Creativity, Technology, Art

Perhaps an image of creativity would be useful. Here is a vineyard at Hauterive, Switzerland. That’s Lac Neuchâtel in behind. The 21st Century term creativity here does not refer to the creative potential of the lake, or the creative energy flowing through the grape vines. Neither does it apply to the artful skill of the man or woman who pruned the vines, or the future skill of the winemaker who will help their fruit on their way to wine. Those are pre-21st century skills, and are not what is called creativity today.P1240407 In their place, creativity is a series of problem solving strategies that use technology to enforce codes of ownership, especially codes that eliminate communal energy or labour costs. These include: the spot-welded fence, a solution for quickly manufacturing a replacement for hand-woven willow hedges; the drip irrigation tubing, a solution for eliminating the need for community water systems and the adaptation of crops to landscape; close spacing of vines, a solution for concentrating minerals and sugars in grapes, on a per-acre basis, without costly inputs of stone walls to collect heat or the dispersal of animal manures; and upward training systems, to concentrate the fruit at one level, to allow for easy bird control, untrained labour, and rapid harvest. All of these are technological fixes for the replacement of human community, human artfulness (dignity in work and its use as extensions of human space), and human labour. Here are similar technologies applied in an orchard in Vernon, Canada:P2200483

The “problems” solved here are the exclusion of deer, who come for the growth these orchards replace, as well as the exclusion of people, to protect against aggressive insurance claims and to assert ownership; rapid productivity of the orchard, due to grafting onto ultra-dwarf rootstocks, enabling a rapid capital turnover and integration with marketing campaigns and the development of new apple varieties to build market without having to build quality or flavour within industrial packing and storage systems instead; the elimination of almost all labour costs; efficient saturation of chemical sprays; maximum light exposure. Again, they are all technological solutions, are all called creative, all manipulate relationships to the land by simplifying ecosystems (and creating technological dependencies, a kind of drug culture, as their foundations) and all eliminate common space, artfulness and labour. That is the observation for today: creativity is no longer art. Does it follow that art is no longer creative?

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Is it not the recombination of previous technologies into narratives of assembly and disassembly? Are not these narratives called arrangements? Does that not say that the role of human actors in contemporary creativity is to arrange technologies into narratives? Fine for novelists, maybe, but what about poets? If they’re not creative, what on earth are they doing? This man wonders…

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This is not a poet. This is a German historian and journalist on the Kaiserstuhl, who is trying to figure out what the poet behind the lens sees. So is the poet!

~

More on that tomorrow!

At Home in the Earth Community

Like the grass on the Big Bar Esker below, I don’t live in the straight beams of light. I live at the continuity of points of intersection with them, which bend in the wind.

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The flows of water and time create the same effect. The image below shows them in action, at the old Secwepemc village site along the Bonaparte River, alienated by the Hudson’s Bay Company long ago.
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The forms of the land intersect with water and light over the seasons here, to create patterns which lead game animals down to the river, and to the people who live at that intersection. Those of us, all of us, who live on this earth live right there: humans, deer, bears, porcupines, eagles, whoever we are. I’ve provided a second image below, for a closer look. When looking at it, I suggest a close look at the ridge line, the boundary between snow drift and sun drift. Note the game trails that follow those crests, and the meltwater trails that break down the faces of this volcanic ash.

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In that dance with water and light, I live too. There are many other patterns here. Here are just a few…

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Green Water Zone (Low Gravity): plants move water so slowly across the slope that it, and the gravity that intersects with it, essentially pool, like lakes; as the sun mixes with them, they are also lakes of the sun. The esker grasses I showed you express this zone well.

Vertical River: Douglas fir trees take excess water up out of the energy field, as transitional gravity engines.

Gravity Brakes: Douglas fir trees catch the water at the base of high volume flow catchments, and are, essentially, a continuation of the flow into life. In effect, life concentrated in high energy systems takes on secondary living forms (such as Douglas fir trees)

Movement Zone (High Gravity): in this zone, water, earth, sun, wind and time move water rapidly from the pooling of the low gravity green water zone to the pooling of gravity, movement, and all other boundaries in the …

Horizontal River (Boundary Gathering): low pressure zone. Here, where all forces (and game) come together, humans, the boundary-dwellers, naturally collect.

Cold Pole/Heat Pole: the high gravity Movement Zone is powered by the alteration of the earth across seasons (time), across hot and cold faces, an effect extended between the cold and hot seasons of the year by the storage of snow on the cold faces by the wind, which is then released throughout the hot season, not as wind but as water and cold. This pumping action creates the details of the topography of this zone, which is an expression of life (ie boundary) energy.

Game Trail (cold-heat ridge): At the high altitude boundary zone between heat and cold effects, where sight is possible and wind created by the boundary zones, and by larger ones in the mountains and valleys around, animals, which are the expression of crossed boundaries, flow.

Stream (cold-heat sink): At the low altitude boundary zone between heat and cold effects, water and mud not animals flow. This effect is the concentration of the…

Sloughing (Moving Boundary): At this boundary, the energy of the cold-heat ridge is transferred down to the cold-heat sink, in the same manner as gravity brakes. This energy will flow, eventually, to the Horizontal River, which is an expression of all these forces concentrated together, quickened, and alive in the most complex form. In that web of boundaries, the boundary dwellers, are alive.

Together these energy transfer points add up to a living landscape, as complicated as the photosynthesis in a leaf or the flow of blood through a body.

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A “human” body? An “earth” body? An “ecosystem” body? No. A “human-earth-ecosystem” body, or, better put, a community, living, together. They can be separated, but separation will diminish them. Separation will, in other words, also diminish humans. Taken together, its body forms are not human, but human body forms are linked to them. The Big Bar Esker, for example.

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The big heads of the Okanogan, for example …

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Chopaka Mountain and Hurley Ridge, in the Lower Similkameen…

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The power forms of the Snake River …

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… which take many forms…

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The story-telling cliff faces of the ancestral Nimiípu villages along the Kooskoosie River ..

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… or above the Snake, where cloud colours the hills …

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… and so many more. Humans can live in any boundary zone, even artificially created ones, and can extend those boundaries into yet further boundaries. The spiritual boundary pools of Buffalo Eddy, on the Snake, for example…

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The transportation boundaries of North American cities, such as Vernon below …
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Industrial farms, such as this one in Okanagan Landing …

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… and many more.

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Nonetheless, the richest possible boundary zones bring the richest possible life. At the mouth of the Yakima River (below), for example, where its water meets that of my lake and most of the Northwest, flowing on its way to the sea…

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…or here at the sacred Peshastin Pinnacles, above the Pisquouse (Washaptum or Wenatchee) River …

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The alternative is a war against life, within monocultures. Its romantic, sure, with gas masks and capital risk and male sacrifice and courage but that stuff coming out of that sprayer is poison. It kills life. We can talk about the ethics of that, weighing risks and benefits, for a hundred years, but the end of it will be just these simple things: it kills life and it creates only the simplest of boundaries, manipulable by those boundary-dwellers, humans, into harnessing the planet to feed them alone. Note the fence to keep out deer.

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Industrial Apple Orchard in Bloom, Okanagan Landing

Where do you live? Here?

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Moose at the foot of a Big Head on McLaughlin Canyon Road.

Here?
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Spraying a Cherry Orchard Above Swan Lake

Here?

 

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Here?

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These are not just lifestyle choices.

~

Next: the self-identity boundary.

Living Soil

Here’s some soil:

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It’s a series of shelters, which capture water, minerals and heat, and amplify the conditions for light and seed germination, in the warm area in the first millimetres above the earth’s surface.Yes, I know, this isn’t “soil” as the dictionary defines it:

The top layer of the earth’s surface in which plants can grow, consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with decayed organic matter and having the capability of retaining water.

But look at this:

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That image of moss fulfills this definition of soil (the 5th of five in online dictionaries):

 place or condition favourable to growth; a breeding ground.

Such a breeding ground can become complex:

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That’s definitely soil, and is full of life. It’s also a growing surface. The common definition looks like the corn (and tomato) field below:

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Note the chopped up cornstalks, and the chopped up and shredded plastic sheeting, designed to heat this ground up to achieve a similar effect to the one the mound of moss in the image below does on its own.

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Mounds have been shown to dramatically raise the temperature of their environments and are the chosen form of plants in extreme environments. Notice how the mound above has a fellow traveller, a sprouted flowering plant putting out its first leaves. The flat, warm surface of the earth has been amplified, and in this heat, with the water that is trapped in the moss, like this water caught between these pine needles, …

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… the plant has many basic needs fulfilled. Rather than flowing away, the water is held by the tension between two surfaces, at which point its own surface tension, amplified by the support of the surfaces around it, is stronger than gravity.

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The “agricultural soil” that is “the top surface of the earth” is doing no more: the soil has one surface, but beneath that surface all the grains of mineral of which it is formed amplify that surface area many millions of times, and allow that water to bind and defy gravity. It makes a web not that dissimilar from the multi-year complex of this stag horn sumac:

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Plants pick it up from there. Above ground, none of that is visible. It looks like “soil” is a magical mineral and compost mix, not that that is a clumsy approximation of a complex life-giving environment.

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This subterranean story is not much different from the moss story except that the agricultural version of this soil is a simplified, manufactured material. Plant growth is chopped up and tilled into a mineral substrate, along with its plastic heating technology; simple bacterial and fungal growth, feeding off of the petroleum-based fertilizer which has provided nitrogen, essential for plant growth (and otherwise obtainable from the atmosphere, at least in complex living environments) decays that material into water-absorbing cellulose filaments and releases trace minerals, which another generation of plants can use. It’s an intervention.

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It’s not pretty, though, and it’s a very simplified system that, without the application of nitrogen fertilizers or industrially-grown and sown seeds, produces only simplified weed cultures, of little value to anyone.

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It is a new age of the earth. No-one knows what these weed ecologies are doing, because no-one is watching them. Certainly, they are building soil, and that is most true, but what, then is soil? The manufactured, mulch product, such as this desert landscape with unpicked tomatoes?

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No, it’s far more. It is recreating life. Here’s a clue, from the shade under an old sagebrush plant on the hill.

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Soil is a complex environment of fungi and bacteria and other microorganisms. They are the living things that cluster around the roots of plants like these blue bunch wheat grasses…

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… or around the roots of larger plants like this robin-rich cottonwood …

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… and recreate the living soil surface in the complex weather patterns of the underground atmosphere. Yes, there is one. When the air content of soil goes below a certain threshold, through either compaction or water saturation, everything dies. Air is key. After all, these plants couldn’t tolerate drowning.

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Neither can their sisters underground. The atmosphere above the soil is turbulent. In it, water is released from saturation into precipitation and is taken back up again to balance the pressure of the air.

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It’s the same underground, except there the process is expressed through the work of up to 1,000 different species per cubic metre of grassland soil; there, water, clinging to the mineral particles of the soil, attracts minerals, extracted not from the clouds by the sun and the cold, but extracted by microorganisms, and passed onto plant roots, which provide them with oxygen, which they breathe out. The large cousins of these microorganisms on the surface are doing this work, too. There we call it photosynthesis.

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Each leaf is the earth. The earth is a leaf. Soil is not mineral. It is a living process of breath, as is the way leaves breathe the sun and the air and make stone move and bloom.

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~

Next: more on the relationship between photosynthesis, soil atmosphere, plants and the sky.

Gravity Pools

Soil.

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Not soil.

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9 years, nothing growing yet.

Soil

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Not soil.
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Nothing even germinates here.

Soil.

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You find soil where water pools. (Rocks, too.)

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It is life — a gravitational effect that manifests itself at boundaries.

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Mineral earth is just mineral earth. A good place for bees to burrow.

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Very small bees.

Plants prefer even rocks over that stuff.

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The life that grows in mineral earth is growing in the soil within the earth, not the earth.

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Plants, after all, came from the sea. They know about stuff like this. Gravity pools, a form of dry land tidal pool, help. Below is a pool of green water in a deer’s footprint (centre left).

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Here’s a gravity pool collecting rain within a stone.

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Here’s one flowing, as water will.

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Plants root in life like this. Dirt is just an environment of ground up mountains that allows soil, a kind of living weather, to form, if the conditions are right.

 

Global Warming, Human Made

It ain’t just smokestacks. Here’s a field of stones …

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The panels were made to cover with plastic sheeting (now removed), into which were planted tomatoes. Here are some of them, looking a lot lie stones themselves…
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The point of the panels was to heat the soil, so that tomatoes could be harvested in the early summer, rather than at its end, and harvest season could be moved up to fit with school schedules and holiday time for families. In the process of this socialization of the earth, the soil gets baked out of all organic matter, which is replaced by petrochemical fertilizers piped in through the water system. This, friends, is global warming.

The Difference Between Earth, Soil and Dirt

Rock falls are earth.
frostmoss They power complex communities. Beautifully.frostmoss2 They speak of gravity and sun and air, and bring them to life.
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Soil is what water leaves.

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Dirt is tillage.

It is time to learn to work with the Earth.

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Beautifully.

Grass and Poetry in Cascadia

The grass is a cultural being. So are cat tails and so is poetry.

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Talk about a rhyme scheme, eh!

First, the grass. Not only does it have its own culture, but it is part of the body of human culture in these valleys, canyons and plateaus between the mountains, on the west of North America.

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Yellowstone, North Gate.

You are not looking at dead grass here. You are looking at water catchers, upside down umbrellas, which the grass has made to draw water from the air. You are looking at upside down wells.

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To keep them from matting on the ground and reducing the land’s productivity, fire burns them away, so they can be renewed. Traditionally, people have set those fires. It was the first stage in the primary, human civilizing impulse: cooking. First you make the land productive with fire (you make it into an art form), then you harvest it.

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Bella Vista

Here’s a different way of being grass, one not native to this place, and one not harvested. It is, accordingly, not an art form, but is wild:

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This is cheatgrass. It bursts like flame out of the soil in October, grows all winter under the snow (yes, under the snow) and has replaced hundreds of indigenous species in the tapestry that is the body of this place. Look how it collects water. It urges it to flow off into the soil, where old thatch holds it from evaporating, and then it uses it all up, denying its use to all other plants. It loves monocultures. That is not the bunchgrass way. The image below shows what happens when fire is suppressed in this landscape…

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Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

Do you see that bunchgrass there, at the end of 8,000 years of history, encroached by soap berries and escaped farmyard grass? It will soon drown. Below is an image of what happens when trees are not controlled by fire. The ponderosa pine below has showered the land with fire, or needles, if you will. They burn the alkaline soil down to acid. Look at the bunchgrass drown.

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Rattlesnake Mountain

This is happening on our watch, in our time, in our parks, in what contemporary culture calls nature and “wilderness,” while attention is directed towards smokestack emissions and pools of plastic in the middle of the sea. We don’t have to go that far. Nature itself is the culprit.

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Turtle Mountain

Let’s be clear about this nature. All of the parks of the west were created out of former indigenous cultural space. That’s to say: around 150 years ago, there was no nature here; only social space. Then it became “wild,” when dispossessed of its people and left fallow. It became a different art form: one that created emptiness where there had been fullness, and a mechanical earth where there had been a living one.

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Royal Gala Industrial Apple Plantation, Bella Vista

This process started in Washington in 1892, when all federal lands purchased for tiny sums during rushed treaty-making processes and not by then already dedicated to Nez Perce or Spokane or Skoielpi use (among many others), were rededicated as national forests. Land that had formerly been maintained by fire, now was expensively protected from fire, to preserve its “pristine” nature.This “pristine” nature is, in other words, a culturally-created thing.

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The culturally-charged process of plant succession.

Rattlesnake Mountain

This process moved to British Columbia in 1922. The fire still burns. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to combat every year, to no avail. That’s the fire we can see. This, below, is also that fire, though:

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It is burning within Syilx space. The grass that has almost been replaced here by “nature” is still a cultural being, but it’s now  viewed with terms appropriate to “nature,” which are not the terms appropriate for viewing culture: beauty, for instance, wildness, for another, health, for yet another, inanimate, for another, plowable, for another, and developable, for another. And that brings me back to poetry. Here is some Cascadian poetry (Please click on the link to view. It will open in a new window.)

Very Serious and Full of Vegetables

That is a cultural product produced in this place, one which heartfully honours a tradition, but it is, as you will have noted if you clicked on it, a poem about people and human attitudes towards all kinds of things, but includes no attitudes of grass or fire or rain to anything. It’s not about that, likely on the anti-romantic presumption (accurate enough) that no-one can speak for these things. In their place, I think the poem is about taking wild human energy (a created art form) and distilling it down to points of social utility, and through a process of manipulating that social machinery enabling people who live within it to ultimately come to a physical experience of grass through the only route the tradition allows: through the mind; not the body. The body plays the role of memory. This has been the American poetic project for over a century now. Here’s an early draft of it, from the American poet Hilda Doolittle, written a century ago:

Hermes, Hermes,

the great sea foamed,

gnashed its teeth about me,

but you have waited,

where sea-grass tangles with

shore grass.

Hilda Doolittle, from Hermes of the Ways

It’s beautiful, and lands solidly on grass and brings it to life in the mind, but it is a thing of the mind trying to escape itself by means of the earth. It can’t shake that. It is, in other words, bookish. Often Hilda tried the trick she uses in the following poem:

O white pear,

your flower-tufts

thick on the branch

bring summer and ripe fruits

in their purple hearts.

Hilda Doolittle, from Pear Tree

In this one, she uses the same memory trick but also speaks to the tree, yet her identification is incomplete; it is an artifice only; she is not the tree, nor is she its flowers. Her poem is a construction of words and energy contained with words — a thing of memory, in other words, a funereal ode. Her identity is untouched by it, and is not transformed by it. It is infused with it, for sure, and, no doubt strengthened, but, still, untouched. And the poem is very beautiful, too. It is not of this place, of course, nor did Hilda mean it to be. I use her words only as an example of how poetry and land can remain separate, even in intimate moments, and how American identity engineering often places the land within fences, called words — farms, cities or streets, if you will — and observes them from there. That is a very anglo saxon thing, of course, but for me, as a man of the grass, this is a step away from the earth not one towards it, because for me the grass is not just a part of a social group, but also of a self. To say “O white pear” just won’t do. It would be like saying, “Oh me.” And then there’s Paul Nelson’s riff on Whalen, with his

“having the curious ability to make one think

that a mind has been slowed down.”

Very Serious and Full of Vegetables

That’s beautiful, too, but it is predicated on the conceit that mind has been sped up in the first place, with a secondary conceit that any subsequent slowing down is only illusory. I dispute that. I think it needs to be strongly challenged. According to settler ideology, the grass is wild, and is the canvas for paintings of human will. In other words, it is this:

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A weed-filled bunchgrass slope, a choke cherry tree, and a ponderosa pine, set in front of a monoculture hay field. Coldstream, British Columbia

No-one would want the social identity of that hay, because it is enslaved to individual and social human will. What’s more, to enslave it is to enslave (or fence) human selves, including those of the wielder of will. It’s not about a mind slowing down or not slowing down. It’s about whether that image above shows wilderness or cultural space. It’s about who you belong to: the grass, or other men. Unifying those opposites is not as easy as creating a national forest and building new parks within it for poets to walk through and find beauty.

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Fire Pine, Yellowstone

They can. That work has been done. Now it is time for the land to speak. Now it is time for people who are the land to speak — not as a conversation within American or Canadian or Western poetry, and not as an address to or for that fire pine. It means, among many other things, making this tree the centre of the world — not as a symbol of anything. This tree, right here, right now. That kind of thing. Rilke found it a century ago. We are that far behind here. To find that tree probably means finding new words. That is good, honest work. It absolutely means finding new forms. That is powerful work for people engaged in finding poetry in the world and working with it. It means being present, not in memory but in the unfolding that is memory’s form in the present.

P2050845Yellowstone North Gate

That is why I have stepped aside from traditions of Cascadian poetry, although few people in this land know it so intimately or have been the channel for poetry within it for so long. I just can’t do metaphor anymore, that’s the thing. I can’t do nature, and if I’m to be bound by a line of will, I want it to come from that pine, not traditions of politics and the poetry of identity politics from a foreign country and foreign traditions. That is or the citizens of those fields. For me, in this grass, joy will do just fine. This is partly what I meant in my new book The Art of Haying: it’s possible to live well as the earth; the ego is just the book talking as it keeps us in line. It’s possible to walk out into the grass. Here’s an article on The Art of Haying in BC Book Look. P2010552

Big Bar Wet Land

Blessed be.

The Beauty of Spring in November

In November, in Cascadia, it is springtime, whether you are in the wetlands on an island  in the ocean …

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Oyster Bay, Vancouver Island

… or far inland, in the grasslands, where we are expecting snow.

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Abandoned Orchard at Turtle Mountain, Looking Down Priest Valley towards Okanagan Lake

No soil is needed to grow a garden here.
P2130759Soil would reduce fertility. Stone helps, though.P2130760 Where water flows and life flows with it, life pools.P2130761 It might freeze at night, but these domed shapes are warm.P2130769 Rocks, too.P2130779 Cozy!

P2130786 The pools within the pools are great places for seeds to catch and flow and sprout. It’s much like the folds of hydrocarbons in protein strings.P2130807 To flow, water doesn’t have to be liquid. That’s because it’s energy. It can be held in a matrix, which can become it.P2130810We call this matrix life. We call it green water. Green water can even drip and splash.P2130815 Life reaches out its tongues to stop gravity and opens its wings to the sun.
P2130821 It’s down to as much as 5 Below these nights, but only in the air.P2130822 Not here.P2130845 On volcanic earth.P2130878 Here, spring ice breaks the basalt apart, and life becomes the frost in fall.P2130889 Is it rain? Is it frost? Is it sun? Is it air? Is it stone?P2130906 It is all of them together. It is earth. This is earth… not soil.P2130936 This.P2130947 Life.

P2130948 Now. 55.000.000 years in the making, along the seam of two ancient island chains.P2130963 Once the stone crashed in a volcanic tide. Now that energy is a surging wave. Still.P2130986 It is still a splash of surf.P2130988

On Turtle Mountain, it is happening now. And not just here. On Rattlesnake Mountain, too.

moss Life is not built on the bodies of the dead. Not here. To come here in summer to see green lawns is to be poor beyond belief.P2120777

Here life is made within the bodies of the living. All are welcome.

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None are turned away.

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Is it the sun? Is it the earth?

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It is both at once, where we are.

Native Wetland Apples in Horizontal Light

The Pacific Crab loves rain, swamps and wet feet.
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She is the forest rain that has drawn wood and air to herself after flowing through them and picking up their energy on the way through the forest to the earth. Look at her catch the sun’s rain below.

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Malus Fusca, November