Spring is great, but look at ripeness!
Sumac and filbert meet the earth. Oh my.
Spring is great, but look at ripeness!
Sumac and filbert meet the earth. Oh my.
The Pacific Crab loves rain, swamps and wet feet.
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.
Malus Fusca, November
These are the lips of the sun. Look at them reach across the span of the year.
I’d like to show you some photos today, from a country that does not exist.
This is the German colony that formed in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia after the First World War. All the British men were dead. The German colonies in Africa were dissolved. In the 1920s, German socialists and communists replaced the lost British in the Okanagan. I come from this “colony.” That image above, of cactus in a mixed grassland, forest and tundra community, is a good image of this lost community. So is this rose hip. No Canadian would ever take these pictures. No indigenous person. No American.
No Cascadian, either. Only Germans in this country, even ones like me, born here, and who have lived here for nearly sixty years now. It’s not that I was raised to be German, either — quite the opposite.
Still, German identity, even German-Okanagan identity, and Anglo Saxon identity, down to the root level of how the self is organized in the world, differ, perhaps irreconcilably. Germans bring things in and hold them, within a whole that expands to fill them. Anglo Saxons create linear stories, that progress in time. My question today: does this mean I am a citizen of this place? When my experience is foreign to most people who live here? The French Canadians of the fur trade must have once felt like this.
What, though, is identity, if it is tied to the land but the ways in which it is tied are not shared, and invisible, because they appear identical?
Can I say I am of this place? Can I say I have an identity of any kind at all? I mean, not just in the question of whether I have one if my identity is largely this place yet my images of this place are from a culture that doesn’t exist, but also in the question of whether I have any identity at all? I have after all been told that taking pictures of nature, without people in it, is chilling and disturbing, because people like to see themselves in pictures; their absence speaks of mental illness. Yes, to the Anglo Saxon mind. As an example of the difficulty, in my culture the image below is a photograph of a person.
So is the one below. Not the maple seedling, but the whole image, and stuff that spills out of its boundaries. It is a gestalt.
That is very German. Can I say that these are even images of this place? Do these images count for more or less than those of someone who is an immigrant here, who has been here for a year, or two, or three, but comes from an Anglo Saxon community? I mean, I’m not an immigrant, yet there are these questions. Is there something especially problematic to Anglo Saxon identity about German identity?
I just know that my identity and the land are one in some way and that I live between worlds in some other way. An even more troubling question is: do Anglo Saxons, who have their own colonial ghosts, have any right to say I am not of this place yet that they are of it just because socially they belong to a large demographic, or that these very German images are not of this place? Isn’t that what populist democracy suggests? How can that be right? An even more troubling question: why do some people do just that, through an insistence that only dominant social experience, rooted in Anglo-Saxon identity structures, delineates a space?
I don’t know. I also don’t know why there aren’t conversations about these things, including other questions that other people have. Indigenous identity structures are (perhaps) different again. The current solution to that particular gulf is to say that no-one can share in the deep identity with place of an indigenous person. But weren’t our ancestors not all once indigenous? Is not our language based upon that experience? Is English not an indigenous language? Do we not all know this stuff, or at least have the words for it? Does not an indigenous German-Canadian, who has deep identity with place, not deserve respect for it as well?
Of course. Here’s what I think: I think any culture that demands conformity of identity …
… is a culture in which identity is a series of conformities and demands. That is military thinking and slave-holder thinking. It fits military states and slave-holding planters — even if that slave-holding is just the withholding of social identity from the things of this world. Is thing-ness not akin to racialization? When indigenous people hold just these beliefs? To someone in my culture, someone profoundly from this place, it is. To indigenous people it is no doubt something equally powerful and unavoidable. I can’t speak to that, though.
If anything is to make sense of my silent German-Canadian identity, it is through exploring what it sees within the land, and how its own identity structures reveal different aspects of the earth’s energy here than those of other identity structures. The land either accepts everyone on his or her own terms, and brings them to herself, or there is a chosen people. If there is a chosen people, then the rest of us are slaves.
We aren’t. Or shouldn’t be. Resistance is important.
This is just one of the reasons why attention to the land as an arbiter of social experience is vital. It makes us grow together by growing separately. To date, the ego has been used as the universal arbiter of identity in the modern world, both German and Anglo-Saxon, among others, yet it does so in a larger context, which the ego-identity does not erase.
I mean, one might say it does, but that’s just the ego talking. Human identities that do not include the earth are, in my culture, only social identities. They are surfaces. They might even be beautiful. They make a lot of social noise. They might be fun. They might be a lot of things. They are not this.
Although they could be. For this reason a poetry and art of Cascadia is vital. For this reason it has to start now, with poets, artists and people of all kinds coming to meet the earth and taking on its identity.
It is something we have to make together, as the land does.
Until then, each one of us will live in a private world which common discourse names universal, at great loss of knowledge. That is only a political convenience. Political conveniences are important, but they should never be identities. It is politically convenient to eradicate the story in the image below, and its creatures, to put up lawns, golf courses, Arizona-style houses, provencal style shrubberies, and streets.
It is, however, my identity: the insect, the light, the rabbitbrush in bloom, and turquoise Kalamalka Lake behind them. Eliminating this, eliminates me. That is not the same as “freedom” or “landowner’s rights.” The indigenous ways of knowledge of this place did not choose. Humans were the creatures who could ensure that all thrived. In that action, they became human. Social activity was the duty to protect that.
I couldn’t agree more. But, remember: these are German-Okanagan ideas, and German-Okanagan images. They are not the same as Anglo Saxon ones, or German ones, or Indigenous ones, as they have all been shaped by their own histories. Dismissing them with foreign identities, even globally-accepted ego identities, their narratives and their electronic identity storage and transmission devices, is not respect. It is dominance. In a time in which the earth needs us it is selfish — literally, because it is about the self, independent of its ecosystem, which, like the self, is not physical. Simply, if anyone is to claim they are of this place, they have to be this (not the image, which is German-Okanagan, but the plants the image attempts to represent):
Otherwise, they belong to some other story, and the question must be asked: what is that story? What are they doing here? I don’t know.
Weather is stripping the light out of the air at about the same speed as it is stripping the leaves from the trees!
Is it possible to still read the old signs our ancestors read before they read words? Let’s look… Two mushrooms, one white, one dark, both dusted as if with snow, like the moon and the sun above a piece of water-worn bedrock from the deep mantle, on a bed of spruce needles, sprinkled with elm leaves, a few twigs, and one rich cone, just inside the shadow from a splash of light. That is, ahem, spruce, the tree of true intentions, and elm, the tree that listens without judgement. Sun, moon and earth on the edge of light, presaging snow both day and night, but very light this winter, very light. Hey, it might be so. Let’s wait and find out!
Earth is fire: not just her core, but all of her. The steam, the wetland sedges and reeds, the cloud, the exposed clay, the volcanic rock beneath the pines, and the pine themselves are here all fire. That the pines can burn later, in a more open fire, doesn’t take away the fire they are now. That Earth has dense gravity at her core, doesn’t mean that at her surface it’s not fire. Look what happens when this fire is expressed as height and pressure. One moment, water is cupped between two mountains …. … and another moment, a mountain draws it from the air.
And look at it: it’s not fire, or gravity, or altitude or pressure. It is a grove of pines, and cloud on a morning mountain in Yellowstone after night snow and freezing rain which still gloves all the grass. That is Earth’s way. Her creatures speak like this as well. Only humans have the choice to speak differently. It is a profoundly bad idea. What there is this:
Explain her away by deep psychology if you want, give her alienness and separateness, call her “Cistern Spring”, do whatever you will do, it makes no difference at all, because there is only one thing, this thing: her, now, here. Rilke said this in 1923 in the Valais, scarcely differently. After a lifetime of chasing symbols and angels and sensitivity and women and love, he found the high clear air of the Rhone, and became a poet at last: this tree, he said, right here, right now.
Gravity is not mathematics. It’s either here in these pine cones or it doesn’t exist. Water carries heat and cold. Heat operates steam heating systems, and energizes clouds and ocean currents. Cold provides water for salmon, through the midst of hot grasslands. It also carries gravity.
Notice how it stills it. Notice how differently rock embodies it. Notice how differently you, as a human, read that. Gravity they are. Gravity is also linked to time. Here’s a pool of it. Gravity, I mean, but also time. Light travels in straight lines, says physics, but then that means everything else doesn’t. These mosses on Turtle Mountain, for example. Look at them bend, where the light is not. They, too, are pools of gravity. Physical science has worked out theories of how gravity bends space and thus light, although travelling in straight lines, bends, to follow space. The math works, but, come on, isn’t that overly complicated? What is that space? Look at it below. The answer is right there. The answer is here. Ah, life, yes, that’s a different thing than gravity. It’s a different thing than steam rising, rain precipitating, or stone eroding, and far different than space bending around a star. We have the math to prove it. But look. Here’s a pool of gravity. Look how it turned red, and now is filled to the brim with time. Here’s a pool below it, closer to Okanagan Lake, in which time is still held by water. Look at this trunk of time, powered by gravity. Remember: gravity doesn’t “fall”. It’s “there.” It’s here. Look how now it is contained by the molecular forces of water molecules. That’s how weak it is.
Weak it may be, but look how it pools in this bunchgrass, in these amplified water droplets, these extensions of molecular water tension in time, powered by gravity.
Is that not bending light? And look below: is light not always stopping, because that’s what happens when it hits the earth? Are these not the flashes as it meets gravity?
Does not water, the core of life, carry them? Is that not time? Look at the grapes below, from a bunch too immature two months ago for the birds, a bunch at the end of the vine that bloomed late, with every flower on the cluster blooming separately. That is many times at once, each in its surface tension, and all there, or, rather, all here now.
I have learned not to be diverted by usefulness. Usefulness is a powerful social force, but presence is stronger.
It might be as weak as gravity, but look at it at work:
Can you read that? Well, your body can. It knows where food is in the spring. It knows where power is, and differing intensities and combinations of light and gravity and all the other forces of the earth. Scientific theory puts it like this:
And until it is that, or this …
… (for example), then it is not this. This is gravity:
Humans live in it. Ideas of God bound within alchemical machines live here:
Scientific thought is an incomplete project. If you are a teacher of science, I urge you towards bringing it back to the world. Here’s the first step. Here’s your new classroom, your new black board, smart board, white board, projector, chatroom and smartphone app:
A Chemistry Teacher Climbs the Farwell Dune, Cariboo Chilcotin Grasslands
Please. Your life depends on it.
The sage brush is the weed …
… not the bunch grass. Sagebrush is an indigenous plant, but it comes in a bit thickly when the grass has been overgrazed. Traditionally these weeds were kept down by a) not overgrazing and b) fire. The weeds below were kept down by fire, too.
Look at them now, messing with the grass’s head.
This is called a forest, but it’s not. It’s a grassland, with weeds. Now, there’s an interesting cycle in the grass, in which short-lived pines burn off, the grass comes back, the pines come back, the grass comes back, the pines come back, the grass comes back and before you know it 10,000 years have passed in the sun. This isn’t like that. These trees are sick.
See that? Their only life is in their top two or three metres. That’s where the forest is… scarcely higher than sagebrush. Everything else down below is just shade.
This is the great shade desert created by trees. All it is is fuel. All it is is fire. And billions of dollars are spent every summer in preventing that fire, with very few results, while all we have to do is cut the trees down and take them away, like we would to any weeds. We can throw a few into ponds, for the fish to shelter under, of course.
And leave some for the eagle. She needs them, the deader the better.
Eagles can’t use crowded trees, either, and people belong on the grass. You can see yourself in the grass, right?
We should go sometime together. Summer, winter, pshaw, it’s all good.
Better than this, for sure.
And we like to live with bears, right?