Some things are just beautiful, that’s all.
Note: A prop is a support for an over-loaded fruit tree branch — technology unused for 30 years now, if not 50.
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.
Even 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.
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.
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.
Lousy 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.
See that? Same darned sunrise! What about to the south?
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:
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.
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?
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:
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.
I 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!
I weep. At the beginning of the 1980s, I grafted the first Fuji apples in this country, as part of an attempt to free us from the trade rules of the Canadian government, that needed to balance an export surplus to the United States with fruit imports from Australia. Sweet deals were cut to ensure the prosperity of big cities in central Canada. We were proud of those apples. It seems like there’s little pride now.
Back in the mid-1970s I was pruning some of the first apple trees ever planted in British Columbia: huge old half-dead Royal Rome snags that had been grafted just after the Second World War. The poorly-healed grafting stubs, 4 metres up in the sky, were hollow, and you could stick your whole leg inside and stand there as if you were the tree. My job that day was to prune the tiny fruiting branches called spurs, in order to renew them for another ten years. The trees below were more expensive to plant by at least a thousandfold, and are totally dependent not on the art of pruning or cultural care but on petrochemical fertilizers, hormones, and pesticides. They were never designed to last more than ten years.
Oh, you couldn’t sell these apples in a store. They’re too small. No one would buy them. They’re too used to buying large apples — or not buying them because they cost $1 a piece for something that tastes industrial.
You could almost get angry with the farmers for throwing their money away on capital-intensive technology, except it was the government which sent men around to teach them that this method would make them rich. The government then went on to subsidize plantings like this. You could almost get angry at the farmers for asking, now, that the government renegotiate the Columbia River Water Treaty, which was designed to transform British Columbia from an agricultural into an industrial society, in order to make Americans pay for the economic subsidy they have gained by cheap Mexican labour. Well, almost. I mean, if you are going to keep trees as slaves, or if you’re going to treat agriculture as a chemical industry, or if your marketing scheme consists of head-on competition with corporations with complete access to your market through the North American Free Trade Agreement and who have economies of scale sixty times your own and who control the wholesaling and distribution networks that you also use, and then, after all that, if you’re going to do this, why? What are you bringing to the table? Rotten apples?Still, there might be a point to the farmers’ insistence on economic adjustments for international trade policy. It’s not agriculture that has proven to be a failure in British Columbia and Canada. It is British Columbia and Canada that have proven to be a failure to agriculture. On the other hand, I think there’s a primary rule in operation here, from a planetary perspective. If you’re going to drain a vital wetland to plant apples, you should do it for more than profit-taking or industrial purposes. You should be like Tom McCloughlin and his Red Rome trees back after the Second World War: you should plant because you want to make a living future. Making an industrial one in its place is a form of capitalization, and money will flow, always, to the most industrial, urban model. It is no way to grow food and no way to respect the earth. To do that, you have to plant trees that do not need fertilizers, thin them by hand rather than with hormones or poisons, and prune and graft them for renewal rather than slaughter. Oh, yeah, and you need to pick the damn apples and give them to people. If you’re not going to do that, you have a huge wetland or grassland debt you will never repay.
Here’s the U.S. National Public Radio article on that apple on the right. These apples are the perfect image of a culture drugged by its ignorance.
Here’s the deal: the apple on the right will destroy the organic apple industry and the culture it feeds, which is lived and worked for by people who don’t use petrochemicals, prune their trees for renewal, and thin their apples by hand. Farmers can do this, because the apples are worth something, people want to buy them, and they are not a part of the boondoggle of contemporary apple wholesaling. All that knowledge and inter human, human-earth care will be thrown away the instant GMO apples are commercially planted. They are the AIDS of apple culture. And for what? So an apple doesn’t turn brown. Why, isn’t it interesting that all of this comes out of a community that has been fuelled in recent years by a white diaspora fleeing the increasingly humanly brown colour of cities to the East for a self-defined pure white past (It wasn’t, really). There was a time before that, for a few decades, in which people knew a few things: they knew to plant trees for the future, they knew how to work with them, artfully, to create social wealth, they had a culture of their own rather than one belonging somewhere else, and they bred new apple varieties rather than creating chemical gunk. The thing about farming is that every generation gets the farmers that reflect its deepest impulses. Two generations ago, these were farmers who wanted to work artfully with their hands. The government taught them this art, at the same time it taught them to introduce more chemicals and petrochemicals into it. A generation ago, these were farmers who wanted to work technically with statistical charts and chemical soups. The government taught them how to do that…then it shut its doors. It doesn’t teach anybody anything anymore. It has nothing to teach. It drank its own Kool Aid and considers government to be the business of statistics. Now it appears that society is reflected in many cases by farmers who want to let their apples fall to the ground for the lack of knowledge and economic misunderstanding, waiting for a governmental or industrial fix, earning industrial fixes from that government, rather than knowledge of how to work with land. No one has that anymore. It was purposefully bred out of the system. The most recent subsidy of the Okanagan apple industry by government was a new packinghouse, to set the packing of Okanagan apples on an equal efficiency footing with that of Washington, in the southern half of our valley. Well, isn’t that an industrial subsidy? Yes. Of course. That’s what an industrial, capitalized urban culture can understand, after it has lost knowledge of how to work with the earth. Well, here’s the thing: the taking of living land and turning it into a slave plantation has a debt, which can only be returned by adding more life to the land. The only place you are going to get that is from the addition of human effort. Capital or chemical effort just won’t do, because capital always flows to its source, which means that it doesn’t stay with the land, which means the debt is not repaid, and cultural and environmental and social poverty are the result. This is what poverty and food banks look like:
A government with a sense of the relationship between earth and human life would not have created the poverty which requires food banks, requiring subsidies of cash and industrially processed food and vast amounts of volunteer labour, to keep its children from starving to death. A society that had a connection with the earth would have found other, less-urban solutions to the problem, by moving the wealth of the earth to the people. Oh, and it was a mistake to grow these Fuji apples in the first place. We knew them as sweet apples off of the tree, with a snap when you bit into them in the frost, but raised on petrochemicals and turned into zombies with controlled atmosphere cold storage they taste like chemicals and stale water. If you bite into one and don’t taste that, it’s because you are used to eating petroleum products, not food from the earth. We grafted those apples to support farmers in crisis, looking for the income from Asian markets to compensate for the high land prices resulting from the transformation of this section of earth into the urban diaspora. It was, in other words, a social act, a commitment to transform our conversations with the earth into ones with the greatest social connection in the world ($$), without losing the earth in the process. It would have been better to have planted community orchards, because we did not, in the end, pay our debt. Farmers now are largely city men, who earnestly and honestly wish to get back to the land, or industrial farmers still chasing the colonial dream, and a few organic farmers under siege, who are making all the money. Thousands of acres of productive land has been turned into horse pastures in recent years. Many thousands of other acres are vacant: settings for large houses. Many hundreds of acres of productive fruit land within the city of Kelowna is producing apples on unirrigated trees. The apple fall to the ground. People who glean them are trespassing and breaking the law. The slave holders who own them claim that the land is not economically productive and must be turned into houses instead. Why? Because of their complete ignorance? So more people can come, and decrease the earth-human balance even further? We have a university in this community, but it doesn’t study or teach this stuff. That’s because it doesn’t know it either. It, too, comes from a distant culture and has little connection to this earth. The debt to the land, which goes back to the original colonial theft and its twin, the promise of health and renewal, remains unpaid. The interest is mounting. The sins of the 20th Century are going to take a long, long time to pay down. I think a good start would be to stop thinking of trees, and people, as economic slaves and to begin to govern again with the future in mind. That is how you make a future. What has been made here in the last twenty-five years is a past.
Look, maybe there aren’t that many wetlands left, because they are full of “airports sport fields houses roads road fill single wide trailers left over sidewalks trucked in from across town golf courses and and and and and”, and not many fish, but that’s not going to stop the blue herons from getting lunch. Here’s a Great Blue out hunting mice in a hayfield two kilometres from the lake.
Here’s another Great Blue down at the tiny outflow of an itty bitty creek consisting mostly of road wash (salty, mmm) and boulders blasted out of the mountain (for the road), but, still, looking for fish…
Now, Great Blues are solitary birds, largely, but, um, that seems to have changed, too …
He Learned His Tricks from the Canada Geese!
I mean, how else do you find the mice? Beats me.
If you’re a heron on a planet turned into a mistake, it pays to keep your eyes open. Oh, as for the hayfield, sorry, that’s an orchard that’s been turned into a tax dodge. Hay is not produced here. Only bales of weeds. Which are spiked by a tractor and driven three kilometres down the road to feed cattle. Sort of. I wonder. If they were released from their pen, would they wander down to the lake? Who knows, in these changing times.
The government is the people’s voice. Sometimes it appears that the government is hiding. Sometimes, one is surprised just where it’s got to. Here is the art that Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo put up at Okanagan College in Vernon this month.
Ryan Robson, Untitled
An issue with a wordless voice.
Here is the art that the government paid for outside.
Gender equity, of course (It is, after all, a four-sided obelisk made out of melted mountain.)
Erected to Celebrate a Ceremonial Partnership with Korea
Here is the art we pay for outside the main doors of the college.
Here is the art that reveals the Canadian Government’s secret hiding place today.
The provincial government pays up to $2.50 a tree (20 acres …2000 trees to the acre … whew!) to subsidize the planting of Royal Gala apples such as these, to counteract the effect of national government trade treaties with the United States. To which, we might add:
Today, a story of joy, for Christmas Eve. Today, asparagus. The asparagus that gets sliced off underground in Northern Europe and eaten with yellow potatoes, salt ham and hollandaise sauce (or with morels or truffles or venison or eggs or cheese or…) as a still-living reenactment of the sacrifice of the goddess Demeter’s daughter Kore, has seen the year pass now in the Okanagan Valley in Western Canada. She grew green and tall among the mule deer, the sagebrush, the chickadees, the pheasants, the magpies, the gold finches, and the coyotes, flowered, and has now been sacrificed by a hiker with a stick. Despair not at this …
Merry Christmas, everyone! What a Christmas tree to be stopped in my tracks by! Thanks for walking through this year with me. Your comments have been inspiring this last year and have brought me much joy.