Ethnobotanical Knowledge: The Language of Science Part 2

Remember? Yesterday I pointed out that each of the plants below, although far apart in botanical class-action, share the power of redness, which arises at different points on each plant, stem, leaf and fruit, at different intensities, at different times, and in different ways. Here they are again.redsstuff

To refresh, the various points at which the colour red are manifested take on significance and can be developed into technologies. Two observations.

1. This was once common knowledge. Indigenous plant usage, especially medicinal plants, did not come about by trial and error. People could once read the natural world in its own language. In other words, they could read this with the ease with which people today read their smart phones.



Staghorn Sumac (Female)

Have you ever wondered why universities don’t teach this stuff?

Most new pharmaceuticals come from harvesting substances found in indigenous plant materials, patenting them, and then marketing them. Think of it. The scientific tradition, with all its wealth and power can often do little more than refine discoveries already made, and then profit from them. I bet your local pharmacist would have difficulty reading the image above. Or this one:


Staghorn Sumac Opening into the Light

2. The progression of plants into and through the colour red is much like the variations of plants themselves as they respond to different environmental zones. I used the example yesterday of two red osier dogwoods with degrees of redness differing because of their particular growing situations. Here’s the redder one:


The redness of this plant is the result of shutting down photosynthesis — not because of a decrease of fall light, but because of a decrease of fall light in relation to leaves that have grown in great drought and heat. If the red appeared because of fall conditions in and of themselves, then the neighbouring red dogwoods wouldn’t look like this:


These colour differences encode very specific differences in the efficacy of the medicinal compounds in these plants. Magic was once based on such readings, to various degrees of accuracy. Science largely set it aside. Pity. Perhaps these plants could all be classified according to their degrees of redness, rather than according to their genetic lineages. After all, there is nothing particularly special about genetic lineages. Their use as a classification system is purely random, yet has profound results. In terms of genetics, however, those red pigments come from common sources, and thus form very alternate genetic lineages of their own. What those are remains unexplored. That is an effect of language. If one says that the shape of a leaf and the manner of fruiting are the signifiers of a familial relationship, then it is so, and other relationships are seen as adaptations arising in parallel, but subordinately to the main genetic line. That might, actually, not be the case. Take, for instance, the lowly pinot (little pine) grape.



Pinot Noir, Meyer Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

This is the wild grape of Southern France, which has thousands of variations, all farmed, and even appears with differently coloured skin (pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot auxerois), with all of their different flavour characteristics. This is not a matter of breeding. The genetic material of this ancient plant changes to fit environmental conditions. In fact, change is a major characteristic of the plant. The point here is that within the plant there exists a huge potentiality for variation, which manifests itself in different conditions. It is a lesson to remember when looking at any plant. Here are three variations of mariposa lily growing on Turtle Point in Kalamalka Lake…

P1390626 P1390630 P1390621

That’s not all. In most places where this exquisite grassland lily (and vital food crop) grows, it isn’t this colour at all. It’s usually white, but, well, not exclusively so, and not without variation…


If you travel through the northwest, you will find the same thing with Indian Paintbrush, as it varies geographically from pinks in the John Day, up through whites and scarlets in the Columbia and the Methow, to crimsons in the Okanagan, deep crimsons, almost purple in the Cariboo, and Oranges up against the shield volcanoes in the West Chilcotin. If you travel across the land with a system of scientific nomenclature in hand, you will be able to record those differences, but you might just miss the story, that there are qualities in the land, and in the plants response to it, rising from an original potential essence, that are causing the changes, and that they show up in more than just lilies. If you travel with the system of scientific nomenclature, you might find it a little to easy to claim that the differences are the result of random variation. It’s the same thing, but it misses the answer to the question of why. People used to be able to answer those questions! They wrote them up in complication systems of spiritual belief, that looked like this sometimes:


Part of a Reconstructed Map of Giordano Bruno’s Memory Theatre

All areas of knowledge are codified under the influence of various gods and astrological signs.

Sound Whacky? Sound like those rolled-up astrologies you can buy for a buck at the drug store and that look like candy cigarettes? Maybe, but the gallery of the Abbey of Saint Gallen in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and a top listed UNESCO world heritage site, is arranged precisely like this. And those were the monks who created handwriting and attempted to recreate the world as a book and thus restore God’s creation to its original form (Eden.) Putting all the religious stuff aside, they were trying to find a kind of ecological or environmental balance or unity. Aren’t we all.


Sankt Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Source

There’s a bust of a goddess (Agriculture, Physics and so on) above each stack. The volumes in the stacks are not “books” but bound manuscripts.

Shakespeare was in on it, too. His stage was a room in which memory was organized in much these ways.


And so was an alchemist’s workshop.

olaus worm bigger2 And so are early scientific collections. I’d show you the amazing ones in Gotha, but I lost my photos. This will do…


Science is a continuation of this process of editing, collating and organizing. The how of the organizing is a language, and that language means that some things get spoken and others do not. This, for example, gets left out:


Japanese Red Maple in the August Sun

I read the colour and the sun here, with the ability to reach deeply recessed parts of the human body and psyche that are probably codified on someone’s zodiacal chart somewhere and rejected as fanciful nonsense.

Of course, much of it is. A series of principles for sorting alternate spiritual systems out would be most helpful.

Tomorrow: Other organizations.

Gardening Without Digging

You just need pots. Here are my father’s early potatoes. Because they like heat. Because he’s not 20 years old anymore. Because he has figured out that planting potatoes in compost allows him to move the compost into the garden, to pick the potatoes by turning them upside down, and to spread the compost at the same time. When you’re in your 80s, smart’s the thing.

P1250502You could plant these pretty much anywhere. His compost recipe? Shavings, manure and sand. Because that’s what he’s got. The potatoes are happy with it all. That’s my Dad: something new every day.

Putting Questions in Place

Well over two hundred years ago, unified traditions of Western thought were recreated as philosophy (including science and mathematics), art (including literature, music, theatre and dance), and religion (including spirituality of all kinds,) all as diversions from nature. Accordingly, today the image below is viewed as an artistic intervention into natural space, in a manner in which art has taken over the former realm of religion and spirit and the natural space is defined by science.

P1130048Vancouver Island Folk Festival, Woodland Stage, Courtenay

I believe that this system of divisions no longer describes the world. What’s more, it means that the research and educational institution tasked with defining that new world, the university, has before it the chance for a kind of renewal that has not been possible since the 18th century. As I have walked the hills this past 22 months, moving through colonial, post-colonial and indigenous spaces, often all at the same time, I have found much beauty, many previously undescribed patterns, and many questions. Some of these questions are aesthetic, like this:

P1070709Is a Smokebush Beautiful to a Human Because it Shows the Mind its Own Neural Net?

Or is it because it shows the human body its arterial web?

Some of them are scientific, like this:

P1070708Why Do Smoke Bushes Have So Much Bloom and So Few Seeds?

Is it the way they are or is it our climate here? And why?

Some of them are philosophical, like this:

P1070137Is the Beauty of Lavender an Inherent Property of the Universe?

Or is it created by a human eye? Or by the technology of a camera? Do these questions have an ethical dimension?

I believe these are all important questions. In fact, I have thousands of questions like this. Tomorrow, I hope to begin a series of posts proposing areas of research that would benefit the growth and sustainability of the Okanagan Okanogan as a place, in all senses of that word, as a counter to contemporary philosophies grounded in a global sense of place. Both are important.


Ten More New Commercial Fruit Crops for the Okanagan

Yesterday, I started putting the practical side of this blog into order. I started with ten new fruit crops that could restart a failing economy unable to retrain its young people, to innovate, or to produce food for itself, although it is in one of the three best climates in Canada. You can read about them if you click here. Today, I’d like to add another ten, before moving on to other crops and to new technologies and land use methods.

11. Oregon Grape


This was Oregon Once. A Syilx Crop.

Oregon grape is not a grape. It is the sourest darned thing you’re ever likely going to come across. There’s a certain point in the development of a grape in which the berries are 100% citric acid. These things are still close to that when fully mature. Two thoughts on that: 1. the other few percent are amazing, concentrated fruit flavours and sugars and 2. citric acid is a valuable crop product in itself. We don’t need to grow lemons here, to flavour food and make refreshing summer drinks. We just need oregon grapes. Souring agents are the foundations of entire cooking traditions. A new souring agent can lead to a new cuisine. This work is beginning. Here’s what Tara is up to at Three Bells Ranch in Oroville, Washington, at the heart of this valley that crosses the border on its way south and crosses it again on its way north:


Tara’s Sweet and Sour Cabbage in Oregon Grape Sauce

Now we’re talking! You can read Tara’s recipe on this page here: Source.

Oregon grapes also make excellent preserves, especially jellies. Their roots are a potent medicinal  and their leaves are a fine, decorative floral product, especially for the Christmas season, with both red and green colour.


Sun Dried Oregon Grapes

They go through the same complex fermentations as grapes left on the vine. I think wine and vinegar makers could do wonders with that.

Oregon grapes are drought tolerant and prefer the edges of woody areas, the drip lines of trees, or slopes below cliffs, where they can collect water filtering out of talus slopes, especially ones covered with a bit of silt.


Oregon Grapes in Full Bloom

They are cold hardy, provide premium forage for honeybees and wild bees, are productive, attractive, evergreen, and come in two varieties: tall and short. Currently, they are used as landscape plants. This is one agricultural niche they can fill admirably. They can bring farming back into the city, or back into the hills, where they can farm water that to eyes trained in European agriculture looks like drought.

12. Wild Rose


A Syilx Crop

The hips of wild roses are rich in Vitamin C, and taste like incredibly over-ripe apples. Traditionally, they are dried to make a fruity, floral, tart-sweet herbal tea. They are admirable for that and have the potential to be yet another souring agent. They provide excellent and popular forage for bees. As there are a number of varieties, and many different altitudes and climactic zones as the valley climbs up into the mountains, the season can be extend for many weeks. The Hills Guest Ranch & Spa in 108 Mile, up north in the Cariboo, have been harvesting them wild for years (in large volumes) and distilling them down to essential oils, with are used as a high-end, high-priced medicinal tincture. It puts a lot of pressure on the birds, however, which use these berries for late winter forage. Better to add to the environment rather than taking them away. Better to plant them out. They grow on waste fields, in roadside ditches, at the bottoms of slopes, on the sides of arroyos and gullies — anywhere where a small amount of underground water can find them. They provide cover for birds and valuable protection for herbs needing a thorny fence between them and deer.

13. Rose PetalsP1040119

Wild Wasp Harvesting Pollen

You see how that’s done? Straddle the opening stamens, and turn around in a circle to brush all the pollen off onto your leg brushes, then over to the next blossom, to spin around in a circle again. Whee!

All those bees, wasps, beetles, ants, and pollen-collecting flies can’t be wrong: this is one sweet pollen and nectar plant. Blossoms, however, can also be collected, for floral decoration, for rose petal water (for Middle-Eastern baking and cooking and for perfumes and soaps) as well as for tea. Tea? Oh my, yes.


Wild Rose Petal Tea

It tastes like honey in its pure form, before it has been digested by a bee: spicy, sweet, and aromatic, with flavours both gentler and richer than rosewater.

14. European Currants


Red Currant


Black Currant

These cool climate, northern European plants do well in the Okanagan if given ample water. They do even better in the cooler areas around the edges of the valley and up into the hills — areas originally ignored, because the idea was to grow peaches, which need a lot of heat. Currants don’t. Red currants make exquisite jams and jellies and are a staple of Danish cooking. They provide fruit flavours for pickled cabbage, bright notes for cream desserts, and the base of light marinades and meat sauces. Black currants are smoky in flavour, make exquisite jams and form the base of rich, full meat marinades and sauces. They have the potential to replace balsamic vinegars. In Britain, they are reduced to a syrup, which is then reconstituted in beverages of many kinds, including cassis sodas. They form the bases for cassis liqueurs. One of the most popular uses for them in Scandinavia is as a juice mixed with apple juice, in the proportions of 10% black currant juice and 90% apple juice. When the Okanagan Juice company Sun Rype tried this about 20 years back, they hit upon the insane idea of substituting artificial black currant juice and lots of sugar for the real thing, and then still had enough ego left over to announce that North Americans did not like the taste of black currants. Yeah, sure. The plants require little pruning and are regularly grown for mechanical harvesting throughout Denmark. They are also a great source of nectar for bees.

15. Wild Currants


Native Syilx Currant


American Black Wild Currant

These native Okanagan currants (red) and native North American currants (black) deal with drought and heat and produce in conditions that would send a European currant shrivelling and back on the boat to Sonderborg to drown its sorrows in Akavit. Other than that, they have flavours that are more intense (more floral, spicy and sharp for the red, Okanagan currants, and smokier for the black ones). They are easy to reproduce. The black currants are currently sold as landscape plants. Early adopters of these plants could make a good living just selling plants to the nursery trade. Where the European currants can harvest the cooler upland climates, these can harvest hotter hillsides. The smoky flavours of the black currants should make steakhouse chefs sit up and take notice.

16. Juniper Berries


Also Known as Wild Gin

Look, if we’re going to landscape with these suckers, with either these imported varieties or the native varieties that carpet exposed hillside slopes, we might as well harvest the berries and make gin. Fortunately, one Vernon company, Okanagan Spirits, is doing just that, with a fine martini gin. The path is open to explore a wide variety of local juniper species and to create a more extensive, more varied gin industry, and perhaps even a gin strong enough to stand up to a tonic.


As Gentle as a Spring Rain

The combination of juniper flavours with flavours from other wild berries and plants also needs to be explored, to create other gins with distinct local profiles. Dried juniper berries are excellent for wild meat flavours, including wild boar and bison. Most of them have a sharp, petroleum taste, but some are sweet as can be. This is one of those crops used extensively as a decorative ground cover, that has the potential, after further development and exploration, to bring farming into urban gardening. Furthermore, given the wide variety of colours and growth patterns in this species, the potential for a floral industry is extremely strong. Junipers are extremely drought and cold hardy, withstand untold abuse, adapt to a wide variety of soils, are long-lived, require no pesticides or pruning, and are simple to reproduce. Oh, and they smell soooo good.

17. Sumac


A Syilx and Indigenous American Crop

The Syilx harvested the indigenous Smooth Sumac, which is a smaller version of this giant from the east, Staghorn Sumac (which was also an indigenous crop).

Tanner’s Sumac is an ancient Aramaic, Arabic, Indian, Egyptian and Mediterranean spice, still essential for cooking in the Middle East. It has left India with tandoori cooking, where it has recently been replaced by manchoor, Egypt with Duqqa, and the Fertile Crescent and Greece with an entire culinary tradition — one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of them all. It is made from the dried berries of a European cousin of the North American sumacs. The drupe fruits of our sumacs are too stony for this procedure, and bear a slight risk of allergic reactions among people allergic to cashews (their loving sisters, along with the mangos), but they have long been used by Indigenous North American peoples to create a cooling summer drink, that far surpasses lemonade or iced tea, and which can reproduced into a syrup that can take the place of Mediterranean sumac. The wood of the tree can be reduced to a high temperature, smokeless wax, for candles, and lights up in a black light, which ought to have some interesting applications. Every part of the tree is highly medicinal, with that cashew-allergy caveat, and the leaves are essential to the leather tanning industry. In fact, in the American east, whole groves of sumac are grown for their use as tanning agents. This is a plant that withstands incredible drought, grows anywhere, is highly decorative, and currently lines the short term parking lot of the Kelowna International Airport — for example. Some mature trees in Kelowna are 20 feet tall and dwarf the houses they once stood before. This is a plant with a great future. What we need is a tiny bit of research from a university willing to do so, and we are off. What’s more, this is the real autumn colour of New England. Plant enough of these things, and local tourism operators should be able to appreciably increase the value of fall wine tours, and even provide fall colour tours, for the many partners of wine enthusiasts who just don’t like to play the taste-the-papaya-on-your-tongue-in-the-wineshop game.

18. Soap Berry


A Syilx Crop

These berries whip. Like egg whites. Whipped, with a little sugar, they form what is locally known as “Indian Ice Cream”. Here is a crop that grows in the cool hills and open upland forests. It laughs off cold and drought. An industry built around it can not only supply
Aboriginal communities with a traditional product, but has the potential to supply the chemical and cosmetic industries with an organic foaming agent. In that direction, the potential is almost limitless. They also make an attractive landscape plant, especially for xeriscape situations. And, yes, the bees love them.

19. Black Hawthorn

little-black-applesBlack Hawthorn (Falkland Clone). A Syilx Crop.


Black Hawthorn (Vernon Clone). A Syilx Crop.

What beauties, eh! Here is another fruit crop that take fruit farming out of the valley floor into the side valleys, and onto grassy slopes, lake shores, road margins, hedgerows and boundaries of all kinds. They harvest water moving by gravity down gentle alluvial slopes, are favoured nesting sites for magpies, provide early spring forage for bees, and fruits and bark of high medicinal value (anti-cancer drugs). There are indications that the fruit has fresh fruit or processing value as well — again, just a small amount of research is necessary and we will have a crop resistant to deer, needed no pruning, easy to train and hedge, free of pesticides, with incredibly low water needs or none at all, and able to grow in a huge number of currently wasted or under-utilized environments. What’s more, she’s pretty as all heck. This is another one with potential.

20. Velvet Leaved Blueberry


A Syilx Crop

These North American native berries are traditionally grown on Vancouver Island, in Oregon, on the Olympic Peninsula, in the Fraser Valley, in Maine and in Montana. Montana? Yes. That’s inspiring. The Okanagan Valley bottom does not have the moisture or the acidic soil to grow these berries unless a cheap, easy, organic acidifier can be found and the water issues can be cured with shade, perhaps from mulberries. The high country, though, where the water for the valley floor farms is sourced, that is perfect. The local blueberry is a low-bush variety, with low yields of small, intensely flavoured fruits, hovering just above the 3000 foot level. It should be possible to find enough land to grow enough of these high up there, in that blueberry zone in the pine shade, to keep an appreciable amount of water in the upland system to return some balance to the natural water flow down through the hills. At $3 a pint for decent berries, and $2 a pint for the ones 2 days short of rot, sold here to empty cold storages in the Fraser Valley, it’s worth a go. Besides, the darned things make excellent bison sausages, fantastic preserves, wondrous baking, and a deep wine that puts the low end $15 Okanagan reds into the spittoon. I’m all for wine that regular people can afford. This is one worth exploring. Look up to the hills. There, where the clouds run.


The Lip of the Plateau Above Vernon

Right now, we ski and snowmobile and snowshoe and cut down trees up there. We could do a lot more.

That’s twenty fruits, and twenty new ways of not only creating new economies and new cultures, with room for our young to grow and invent and prosper and dream, but also to enrich the environment at the same time. Inspiring, eh. There are many further opportunities within fruit crops currently grown here. I’ll be getting back to that. Next, however, I’ll look at vegetables. Until then, you noticed my new mascot, the guy with the tongue, right?

P1060029Click on This Young Buck for a Closer View of the Okanagan Tasting Experience

Science, Art, Spirit and Ethics as One: the Project Moves Forward Now

In technical culture, science is a procedure. It’s a way of breaking the world down into tiny pieces, which can be interrogated with single questions that receive a yes-no answer. With enough of these answers, the system of logic on which science is based is able to create stories about the world and the universe, which can be duplicated by others and turned to technical ends. In the scientific world-view, this is called truth. This truth might look like this, for instance:

mothonwood Butterfly on Sagebrush Trunk, Bella Vista

Photography is a technology that represents the same world view. That brings us, though, to the other definition of science, the popular culture one, in which science is, quite simply, the natural world AND technology. It’s not a method. It’s just everything that is “real”. It can look this:



Waste Concrete With Cheatgrass  Chaser

The concrete is left over from pouring a sidewalk in a failed real estate development. In accordance with local cultural practice that values machinery over the earth, it is poured out onto living soil, to harden there, so that it doesn’t present a clean-up problem within the cement truck itself. Cheatgrass, however, has managed to colonize it, nonetheless. (Those stringy little red stalks in the centre of the image.)

In popular science, you see, there is only science. In that culture, this is not an image of an intellectual process of ordering the universe into a kind of map, like the periodic table of the elements, but, simply, an image of the way things are. An intellectual scientist would analyze the length of time it took for the cheatgrass to establish, the amount of soil and water required, what other species followed it, and so forth, to come up with an understanding of the chemistry of concrete, or of the processes of soil formation, or the ability of cheatgrass to handle drought, or something like that. Such scientists are very smart people, and can think of all kinds of really intriguing interrogations, which they call experiments. These experiments all require technical manipulations, out of which principles are logically derived, which, they trust will be recombined later into a picture of the world which can be used for technical and intellectual development. To a popular scientist, however, this is just an understandable pour of concrete onto a dead earth, to save a piece of valuable machinery. Such scientists have inherited not the intellectual tradition of pure science, but the machinery of the experiments. To them, the earth is machinery.


In Popular Science, This is a  Flower, a Beetle, and Some Story of Missing Petals

In both Popular and Pure Science, this is beauty (which is not a part of science) and nature (which is wildness; that which is not yet part of science, but which science can move into, should it wish to.)

In the world before science, this moment did not have those parts. It was one complete thing. It wasn’t even in a photograph, which turns it into art of a particularly technical kind. It was just a moment of spirit. Before Science came along, alchemists tried to break that moment down into a language of symbols. If they could just isolate them, the language, they believed, that God spoke when he spoke the world, they could speak it as well and fix the dying Earth. That it was dying seemed obvious to them. Adam and Eve had been driven out of Eden, the world was full of disease and misery, that had once been a paradise, and there was war and pain everywhere you looked. It took a new breed of alchemists, such as Isaac Newton (and he was a deeply spiritual man and an alchemist) to turn this language from one of symbols to one of logical argument. What had previously been seen as the language of God, a very symbolic business involving the spirits of the earth and the air, and this kind of thing …


 … became God’s Laws of Nature. It wasn’t a language. It was a mathematics. That was quite a breakthrough, but it did have a presupposition: it was possible to stand outside of the manipulations and put them back together again. Humans, though, are infinitely creative and malleable. They adapt. Back in the day when science was getting established, the dichotomy of scientific views between the-world-as-secret-language-or-laws and the-world-as-dead-ordinary was seen as a struggle between the people (practical) and the aristocracy (poetic and intellectual [hint, not a good thing]) or even the church (in the understanding of practical, individualistic men, dictatorial and dismissive of individuality). Why, the church might have said that something like this, for instance …


… was an angel from God and should be protected from steel mills. That kind of thing drove practical, intellectual men nuts. They couldn’t analyze that. They couldn’t make an experiment to prove it. They could argue a thousand different things in its place, none of which could be proved, either. They gave it to the artists and washed their hands of the affair. As a result, stuff like this …


Yes, it was alchemists who gave us our maps of the world.

… is now “art” and “new age” “spirituality”, and stuff like this, which is its spiritual and alchemical heir, like it or not …


Electrical Post Art Installation and Spiritual Communication Device, Vernon

… is called science and technology. Odd, eh. Today, popular culture uses the techniques of scientific method, without the intellectual, aristocratic and spiritual contexts in which they were developed and on which they relied. A couple observations on that: 1. Humans are a darned clever bunch and incredibly adaptive; 2. Nothing changes. The pre-scientific world, the world before an intellectual enlightenment, the world of practical men focussed on everyday practical affairs, is still here in spirit. It’s just that in terms of popular culture it has moved from a home within spiritual matters, to creating a method of science that replaced those spiritual matters with a practical analogy, to a home within the machinery of scientific method, but without its intellectual or spiritual context. In popular culture, this is called historical development, and it is, but it’s also a method that has lost important parts of itself, and so is always playing with half a deck. By dismantling the world as a place of completeness, it has created powerful tools, but has guaranteed that the completeness is not reachable. It always recedes somewhere into the future. This is a consequence of the method. You could say it is a tragic flaw: the thing that makes the method great, is the thing that prevents it from succeeding. There is, however, a way, and that is exciting. For instance, this …

lace2A Moment in Harold’s Flower Garden

Two years ago, this spot was dry dust. Now look at it. Not a lacewing, not the colour green, not russian sage in bloom, not the stalks of cheatgrass before I weeded them out, not a fairy, not an angel of God, not a mathematics, not a story of evolution of a species, not a photograph, not beauty, not art: all of them, together, at once, and not just that, but a moment, apprehended humanly, in a way that even this photograph reduces.

The poet Goethe pointed out 200 years ago that it was possible to have other forms of Enlightenment than Newton’s, that it was possible to create a science that included all of the world that came before science, that it was possible to do it in individual ways, that many such ways were possible, and that anyone could do it. The results of his scientific efforts were not provable using Newtonian physics, and so were scoffed at. Nonetheless, they led to the colour wheel used by artists and large pieces  of the science of colour, the modern European art tradition and the German chemical industry, as well as to Waldorf schools. It’s not that one needs to adhere to Goethe’s developments to find value in what practical men scoffed at. One needs only draw a simple conclusion: the way is open for a reunion of art, spirit, and science; the technicians do not own the world; what science describes becomes the world and the methods it uses replace the world that was there before with themselves. Goethe warned that a science based upon technical experimentation would lead to a dead world without humans. Sadly, it appears to be becoming the case. The exciting thing is that it is reversible. Rather than, for example, a theory of evolution based upon the evolution of European individually-minded scientists, as was Darwin’s, a theory can be built based upon the evolution of complete moments and of social groups. Yes, it was shattered once.

british-machine-gun-unitBattle of the Somme

A practically understood science is put to to its ultimately logical end: chemistry and mechanical logic are dedicated to removing humans from the earth. It was all fought on the rhetoric of Christian faith and artistic purity, in the sense that before these battles, art was considered to be a force that ennobled mankind and helped mankind evolve spiritually. When it led to this, civilization ended. We’re still picking up the pieces.

Well, let’s pick them up. The flaws in the method are plain to see. More of the method won’t ensure human safety or the survival of the planet. The method needs to change. In the late 20th century, the sciences of ecology and earth science made great leaps in this direction. In the early 21st century, the intellectual dominance of the social scientific method called deconstruction, which attempts to break down the normalization pattern which allows for intellectual understanding to become technical normalcy and leads to such things as the Battle of the Somme, has begun to be normalized itself. Its method has become reality. Meanwhile,

P1040633grasslands such as this, with all their ability to create food, energy and to move and store water in an atmosphere that attempts to remove it, continues to be deconstructed and to erode. Deconstruction, like science as a whole, is a powerful tool, but it is not the world. This grassland is where we should bring our children and young adults. It’s not deconstruction that is needed, or the reconstruction of conservative artistic disciplines, that hold that if the values of the past (art, literature, Tennyson, sestinas and so forth) can be maintained as classical models, culture will remain stable, or even the construction of worlds that leads to this …

P1040747This is called “landscaping”. Notice the water drug pipelines .. and how little they help. Bella Vista

What is needed is co-construction. In the Syilx world that preceded the disaster of that landscaping above, this was called respect. One doesn’t have to subscribe to any notion of noble savages and the sanctity of Syilx and other indigenous land relationships to recognize the power of the reciprocal notion of respect. It’s what Goethe was talking about. It’s possible to bring the world along with you. It’s possible to see this all at once …


Bella Vista, Okanagan Landing and the Commonage

This is a view, nature, history, ethics, tragedy, greed, devotion, work, agriculture, sport, society, individualism, ruin and none of them. It is all of them together. 

… and to have that as a tool as well. In the aristocratic world that science helped dismantle, the most successful states were organized as poems; that’s why poetry was studied. That this was degraded into the Battle of the Somme (etc.) and other abuses, is a function of normalcy, not poetry, and not aristocratic thinking. The intellectual development of alternatives has been beneficial, but now that they have become normal and the material they left out is lacking in their world views, social and ethical opportunities are becoming narrower and narrower, at the same time that the physical world is becoming more and more compromised. That’s not an accident. We have to step up to the plate and come up with new concepts. Over the last 22 months I have set out on a journey to try to understand some of these things and to come up with practical proposals. If you’ve been following this conversation, even sporadically, you may have noticed some of these things cropping up:

1. new crops, that work within the context of the land,


Alfalfa Blossom Tea

2. new agricultural methods, that improve the health of the earth and society,

3. new visions of how water moves in the landscape, which can lead to increased social wealth, increased productivity of the land, new urban design, and decreased taxation,

4. new technologies for water and energy capture, based upon natural observations …


5. new integrations of soil communities and soil atmospheres with agricultural development,

6. new educational strategies,

7. new artistic strategies, connected to integration of social development and urban renewal,

8. a renewal of beauty as an important scientific and artistic tool,

9. an integration of science and art and literature, which uses the strength of all to a common goal,

10. integration of indigenous and settler cultures, with the social and land-based wealth that comes from that,

and many more. One could build an entire university around these ideas. Just as Goethe built the first botanical department at a university, and an important model that contributed greatly to the universities of today, around a garden …


Botanical Garden, Jena

… so is it possible today to provide new structures which enable new understandings, new solutions, and new opportunity for the young to truly create. I undertook this journey in order to write a book. It took me across the Pacific Northwest, deep into history, to Germany and Switzerland, to Iceland, and back home, here, in the grasslands between the mountains. I started as a poet, working in the tradition of literature. I stand now as that, of course, but in a literature that has been returned to a world that is whole. As for the university, well, in an ideal world I would be teaching this stuff there. The good fortune and good sense of devoting 22 years of my life to raising my children, and doing so on the edge of the last surviving grassland on temperate earth, a humanly created space that exists in the same form now as 4000 years ago, saved me from the fate of teaching only the literary tradition. What a walkabout this has been. What worlds poetry has taken me to. What science it has inspired. What a new form of literature, moving with images and words at the same time. Now it’s time, though, to pull the book together out of these nearly 500 posts. I’ve done much of that work, actually, but much remains to be done. I have six weeks in which to be done. I’m going to keep on at this blog, of course, but if you the posts meandering through the book now, don’t be surprised. I can only do so much at one time, but I do do it with delight.


The First Mock Oranges of the Season Are Now In Bloom

Now, that’s news! And what is in the news? Ah, this …


This is an image of what “Canada” looks like right now. It comes complete with a Put-the-Plastic-Picnic-Cooler-in-the-Sport-Utility-Vehicle Game. It is what that mock orange or this …

beetleclamber… looks like through the filter of the social and constitutional structures of the national state called Canada. I think we can do better than that. I think we must.

An Oriole, a New Food Crop, Northern Pineapples, and Drinking the Sun

 I am piecing together a guide to new crops that can build a new, sustainable agriculture and food art culture in this grassland sea. Yesterday, I noticed that a late spring crop was at its peak, and I let myself walk for awhile in its story. I invite you to walk along. Watch where you step!
P1610664 Pineapple Weed Making a Carpet of Our Path into the Hills

This little gem is also called false chamomile, which is just plain weird, because there’s nothing false about it. So what that it doesn’t have big lovely white petals like its sister that grows on the road shoulder in front of the old Japanese orchards down below, spread through the gravel by the annual shoulder mowing machines. It smells so fine when you step on it and it lingers for hours on the fingers. Here’s my first harvest, looking very real and pineapply (Pineapplish?)…P1010638 And here it is, catching the sun in a teapot of boiling water, just a few minutes later…pineapple Glorious, isn’t it! Look at the beauty that it makes out of the water. And ten minutes later? Aha. Here we are, out on the deck, with the apricot and nectarine tree in the back and all that lettuce … hey, you don’t want some lettuce, do you?



Pineapple Weed Tea, Ready for You and Me

The top half of the cup and the little waves of light on the railing show the actual colour of the tea: a pale yellow, like sunlight pooling inside a grass blade. The tea smells like fresh pineapple, tastes light and sweet and fruity, like chamomile without the bitterness and with a touch of pineapple honey. It’s a very calming drink, and, oh, did I mention, it smells sooooo good?

Flavour, purity, light, scent, spirit and beauty, all without chemicals, water, tillage or any labour other than a couple minutes on the way home from watching a blackbird dance. It grows anywhere you let it. Currently farmers spray it with Roundup because they are intent on growing Royal Gala apples which no one wants, in tight rows which can only be factory farmed using incredibly expensive machines. Premium teabags go for about $2.50 down at the local tea shop. Imagine growing it in a restaurant or teashop window and serving it in a glass teapot. Imagine what you could do with it. Not only could you build an agriculture and a food culture, but you could stop the insanity of lazy, careless men who react to the undesirability and industrial blandness of their product by doing this:

P1010669 Royal Gala Industrial Plantation Sprayed With Roundup

People, you aren’t supposed to spray it on the tree. It is a systemic herbicide. It goes into the sap of the plant and kills it from within. Is it any wonder no one wants to eat these apples? Yuck. I mean it. Yuck. Look again.

P1010668One second with a pair of hand clippers would have helped, but, you see, in an industrial plantation you do your pruning from a platform. This farmer never, ever walks his soil. It is, in effect, not a farm. It is a factory. Now, I think food is a spiritual substance, and look: while I was sipping my light yellow-green tea, this beautiful creature came a-calling…yellowpickFemale Bullock’s Oriole Pulling the Stuffing Out of My Old Chair to Build Her Hanging Nest

Go, girl! And, would you look, she’s the same colour as the tea. If she was the colour of Roundup, or smelled like that gunk, I’d be worried for us all.

So, this is exciting. The only thing is, what should we call Pineapple Weed when we grow it and sell it and drink it and it makes us as calm as the gentle grassland wind? The name is a bit weedy. Oriole fern? Oriole Blossom Tea? Pineapple Cone Tea? Pineapple Bird Tissane, Desert Pineapple Tea? Feel free to chip in.






Cities: The New Frontier

Let’s say you happen to glance off to the side of your city’s main street, right downtown, and see an amazing sculpture that not only looks dashing, but incorporates at least 500 years of history and the wall of a library, too, but makes beer. Sculpture! That makes beer! P1620979Okanagan Springs Brewery, Vernon, BC

All sculpture should be so useful.

So, suppose you’re a-wandering along, and you stumble into an alley behind the Kalamalka Inn Sports Bar, where that beer is poured into glasses and transformed into pure rocket fuel for the living sculptures that are humans, and what do you see?

P1630070Exquisite Fire Escape Sculpture!

And the plaster work in behind … the work of a master.

This is a sculpture that only gets used if the place burns to the ground. Now, that seems a waste for all that beauty, doesn’t it! It’s kind of like a match itself: use it once, and off to the scrap heap with it. Sheesh. Oh, what is a pure beer-less human to do? Bumble along, I guess and … oh, what’s this?

P1000021Water Pipes for a Humungously Expensive “Greening” Project

The city will have a dozen new park benches, and a couple dozen swanky trees.

Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, thinks the bumbling human. What if the pipes weren’t buried in the ground, but hung from the sculpture? That would look nice, wouldn’t it? You could pour a gallon of water in the top and, oh, I dunno, strawberries would come out the bottom. You could make daiquiris or something…


PVC Strawberry Towers

Daiquiris in the making. Source.

Exquisite sculpture is everywhere. Put it to work, I say.


Do We Need Smiles on the Faces of 1914 Women Picking Apples …

… because their husbands are already dead in France? Why not grow something on the wall instead? Remember the motto of Okanagan Okanogan: Choose Life.

Art: the new frontier. It’s time to plant it up.

Wild Bees Going Wild

Wasps, bees, hornets, bumblebees, beetles, ants, butterflies … everyone is out in the wild cherries today. Nobody is in the orchards ten feet away. And not one single domesticated bee in sight. Look at them flying around!

Here’s a blue wasp sucking the sweet nectar of life…


And, not to be outdone, a blue ant …


… and this beautiful creature, whatever it is …

P1600930 … and all the while, these guys are flying around …

P1600896 I gave up on photography and just stood in the swarm (they cared not a whit). I noticed this much…

  • Mourning Cloak Butterfly
  • Blue ant … Blue ant? … yeah, blue ant!
  • Shiny blue fly.
  • Grey bee 2 cm
  • Blue wasp 2 cm
  • Blue grey bee 1.5 cm
  • Blue grey bee 2 cm
  • Black wasp 1 cm
  • Black bee-fly 1 cm
  • Beetle-like bee 1.5 cm
  • Small round beetle with grey scribbles on its back 5 mm
  • Yellow bee with black stripes 1.5 cm
  • Yellow and black bee 1.5 cm
  • Multiple tiny bees and wasps ± 5 mm
  • Black hornet 4 cm.
  • Black bumble bee 4 cm
  • Yellow bumble bee 3 cm
  • Yellow jacket 3 cm
  • Black and white striped bee (fat) 2 cm … and
  • Wasp with red abdomen with black lightning strike decoration, like a black widow …

red copyGold fur and black chitin is a very lovely look …
P1600955 Here’s what it looks like in flight …P1600964

And not a single bee, wild or domesticated, in the orchard. Does it really seem an accident that domesticated bees are dying out? The poor things are as poisoned as we are. Now, just so you can share in this glimpse of a possible future for beekeeping, here’s a video, a bad video, a wobbly video with a ridiculous airplane filling it with NOISE, but, still, full of bees, for your pleasure…

They care not one bit whether a human stands in their tree or not. Got that? We’re not the story. Culturally, in these parts wild bees are considered excellent pollinators and … well, that’s about it. But it’s not about pollinating a future crop, and it’s not about honey. It’s about the presence of a crop right now. One ignored by humans. One that causes hay fever among humans with non-localized immune systems damaged by human environments. One that nonetheless provides pollen. Huge amounts of pollen. Here’s the skinny on that:



That is, um, more protein and less fat than a T-bone steak. And we don’t harvest this stuff? Imagine a world in which there were flowers everywhere, no agricultural chemicals, because they didn’t matter, and we just harvested the pollen and staggered around surrounded by beautiful insects and birds and blue (Blue!) ants. I mean, wouldn’t our work places turn into this?

P1610008Beats flogging burgers at MacDonalds. Look again …


See? No grease. Humans, it seems, are always the last to know. That’s because we’re still new on this planet. I think the best thing to say to young scientists might be: Get out of the lab! Go and stand in a tree at 3 in the afternoon on a hot day! Thirty minutes there are worth 5 years in a place of higher learning. Oh, and stay out of the orchard! That place can kill you.

Want to See Something Beautiful?

Look at these guys!

P1600703Knapweed Root Weevils Going to Town

Knapweed, the scourge of the West, the plant from Hell (well, Stalingrad), has met its match, thanks to a pest importation program. And, boy, these guys are hungry:


Monsanto, Say Good-Bye.

It’s about time!

The Future Economy is Here

On Friday (click), I mentioned that the future is here. Now. Not tomorrow. Not on the second Tuesday after the signing of the Keystone Pipeline Accord. Right now. Look up. There it is!  It is just a matter of learning to see it. Here, this is what it looks like, in case it’s night or your window has curtains…


Lambs Quarters in the Spring Sun

In a world of monocultural agriculture, in urban configurations that include huge amounts of waste space, and in which most space is not productive of life, the earth sends forth lambs quarters to heal the soil. To capitalist agricultural traditions, this is called a weed and is actively suppressed. So is the economy that it supports.

It is amazing. Wherever the soil is removed from life, which is a complex series of mutually-supportive relationships unfolding in time (an economy, if I’ve ever heard of one), lambs quarters and other colonizing plants sprout, to begin the process of regeneration. That’s our clue to regenerating our economies. We just need to look. If we look, we might see lambs quarters showing us the precise place in the living earth where true profit can be made and true healing can begin, with beautiful lambs quarters salads and cooked dishes to replace spinach and all its cello-packed long-distance trucking hydrocarbons. Healthy for the soil, healthy for local economies, healthy for the atmosphere, healthy for farmers, and healthy for our bodies. Take a look at this dry hill…


Lambs’ Quarters and Its Buddy Wild Lettuce Doing Their Magic

The soil is dust at this time of the year, but they are deeply rooted and thrive on natural water. No water infrastructure required. Got that? No tax burden. No capital costs.

And if we look around, we might see another wet season crop finishing up at the beginning of the dry season:


Desert Parsley

This is the plant that kept the Syilx alive on this land for eight thousand years of spring hunger. This is the one they burned the grasslands for, to keep the cycle of renewal in a youthful, productive phase.

Do you see? Once the land has been let go for a few years, it starts to look like this:


Sagebrush Getting Out of Hand…

… but the balsam root (a food crop) still doing well. Mind you, only a few crops are thriving here. 

Up close, that sage really looks like this …



A monocultural desert.

That’s why succession agricultural is the way to go: as the first colonizers are replaced by food plants, which are replaced by woody plants providing shelter and food for winter birds, the full richness of what the land can provide is spread over time — about 15 years of it. After that, it’s time for renewal — not plowing, just clearing away, and then …


… the desert parsley will be doing more than hanging on. This is a form of agriculture that creates a living economy. Rather than future potential being stored in capitalized mutual funds or in heavily indebted water systems or in monetary objects of various kinds, they are stored in the future creative potential of the land. Human creative potential is directed towards ensuring the health of those investments. Instead of investing for the present, and passing the debt on to our children, we invest in the future and pass the profits on to our children. In this respect, monocultures like this …


Dwarf Royal Gala Apple Walls

… are also forms of economic organization. In this case, heavy capitalization. This 20 acre orchard likely has a capitalization of four million dollars, and a return on investment of approximately zero. It is, in other words, an economic system that doesn’t work in any practical sense. What you see in the above image is the creative potential of the wild earth to produce life (a complex system of inter-related relationships) reduced to a small number of species, including grass, dandelions, mallow and a few other wild plants trying to heal the soil, and dwarf apple trees. The idea is that by concentrating all of the creative potential of the land into one product, it can be produced in abundance, and the difference between a complex living system, in which the life energy here were shared with many species, and this model, in which only one species (humans) benefits, the investor (the farmer) can use the excess as profit, and turn it into money (a social relationship.) The next year, the land can produce the same wealth again. Well, that system is broken. The only profit being taken here is by the capital systems (banks, chemical companies, post companies, trucking companies, packing companies, supermarkets, and so on), leaving the farmer, the land, and all the hungry people and animals unserved. Here’s where the profit goes …


Farmer Spraying Poison to Thin His Apple Trees

When I was a young man, we did this work by hand. It was a major source of employment. In order to keep food cheap, it is now done by poison and, logically enough, thousands of people in this community go to the food bank to try to keep from starving. The farmer is using a canister spray mask c. 1970, a pair of gloves, an old shirt and a turban as protective gear. Good luck on that.

You see how that works? In a fully-capitalized form of agriculture, fully-privatized and removed from community (employment), profit must be extracted by reducing social costs (which were once the profit), rather than merely reducing competition for life energy. Humans with no access to the life energy now have to pay for it. Well, it doesn’t have to be so. The land is shouting the future to us:


1 Hour Before Spraying

Ignore the apple blossoms. They’re not the future. They’re just debt. The future is the dandelions growing between the rows. In the current model, they are mowed down to prevent soil erosion.

That’s how to see the future. Look at what is being ignored, yet which is still alive. Until 20th Century Industrial Chemical Farming (largely a Nazi invention … really), dandelions were a source of salads, wine, syrup, coffee, and medicinal herbs, with great value. Surely, 2 out of 3 rows of apples returning NO profit to earth or humans but only to non-living systems (which must remove life energy from earth and humans in order to concentrate that profit) could be removed, to leave more space for dandelions, and a series of succession plants building on their healing of the land, OR 1 row could be cropped in an annually-regenerating crop of aromatic saplings for meat and fish smoking facilities, eliminating food refrigeration costs and providing shelter for birds, OR 1 row could be given over to community gardens, or … well, one could go on, because the current system does not produce life or profit, so you can do anything else and add wealth to town. Tomorrow, I will expand this story. Today, though, I wanted to make an initial economic point: 1. any form of agriculture is a form of economy, written large; to understand the economy, look at what’s in front of you; 2. in industrial agriculture, profit is the life energy removed from living systems, with the flaw that 3. the living systems cease to regenerate and systems become old, tired and no longer capable of supporting complex life (such as humans or slugs), and 4. for living systems this is the deal breaker, because the alternative is a dead planet. However, 5. successful economic systems renew and 6. the living economy is attempting to do just that. By observing the opportunities it is taking, we can see the opportunities that we can take, for renewed economic profit, renewed living environments, and renewed social and personal health. When humans become impoverished and are the weeds in their economic system, they need only look to the weeds …


Pineapple Weed

Growing in the iron-hard soil of a roadway (with the frilly leaves). Zero water. That’s a bit of wire weed (looking very flush with spring water) with the broader leaves, poking through. You cannot kill wire weed, and you cannot pull it out without explosives. Well, I exaggerate, but, tough, right?

Pineapple weed flowers make a far more beautiful tea than chamomile tea, it grows everywhere you let it and many places you don’t, and has the beautiful and relaxing aroma of fresh pineapples. Water requirement? Zero. Wireweed is an ancient herbal remedy and a key ingredient in Vietnamese cooking. At the moment, these crops produce zero dollars for the economy, but they could produce millions, with almost no capital cost. The future is here. It just needs to be seen, because once it is seen the path to wealth and prosperity is very clear. Contemporary agricultural practices are tired and old, and at the end of a cycle. They require more and more input for less and less return. Yet, new crops are everywhere (and renewed economic models), and require almost zero input — except for the creative input of seeing them.


Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root Seed Crop is Ready on the Hill!

While “cultural tradition” says it’s not yet time to plant a garden.