Talking With the Trees

Here’s a dolmen in North Wales. Note the tree.P1110021

The dolmen is thousands of years older than the tree. It has a lid, to keep out the rain, I guess. Like a tree. It’s rather held up like an offering, too. By its friends. Nice.

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You can put your dead people inside. The lid keeps them in. Kind of as if the earth were a stone tree, really.

P1100995It’s not so different  than what the Welsh did a few thousand years later. Only thing is, they did all that masonry to build a gate, and inside, well, every person got a slate slab, stuck up on its end, as if they were men and women waiting for Christ to walk in that door.P1110064 Or to come from the sea.

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The rocks have their way with us. “We will be men,” they say. And we oblige. And of those men? Well, notice how these 19th century Welsh have done with the tree thing. Their Christ does it for them all, hanging from his cross at the intersection of heaven and earth.  Before Christ came along, the Welsh had a dozen sacred trees like the rowan below.

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By the looks of it, they cut down the trees. The rocks won. Well, not quite. The trees are no less finished talking than the rocks are.

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Good. As long as they keep talking, so do we.

Here’s what I wrote about these Welsh stones in 2003 and included in my book The Spoken World in 2011.

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Canada Geese Making Art

Geese eating rotten apples.geese2b2Geese making art.

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The Dance of the Geese.

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Mass choreography, with geese.

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Never underestimate the perspective changing ability of a Canada goose. Here are some geese dancing to Bach.

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Here are some doing the Stravinsky Honk.

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No need to clap. Geese make their own applause.

 

 

Choosing to Be Human

“Gravity” is commonly understood as the force, devolved from subatomic bonds extended during the Big Bang, that brings things down. This vineyard hill above my house, for instance.

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The same force brings a stone down from a high trajectory into the swirls of a river, where it then tumbles down slowly to land among flashing schools of mountain whitefish in the shallows where the current just begins to pick up again after slowing in the deep pool at the foot of a mountain, where black bears come down seven thousand feet from the high country, cross the thread of the river when almost all men are asleep, and shake the moonlight out of the fur like water. It can also look like this:

P1600326 … and this …P1600477

The Big Bang, gravity, God, the tug of molten dew off of the bowed stalks of bunchgrass, the energy rippling through the muscles of black bears and mountain rivers riding over a thousand feet of gravel left by a post-glacial river as big as the Missouri and inhabited by ancient, scaled creatures whose hands are specialized wings for steering themselves through water, those are all pretty much the same thing. It also looks like this:

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The force is the same, and is unbroken — unlike the cat tail stem above, that failed to resist it. On a planet on which any difference between God, the Big Bang, gravity and a cat tail is not a quality of anything you can pick up in your hand and put in a vase in front of a window, but of experience, the missing variable in discussions of gravity is time. Rock, water, fish, moon, sun, star, man, log, bear, and fire, are not substances in the world. They are boundaries — not ones drawn around things but within them. For the things themselves there are no boundaries. The boundaries have to do with their extension, their thinning out, in time.

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Time is the way in which gravity and the tendency of entropy, the way in which all energy (supposedly) decays, becomes spirit. That might be the nearly-abandoned farm of an elderly widow above, a woman born in an internment camp during the Second World War, but it contains a gift of life she is still trying to give to us. There are moments at which earthly understanding supersedes that of mathematics. There are moments at which the answer is to choose to be human. We are all born with the potential. Not all make the choice.

 

E = MC2 and Slavery

E = mc2 is Einstein’s attempt to express the spirit of the universe in numbers. The principle he is getting at looks sort of like this:

P1600963 Snow on Bunchgrass

I say “sort of” because snow is vaporized water that crystallizes when it loses energy below a certain threshold, which for convenience is called zero degrees celsius (or thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit). If water comes out of a gaseous form above this threshold, it looks like this:

P1600363Dew on Red Dogwood

That kind of transformation of form is not what Einstein meant. He meant that energy, such as the energy required to hold this water in the air …

snowy4 … is a form of matter (as is the water), just as matter (such as water) is a form of energy. He also meant that time is physical. It is a distance at the same time that it is the speed of light. He was talking about a theoretical and mathematical world, not about the world of matter and time found on earth. Here, the sun mixes with the planet and extends itself in time, like this:

P1570926Bunchgrass in the October Sun

That’s not relativity. Neither is this:P1570935

 

Ring Necked Pheasant in a Moment of Panic

The pheasant above is moving fast enough to change its position in space, but not fast enough to experience space bending around it, because on earth things are physical and interact by chemical means. That is in no way a duller conception than Einstein’s, and in no way deviates from it. The female asparagus plant below, for instance, represents a continuous, unbroken chain of life stretching back to early plant evolution in what is now South Africa.

P1520804 That is, of course, not the experience of the single individual above, but even in her life, as evidenced by the berries spread along her branches, all of which rapidly opened in one year, she grew into a space, that existed in potential and was then realized, shifting her centre from one growing tip pushing out of the spring soil to further extension in space through the medium of other individuals and seed dispersal. We might as well call that space time. The difference between her experience and Einstein’s conception is profound. It is the difference between a drop of water ….P1540796

 

… and the sun that makes it visible to humans.

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That difference is an example of what it is like to be from the earth and to live on it, as humans do. Here, on this planet, there are both individuals, and communities of individuals, and they are the same thing, just as matter and energy are the same thing to Einstein.
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Notice the Yellow Smudge of Asparagus in the Lower Right!

Individual Plants? An Ecosystem? The concepts trick us into thinking that they are different. They aren’t. They are rainfall and snow. They are light and shadow. Perhaps you can see that in the patterns of grass and shrubs in the Okanagan hill below.
P1520181 And what are those? They are effects of light and shadow, of the presence and absence of the sun, and how it is carried in water, and frozen in snow, to be released again later. These effects are as complex as Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, and as beautiful.P1540149

 

Female Staghorn Sumac in October

The thing about energy on Earth, or anywhere, is that energy doesn’t disappear — which means it doesn’t grow cold. It changes the way in which it occupies space. It grows — not by growing in and of itself, but by building relationships. We might call those branches, like in the sumac above, or we might call them fruit, such as in the hip below…

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… but in both cases they are a means of extending relationships in both time and space. You can observe this effect in the opening of every one of the millions of blue chicory blossoms along the roads of the Okanagan in the summer time, and the way in which the wind lifts their petals but never lets them fall.

apostemonchicory

Falling is always there. We call that endurance gravity, which is just a word to describe endurance. Even the apostemon bee gathering the white pollen of these blooms is working within the bonds of that gravity, even when she sees her larvae through the winter, underground. What differs in her from gravity, is that she represents a long, unbroken line of life, back to the first cell on earth, that does not just fall but rides her falling in what is called flight. Life is an opening. It is unbroken. It is, however, breakable, and can be enslaved. Here is a plantation of cloned apple tree slaves.

P1610083 Here is an image of how wasteful this entrapment is of light, and how it turns light into geometric form ….shade…. when before enslavement, it was an image of wonder. Here it is, by the name of God, in the Convent Pasture Orchard of Prague.

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Only one can humans walk freely through. The other is a machine, built for machines. Remember, though, that this is the planet of growth. Humans are from this planet. They grow into it. They grow through it. A child in a slave orchard, or a child in the pasture garden above, are different spiritual creatures. They will see the earth differently. They will care for it differently. They won’t both care to keep slaves. The consequences are profound.

 

Why Poetry Matters

In poetic tradition, the number three is sacred to the Goddess of poetry, as is the colour red. This is not the age of the Earth in which people are comfortable talking about goddesses, or poetry, so let me rephrase that, with an image:hipthree

 

Three Red Earths in a Field of Energy

As this is also not the age of the Earth in which images are easily read, let me rephrase my original opening again:

 The number three … The birth-reproduction-death cycle

is sacred … unites the three defining components

to the Goddess of poetry … of the earth

as is the colour red… through the force of life.

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Three Drops of Blood

The birth-reproduction-death cycle unites the three defining components of the earth through the force of life. One more thing: in contemporary culture, statements like this are to be understood, or dismissed. The sense of “understanding” at play is that of comprehension of a logical meaning or sequence within the statement. That is a new form of the Old English word “understand”, and one far newer than the comprehension of the birth-reproduction-death cycle which the word might claim to grasp. In terms contemporary with the lives of people who lived intimately with the earth, the word “understand” means “to stand among”, “to stand on”, in the sense of “being close to.” In other words, to say that one understands the statement “The birth-reproduction-death cycle unites the three defining components of the earth through the force of life.” is to say that one stands in the middle of this …

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… that one stands upon it, that one accepts its truth as one’s own, and that one is intimate with and willing to be ruled by it. Rather than being an expression of individual strength, it is an expression of humility: the strength is in the earth.

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Even when it looks to be a dead thing. As I said, we don’t live in an age of poetry, nor in one of images or of understanding in the original sense of the word. That’s not the earth. That’s just culture. The original force, however, is still present, meaning “here in our time.”

P1590872 This Image is Contemporary

So is the knowledge that informs it.

This knowledge has been given to us by our ancestors, who knew the earth intimately. We cannot claim to understand them, or their earth, if we do not stand under their knowledge, which is to say, if we do not stand within it.

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Winter Haws

The magical tradition, from which poetry rose, honours these fruits as well, as does the Christian tradition, which draws parallels between them and Christ’s blood. Although this is not a time of the earth in which Christian or magical traditions dominate world affairs, their knowledge is still with us.

That this knowledge was originally expressed in language as poetry is precisely the point, because it means that the tool for accessing it is within poetry. As such, through to the end of the Christian age, poetry remained the most vital tool for training future state administrators. It was commonly agreed that a balanced social, spiritual and human world could not be created on earth without the use of the tools of poetry, with their deep roots in the intersection of spirit and the earth.

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A Model for Governance

If you know how to read it.

This correspondence between the earth, human social affairs and poetry can serve as a simple yardstick: if anyone dismisses the roots of poetry within the physical earth, they are dismissing as well both the tools for understanding that earth, humility, the concept of understanding itself, and that earth. Unfortunately, the image below is rarely recognized as poetry today.

P1580073 Poetry today is one of the learned arts, taught as a communication form to transfer emotional material between the discrete individuals of a post-goddess world. It was not always so. What culture today finds through words was originally a direct expression of what was observed in the world and turned into a sequence of signs and symbols, which contemporary poetry calls metaphor and symbol.

P1580075 This is Not a Metaphor

P1580068 This is Not a Symbol

P1580066 As you open into your time here on this earth, you may find, as I have today, people calling absurd the notion that poetry is a function of the universe. To such people, this is not poetry:P1580042 Nor is this…P1580034 Nor this …P1580030 Yesterday I was even challenged by a linguist, who claimed that linguistics was a mature science, while poetry was a method of communication. If that were entirely so, either the following image would be a piece of communication….P1580029 … which it is not, as it has neither narrative, symbol, significance nor meaning, or poetry would be a human invention, which is to say it would be an application of rhetorical rules delineated by the logic of grammar and thus subservient to intellect. It would be much like learning to construct a speech or to strip down the engine of an automobile.P1580027 To a man whose identity is one with a certain stretch of the planet, it is an impoverished view of the earth, but, hey, it might be good enough for a lot of good work, except that attempting to govern the earth and to shape it by such mechanistic processes creates not this….P1580009 … or this …P1580005 … but this…

P1600900…and, closer, this …P1600891

… which is unsustainable, mismanages earth, water and health and provides industrialized food and industrialized landscapes in place of humanity and beauty. So, an observation: a mechanistic world view that does not “stand under” or “understand” the earth in the poetic sense produces a society that does not stand within the earth and, in its reflection, an earth that one cannot stand within…

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Heck, they even build fences around it.

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These new, created spaces exclude all humans (and other large mammals) except the creators of these spaces. We call such land engineers farmers. They are neither farmers nor poets. They are industrialists, transforming the earth into a factory and interhuman (and human-earth) relationships into relationships of power based on the authority of privately-reserved wealth. Goddesses don’t like that kind of thing. Nor do Christs. Nor do poets. Nor do living environments. Look how the weight of molten snow soaks the seeds of blue-bunched wheatgrass, and how the weight of winter water and snow bends down its stalks to the snow …

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..where frost releases the seed onto the snow …

seed

When the snow melts, the seed will be carried to a place attractive to water, where it will sprout, perhaps, into a new individual. Poetry acts like that, because it is as organic and responsive to the environment as that, and consists of organic observations like this one. Yes, poems are constructed of words these days (although also out of sounds, images, performance and video), but that doesn’t mean that it began with words. It began with the ability to be within the earth and no matter what new territory it rises from, it retains that ability. In fact, it nourishes it. It is, in fact, this:

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Anyone who tells you otherwise is either not a poet, or does not live on the earth. You should know this. It’s vital.

The Lungs of the Earth

Bunchgrass defines the grasslands of the intermontane west. It is not, however, the main story here. It is only the canopy forest. P1590438The real grassland is here. It is far older. It lies dormant in the summer’s heat and grows and blooms in the complex snow-melt landscape between the heat sinks of the grass almost all the winter long and into the spring.P1590415This is the lung of the earth. It is a skin that allows water and air to pass into the colonies of microbes that live beneath the soil and which dissolve it into minerals for plants.
P1590407 Where it has been killed off, the earth has an entirely new skin. It changes the seasons and uses water in simpler ways. This is cheat grass, shown below with some russian thistle. Good companions. The cheat grass takes the water in the spring and translates it into thatch in the summer, which lets a little rain through for the thistles, which bloom just before frost, when the cheatgrass has seeded itself in the droughted ruins of its spring rush and is growing again, as it is in the picture of a December thaw below.P1590330

It’s less a lung than an artificial breathing apparatus that, not surprisingly, matches the compost-based, blue-water-based soil renewal understandings that colonial culture teaches its children. Compare that to a natural grassland slope, responding to water, sun and air in minutely fine-tuned patterns, however compromised by neglect.

P1520181 After 140 years, the image below shows the limit of cultural understanding of this grass, which has been achieved by colonial culture.

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No, that buck is not grazing there. He is passing through. We all are. Even if property title grants the illusion of the right to kill the earth. The image above is a social image. It is a reflection of society. This could be, too:

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At the moment it is only a remnant of one. Billions are spent dreaming of engineering Mars for life. I think learning how the earth works would be a good start. It puzzles me why there aren’t a thousand historians, scientists and sociologists walking out in this grass. Do they have a death wish? I don’t know. Here are two views of the vineyard these landscapes are woven through. First…

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… and next, only a few metres away …P1590477

 

I offer the observation that they are the same.

 

 

 

 

Defying Gravity and Collecting Water for Free Through Time Travel

As long as not too great a mass of water is involved, surface tension is stronger than gravity (and stronger than adhesion). Take a look:

dropThis water ran down the twig (it did not adhere strongly) under the force of gravity, but instead of leaving the end of the twig, it formed an obloid (a drop), which will drop at the point at which gravity overcomes surface tension, but not before. If you gave it a shake, you would change the energy balance in favour of gravity. Now look again:

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The same process is at work in this riparian zone in the grassland, and in the grass around it, although at differing stages in the cycle. The questions that intrigue me today are, can this process be used in reverse? (Yes, of course. Plants do it all the time, by moving water upwards through their stems.) What energy can be added to this grassland to increase flow? What energy can be added to decrease it? Where? Here?

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If we could do that, we would not need reservoirs in the mountains or $70,000,000  price tags for improvements to water infrastructure.

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We can do this. Note how time is a factor here: the bulrush that drew water up into the sun in the spring, summer and autumn …

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Is now catching it. The fine ribbing on the cat tail leaves (the convex outward edges of the channels that drew water up all summer) provides a surface stronger than gravity, and stronger than the low pressure winter air or the weak, winter sun. The process has been reversed and gravity has been defied… not all at once, but in increments, built upon the foundation of the season before.

P1580475The water we’re observing here did not fall as rain or snow. It is frost, that condensed out of the air due to the texture of the plant surface and its different temperature gradient from the air. These are all factors that can be used to defy gravity…clear, if we look at it over time and from outside of human models. What are we waiting for? Sci-fi? Magic? Mumbo jumbo? Heck, even if we didn’t want to mess with gravity, we could harvest water. Look at how this squiggly willow does it.

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Inspiring stuff!

 

The Ethics of Talking About Wine in British Columbia

The Alumni Association of the University of British Columbia in the Canadian rain forest city of Vancouver is hosting a debate and wine tasting of wines from my valley, although the valley and those grapes are both found five or six driving hours away over the mountains and in the dry Interior grasslands of the Columbia Plateau. You can read about it by clicking here. I’m floored. Imagine. The citizens of a distant city, in an entirely different biological region, are proposing to determine, over sips of wine, whether a vineyard should make its decisions based upon wine-making fashions or on terroir, which is the sum of geological, climactic and horticultural factors which determine the flavour of a wine, and they’re attempting to do so by a simple populist vote. There’s no mention in the write-up of other important factors, such as environmental factors, loss of indigenous habitat, climactic change, Indigenous peoples’ land claims issues, the threat to the last remaining pristine temperate grassland on earth, possibilities for meaningful and sustainable agricultural renewal on Indigenous Syilx and Secwepemc models, and so forth.

P1530740Noble Ridge Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

In addition, there’s no mention of the slaughter of starlings that goes into this wine production, the subsidized use of precious water to grow luxury products at very low yields for export to Chinese billionaires, instead of using the land and the water to create food for the people of the Okanagan, while tens of thousands of people in the region go to food banks to try to get something to eat that lies within their budget. None of that. Just an academic debate about terroir or fashion. Terroir includes all the issues I mentioned above. I hope the debate includes meaningful discussions about environmental factors, loss of indigenous habitat, climactic change, Indigenous peoples’ land claims issues, the threat to the last remaining pristine temperate grassland on earth, possibilities for meaningful and sustainable agricultural renewal on Indigenous Syilx and Secwepemc models, the ethics of water use and land speculation, the connections between land and water use and poverty, and the ethics of a distant people determining the fate of people in an entirely different region.

P1540471Vineyard at the Rise, Bella Vista Hills, Okanagan Landing

If it doesn’t, then I believe it essential that the people of the Okanagan gather and hold a conference to determine the fate of the parklands, waterways, industrial planning, developmental density and transit infrastructure of the City of Vancouver, and enjoy it over some imported coastal halibut and smoked salmon. Anything less is slavery. In other words, the people of the Okanagan will determine the future of everything you can view in the image below.

Vancouver_ibVancouver, a Neo-Colonial Capital? Source.

Yes, it’s preposterous. But it would be preposterous if an organization in the City of Vancouver would have the gall to attempt to determine the fate of our own country without even having the decency of bringing the discussion to us and opening it up to the real and pressing issues at hand rather than only the limited ones that fit into its own cultural and investment paradigms. How shameful that would be. Let’s hope that the discussion is broad and innovative, and is moved to a more suitable location. There’s still time.

For the Love of Birds

My mother, who died a week ago on Sunday, did not like starlings. This was not because she did not like birds. She loved those. As a girl in the 1930s, she fed goats by bottle, scattered grain for birds, and marvelled at every living thing. In the 1960s, when my father got the idea of shooting sparrows for dinner, she put an end to that real quick. Stray cats found a home with her. Dogs, though, she had not much use for. They weren’t independent enough for her. No, with the starlings it was about the land itself, and social privilege. “Some confounded Englishman with no more sense than brains got homesick and brought the silly creatures over from England because he was homesick.” That’s how she put it. And it was an Englishman, actually, in Central Park, in New York, who did the deed. My mother, Dorothy, who grew up in a community of immigrants excluded from society by the Great Depression and left to fend for themselves in the woods, did not have much room for people who traded privilege for work. To her, work was life, not something that could be socially purchased. It was a way to defend yourself against the pressures of social privilege. It had an ethical dimension that exceeded individual rights. “Some Englishman, who was only in the country for two weeks and wasn’t a Canadian at all,” she used to say, as her way of bringing me up into the world, “could get any job he wanted, over a hard working immigrant with Canadian citizenship, who had a family to feed.” Well, that’s the way it was, and that was my mother’s objection: the land, and its people come first, before anything else at all. In other words, for my mother, the people and the land are one. The thing about starlings was not that they didn’t live well on the land, but that they took crops from the field and fruit from the orchard, that could have gone into her apron. They were a  tax, in other words, little different than that of the Canadian government itself, which favoured, as she saw it in her childhood and no doubt learned at the feet of her communist father, Englishmen over Canadians. Now, citizenship does not work out that way anymore, although maybe society still favours people of privilege over people living off the land and as the land or over new immigrants. At any rate, though, the starlings are singing today, in the poplars down the street.P1570578

When this land was converted from a Cowboy and Indian culture into a fruit-growing culture 116 years ago, it embraced two complementary energies: the energy (at least as society defined it) of men, who built waterworks, cleared sagebrush, planted trees, built packing plants, and so on; and the energy of women, who revelled in beauty, kept homes, raised children, and when the men died in the Great War, took over, still wearing their aprons. These were the roles that society gave to the two main human genders, and the relationship between them, the society that grew up into the one we know today, came from the interpersonal relations between these men and these women. My mother is not doing that work anymore, I’m sad to say, but I am, still, with her in my veins, and I’d like to make an observation today about the state of affairs after 116 years of love-making, if that’s what it should be called. It’s this: those starlings are killed by the thousands now, to keep them from eating grapes destined for ice wine for chinese billionaires. Maybe you can hear my mother’s voice in that bluntness? I can. This work is done secretly, but it’s done, and the wine industry’s success, and all its lake view bistros, have this mass electrified slaughter to thank for the romantic dinners for two, with a glass of sweet, fruity white wine, that drive this industry and draw tourists to it from cities far away. This compromise is our dirty secret. And what of the true wild birds? Well, there are still a few stalks of mullein here and there, in the weed land below the vineyards, for them to feed on in the cold.

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And there are thistles for those who prefer them, although the thistles are mostly immigrants too and pretty nasty to cattle, and since cattle are socially the affair of men in these parts, the thistles are usually poisoned with some pretty nasty stuff. Here are some poisoned, nasty thistles on land no one uses for anything except for the nasty poisoning of pretty thistles, and one blurry bird feeding, so to speak.

P1570557This is where the beauty of this land has come to, incredibly enough, out of the love-making between men and women. And what of those orchards, that were planted to support everyone together, and their children? Ah, here, you have a choice: either an industrial workspace for temporary workers imported from the Caribbean, paid wages less than I was paid to do this work thirty years ago, and with as much room for beauty as any other factory floor…

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… or here, in a peach orchard kept by a woman of my mother’s generation for as long as she could.

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These are tough choices, and they are both ruins: one a widow’s vision, without a husband to do the work anymore, and one a man’s vision, in a fruit factory that has no female touch. Fruit growing is considered an industry in these parts, but it never was that. It was a dream, a hope, a love, a making, a life. The “industry” side of the whole thing was there to support those values. Against the pressures of Canadian society, however, which demanded profit to be drawn from this love, those orchards and home and human relationships are no longer in balance. The houses below, my neighbourhood, were one of those orchards once, and children, no doubt, once learned the world by climbing the cherry tree on the right in the image below. For those kids, a house was a place to go into, from their life, and when they left that house they were home again. The children of today, however, seem to be learning to play in a house with a curly plastic slide: a fun thing, but with a serious end. They will be children of houses and play. For these children, the earth will be a place to go out to, from their life, and when they leave their houses they won’t be  like my mother, who was at home in the earth and was very, very clear about the work that that took.

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These are profound changes. As for men and women, a century ago they promenaded together in “Nature” on Sundays. Now they walk their dogs on the old industrial water canal of that age, the Grey Canal, of Earl Grey Tea fame. The canal is filled with gravel and lined with weeds, and offers convenient plastic bags and disposal barrels for every dog-walker’s duty.

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There’s something profound about this, about how my mother’s world has vanished as profoundly as she has, and at the same time. The land has been taken almost completely from what were defined as female values a century ago. I’m not sure that this has worked out particularly well. Against this loss, here I am, though, the result of this love making, still walking the land, for as long as I can. It’s that love I have tried to pass on here every day for more than three years now. The day I heard that my mother was in hospital, I was in Prague. I went out and watched this woman feed the city’s swans with a small mountain of leftover bread from her restaurant. Here she is with the last few pieces, although “bread” might be an understatement. That looks like Czech pastry at her feet, with honey-nut-poppyseed filling!

swan

 

We live the earth by loving it. Loving it together is best.