”. You’d think it might be the creation of food, security and shelter, but no, that would be wrong thinking. If you find yourself thinking like that, it might be that your domestication (indoctrination) was faulty and you need some political re-training.

Note: In the upper grasslands of BC, there are between 100% and 1000% more trees than there were in 1920.

Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not, but one thing is for sure: it’s a regulatory, zoning decision that just so happens to have the result that it removes opportunity for the Syilx (or anyone else) to live from any part of the land that has not been first converted into an industrial process, or, may I add, a zoned or regulatory one. Here’s a closer look at a regulatory decision:


This is the Kind of Post-Glacial Lakebed We’re Talking About

It started on the bottom of water, and it just loves to flow with water again, whenever you give it a chance.

If you find yourself thinking that maybe, oh maybe, when zoning is coupled with “fiscal restraint” within an industrialized culture that spends most of its human work hours to maintain the ability of linear, petroleum-dependent machinery to do work that might have been done by humans, weird things happen on this kind of a hill, you know your indoctrination (education) is wobbling again. Fortunately, even the regulators, who have a firm grasp on reality, stumble into error when their expensively-capitalized machinery intersects with planning and management issues. If that makes you feel any better. It can look like this:



This public trail is built out of gravel, no doubt precisely in accordance with regulations, above a drainage pipe, designed to take waste water (i.e. too much reclaimed sewage) off of the clay of the grasslands and deliver it to the lake, but this is a hill, and when the rain and snow melt it does what lake bottom hills love to do: go back down to the lake bottom. Truth is, water moves down these hills from plant to plant to plant, never being allowed to move freely. Trouble is, cattle graze the plants that are good at this, and graze the flatland prairie ones seeded to replace them, until, well, it costs a lot to put things back together again.

Maybe this kind of error is more expensive than doing things right? Oh, that’s just seditious thinking, that is. It’s not ultimate costs that matter here, but costs within a particular budgetary cycle. Paying for a path ten times over, over ten years of erosion, beats paying for it once, at half the cost, because that kind of behaviour exceeds budget capacity for any one year, and you’d have to raise taxes, and who wants that, right? So, the work is kind of a dance between budgets and time. Here’s another example:


Forestry Green Houses

Because green houses raise plants, they can be zoned for agricultural land. That the land has to be dug up and filled with glacial outwash gravel (deposited in rivers, against walls of ice, as the glaciers were melting, while the silt settled to the lake bottom that forms the soil here) is irrelevant. Gravel is also soil, the thinking goes, and that’s agricultural, too.

It’s all logical and legal (although gravel is ground up river bars and soil is a microbial community, but let that be) and yet it leads to this:


The Washout Begins

The gravel doesn’t want this water either.

And why is so much water trying to get away from the greenhouse complex? Ah, look…


Forest Seedling Growing Area

Large trays of seedlings will soon be laid out on these supports. Then the spray irrigation will begin.

Take a look at the floor of that area: gravel. You can’t really grow anything on something like that, but because there are plants present, and greenhouses are defined as agriculture, thats OK. I think the thinking, among the enlightened rather than the ignorant, goes like this:

1. Gravel is earth.

2. Gravel is more stable than clay, so you can run machinery on it without mud.

3. Gravel absorbs water.

4. Gravel cleans water as water trickles through it.

5. Water that enters the earth stays in the earth, until it fills groundwater aquifers, with pure, clean, gravel-filtered water.

6. Like a fridge filter!

It’s as if the earth were a machine. And what do you do when the machine doesn’t work, because gravel, clay, hillsides and soil in a dry country grassland don’t combine according to textbook principles, because those principles are not based upon this environment but upon ones born in regimes of excess water, which adapted to that water long, long ago? Well, in an industrialized, petroleum-driven culture under budget constraints created by zoning parameters, you build a French Ditch:


Excess Water Made to Go Away

And what is a French Ditch? Well, it’s a ditch full of rock. I.e. it’s a septic tank, a kind of sewage disposal device, that keeps excess water below ground.

You know, it’s sad. The land just wants to create a wetland, wherever it is cut or damaged, or wherever water appears. Irrigating the fields creates wetlands. They form spontaneously all over the place. Thing is, they’re kept in a juvenile state, full of algae and… isn’t that the same as a septic lagoon? Haven’t we turned the hillsides into a sewage plant? Oh my, there I go again, with my poor socialization on display for all to see. You see how rough I have it? Instead of seeing the light, I think of the ditches being filled not with semi-radioactive rock from the quarry on stolen Syilx land over the hill but with rushes, reeds and, ta da…

P1170095Weeping Willow

Weeping willows can take up  250 to 1750 litres of water per day. They also remove toxins from the water.

Here’s how you plant a willow: you cut off a twig, stick it in a bucket of water for a couple weeks, then stick it in the soil. If the soil is wet, you can just stick the stick into the soil. Hopeless, aren’t I. Well, in my defence, let me point out that among all my failings I do recognize that there’s a problem with the willow idea. All that water, you see, needs to be returned to the lake bottom, instead of being evaporated by willows into the air. It needs to replace the water that was stolen from the earth-sky-lake cycle by diverting it through the houses of the city in the first place. OK. Fine. But first, would it be completely inappropriate to ask why is the water sprayed on the dry hillsides during the day, then, when 65% of it evaporates in the first place ? Might it be that human culture in these parts is one that understands water and rain but not drought? Might it be an English culture? Might it not be imported from England? Where it rains? A lot? Maybe. Gee, I dunno. OK, what about this:

P1170146Water Cress

Here at the bottom of all the “soil-filtered” water at the bottom of the hill.

That’s what the land is trying to create here: life, rather than a system of raw elements (soil, water, air, etc). Why, instead of eroded vertical ravines, might there not be systems of stone or concrete steps that pool water on the way down, instead of fighting it, and in those pools might not a valuable agricultural crop  be grown? What if instead of algae, the result of the erroneous thinking that soils (and not the bacteria within soils) purify water, the pools looked like this?

P1170148 I mean, given that the land wants to create wetlands, to replace the wetlands that have been filled with gravel at lake level, might it not be cost effective just to create them instead of the water systems that are dysfunctioning up on the hill at the moment, because of regulations built upon wrongful understandings? It’s just an idea, you know, but you could harvest this darned stuff, you could solve any contamination problems, you could have stable paths going up and down beside it, and you could just let the people eat it, even. Why not? Why does land have to be turned into cash, which is then used to create food banks to feed the people? Why does it have to cost so much, in terms of petroleum resources, constrained by the needs of machinery for roads and simplistic solutions? Well, that’s politics and planning, of course. It doesn’t have to be like that, though. It’s not a law of the universe, only a law of a system of regulations. One thing is for sure:

P1170094Night Lights

The culture that took this productive land (absolutely covered with food crops) from the Syilx, has to create industrialized plots out of earth, use industrialized water (called “waste water”, because there’s no other planning category for it, hence it is ‘waste’ to the planning system), and even recreate the sun, in order to produce anything at all and to create enough of a surplus to pay for itself. And where does that sun come from? More machinery.

MicaDamMica Hydroelectric Dam, Columbia River, Source

It might all be good, you know, if it didn’t lead to poverty and disrespect, such as this, right back where we began…

P1170113Maybe the initial disrespect, the theft of Syilx land, is still playing itself out. Maybe that’s the ultimate zoning decision, that is constraining all acts that follow. Maybe if we got that one right, we’d set up the conditions to get better regulations and better actions to follow, and we could lead the land to death rather than an ability to even absorb water. Maybe. Man, I’m glad I’m not a city planner. It must be murder having to keep trying and trying to adjust the system, and to continually be thwarted by a dwindling reserve of capacity within the land and water and a dwindling reserve of cash from the people. It’s about enough to make a guy stick a garbage can right by a park bench, that’s what it is.

Ideology is an Invasive Weed (Part One)

Sad news. My beautiful lake, with its jewels of melting ice reflecting the sky …


is a bit of a sewer, too, when the freezing line gets in close to shore and the wind kicks up. Well, even a teeny little bit of wind, really.


Water management in the Okanagan Valley sometimes is interpreted as “managing budgets” by chopping up invasive Eurasian Water Milfoil plants with a big waterborne threshing machine so that people can swim a hundred yards out in the summer and not get tangled up in the icky weeds (a gift of summer boating visitors two generations ago).


Tons of chopped up milfoil leaves and stems are then left to rot all the winter long. In land-based terms, this is called a compost pile.


More like compost soup.


Given that a lake breathes through its shore, well, if we want a living planet, this makes no sense whatsoever. But, what the heck, the pebbly volcanic shore has already been replaced with ancient ocean sandstone. In lake terms, that’s the equivalent of covering the lake’s lips with duck tape.


This is a form of environmental triage. It would cost millions to try to deal with the milfoil problem, or the nitrate problem that is feeding the damn stuff, or the missing fish that have no oxygen because of a) milfoil and b) rotting chopped up milfoil crud, or the tourism and agricultural industries that babble on about the pristine water. They do. They babble on about that. Presumably, someone must believe this mutually-agreed-upon delusion.


Not to mention the shrimp that were imported to the lake some 40 years ago to feed the fish but lo the shrimp ate the same food as the young fish, so that was a flop. Worse than a flop. It was a disaster. It would cost millions to deal with that, too, so there is an experimental shrimp fishery now, on a trial basis, to see if harvesting shrimp is economically viable.


Economically viable? What on earth does this have to do with economics? How about environmentally viable? I think ideology has gotten the better of us. I think people can say the nicest, smartest-sounding things, when what they’re really looking at and promoting full throttle is death.

P1130546Even if we scooped up the damned weeds when the wind drove them onto shore in October we’d be better off than this, but, of course, there’s no budget for that, either, because governments are run like businesses and ministries of the environment are really ministries of the manipulation of public opinion to keep things exactly as they are at the expense of the earth, and light.


I Am the Mountain

Today, let’s go on a little journey to my home valley, the Similkameen. I’d like to show you the link between a part of the earth, my recent posts on photography and light, and how this blog came about as an exploration of the power within earth systems to generate, store and move energy. This is more than personal. Here’s the old Similkameen moon.

P1130273 Moon Setting Over the Shoulder of K Mountain

These photographs were taken from an orchard I was pruning in Keremeos. I was a child and learned the ways of the earth five miles to the east. What I want to show you today is consistent in both places. Here’s the view east to my home farm.

P1130325Lousy pictures, I know, but, hey, I was pruning. The pic is just good enough to show you  that in an environment like this the whole idea that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west is not immediately apparent. Here, this is the view to the North over the eastern shoulder of Puddin’head Mountain and the post-glacial flood chute leading to the Okanagan.
P1130302 See that? Same darned sunrise! What about to the south?

P1130326 Yup, same thing! Oh, and the moon? Well, the clouds shift this way and that, so a few seconds after I saw the moon above, this happened:

P1130305 See that? Moon’s going down, sun’s coming up (to the south!) and it’s doing so on the mountain itself, not in the sky. Now, just imagine Harold at 4 years of age, sitting in the crotch of a peach tree and learning about the world from a trickster valley like this… and contemplating this kind of stuff:

dalyCloud Shadows on Daly Mountain

See that? The mountains are the sky. Clouds skitter across the earth most everywhere, but not always in the air. When you look up to read the weather, you read the mountains. If you crane your head up to look at the atmosphere, not only are you risking hurting your neck but you’ll only see chopped up bits of blue and white (black and white at night). At no time do you get the idea that there is a dome of air above the earth, or an atmosphere around a nearly spherical planet: you get a river of light above a sky of stone. The moon shows itself and disappears at wildly different times, too. And what is the moon’s light? Why, a reflection of the sun.

P1130419Sunlight Reflecting off of the Cawston Creek Draw

Spots of light like this change by the minute.

When I was 5 years old I was sitting on a branch of a ponderosa pine tree, kicking me feet and watching the mountain (again.) My favourite spot was a grove of aspens trees high up above the farm. Every fall they turned bright yellow. I thought they were talking to me. I also thought it was the sun. The sun part was right. Well, it’s the wrong time of year for golden leaves, but here’s Young Harold’s grove of trees, a bit blurry, but, hey, it’s been half a century, right?

P1130420Aspens Among the Douglas Firs, Kobau Mountain

Notice how the shadows and light have changed places. In the Similkameen, the twists and turns of the valley, and the steepness of the valley walls, mean that different vertical faces get heated differently by the sun, and at different times. The result is wind, either from cold air flowing into the valley from an unheated slope or air shifting from one side of the valley to the other because of heating high up. If you’re thinking of Young Harold in his pine tree, remember that the branches are swaying and the needle brushes of the pine are scattering light in all directions as they move. After enough years of this, you’re going to start putting things together and coming up with a project about environmental energy harvesting using the power of the sun as it intersects with the forms and energies of the earth, and, presto, you have this blog. Not only that, you have this:

P1130423Clouds on Daly Mountain Again

The town of Keremeos remains in the shadow of K-Mountain. It’ll take awhile for that to change.

I’d like you to contemplate those clouds as a form of photography: light and shadow making patterns on a mineral plate. It’s just, well, ever-changing, that all. It’s not “fixed” in a single image. Here’s a form of photography that’s a bit more fixed in that sense, though:


Macintosh Apple Trees 

I mean, aren’t trees the same thing as a photograph? Light strikes the earth and forms an image, that remains stable over time? Well, yeah, it grows and changes, but that’s where 12-year-old Harold comes in. Harold?

12-Year-Old Harold: I’m learning to prune apple trees this spring. My father is teaching me by putting me out among the trees and letting me figure it out on my own. It’s very frustrating.

But isn’t it a great way to learn? Think of the close attention you have to pay to how the trees are growing!

12-Year-Old Harold: Ask me in 44 years. Right now it’s just hard. 

It’s beautiful, though, and the branches are warm in the sun.

12-Year-Old Harold: Yup.

I’ve thought for years that that pruning was my first art form, as it was very sculptural, but I realized yesterday as the sun and the moon and the clouds played across the stone sky of the Similkameen that, really, it was a kind of physical photography, that I learned to walk through. Here’s some of that light glowing like the moon Puddin’Head Mountain, a big heap of basalt and shale over towards the ancient volcano at Crater Mountain.

P1130330I guess that with this kind of photography the developed image is in the mind of the observer. I guess that if you’re a kid there, you become the photograph. Well, that’s a human thing. You become the environment that raised you. It imprints itself on you and you become it. If I had been raised in a city, human-earth relationships would not be so vital for me, or I’d understand them cognitively and wouldn’t be out in Keremeos at 8 a.m. pruning on a February morning, watching the eagles catch those valley winds and soar almost a mile above me. That’s why I’ve been taking so many pictures of ice lately, taking the energy of this valley one further step.

Next: Ogopogo — a step further yet!