Blood of the Earth

I live in the country of the Columbia River, above the lake that spills into one of its tributaries, the Okanogan River. In this country, there are many rivers like the Okanagan, such as the San Poil, the Kootenay, the Spokane, the Methow, the Wenatchee, the Snake, the John Day, the White Salmon, the Willamette, and the Young. That is just one small list of many rivers of energy pouring into one great stream that flows out to sea. Each draws the energy of a piece of land, some of them almost four billion years old, others countable in the tens of millions, together into one flow that pours straight into the Pacific, without a delta or a single shoal, only an underwater bar that brings the desert to the mouth of the sea. Today, I was in the John Day. It looks like this:


Heart of the Earth, John Day River Valley

And look what I found growing out of this old volcanic ash:

bitter2That’s right, bitter root, the most important foodstuff in this country. And she was blooming…

bitter3These are the blood of the land. Together, they flow into the water, and out of the water comes …

,,,our hearts, here in the Columbia Country, the red fish, in this case the Sockeye of N’kmp, that have gone home to Siberia and have come home to the Columbia. This is more than the maple trees of the East. This is everything.

The Non-Wage Economy and Creativity

I spoke about the non-wage economy yesterday, and how it operated by trading work for the opportunity to do more work, rather than cashing out on work produced. Such an economy draws a profit from human effort, rather than by transferring environmental energy into a social sphere. I think this image below makes that clear. Here is my garden, two weeks ago, with the resident dove. You can see rhubarb, raspberries, garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, lettuce (the quail got the spinach), a few rescued trees heeled in, a transparent apple tree (with a  mystery graft), and some grass grown for mulch. The stump is a mountain ash that up-and-died. To create this garden, I spent many, many hours carting away landscape cloth, gravel, sand, a child’s playhouse, which I sadly don’t need, and hauling in soil, manure and peat moss. The neighbours in behind, operating in the wage economy, have spent many hours to reduce their work load with the earth. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. They have stripped out the overgrown junipers and are replacing them with shade cloth and gravel. The productive capacity of the earth has been removed. You can see which yard the dove (behind the stump) prefers.P1250410Here’s another example. Here you can see my nectarine tree in flower, and my grapes budding out, as well as sugar snap peas, oregano, self-seeded radishes, perennial green onions, chives, and an apple tree I grafted a year ago. Note the blossoms. It takes two years for an apple tree to blossom, but I encouraged this one to blossom in one year, through a couple techniques of  mechanical summer-time manipulation of the flow of its naturally-produced hormones at bud differentiation time (soft-pinching and the weighting down of branches.)

P1250412I think “Work” is the wrong word for what is going on here. “Life” might be a better one, or “enrichment”. Through the giving of my life to this tree, it gives me more life back than it would have without my care. Its capacity to sustain me and my wife and our friends and family has been increased. I would call the reserve of productive capacity within the earth creativity. It is what has been given by human effort, and which can be drawn on without being exhausted, as long as that effort is still given.




The Non Wage Economy

I pruned the apple trees …

P1250367 … and the cherry trees …P1250353The work was joyous. I did it in between stints as writer in residence at the library. Morning: pruning; afternoon: editing. That kind of thing. As payment for the pruning, I was promised cherries, to make juice (so, many hours more work), and a piece of land for potatoes …P1260027

…and more work! I shovelled this plot by hand … P1260032

Finishing Up So I Can Rush to Town for a Discussion About Education

So, that was the potatoes in my basement, and $30 of seed potatoes from the garden centre in town, and 4 hours in the hot sun with a shovel. A guy stopped by and said, “You need to invest in a rototiller!” I answered: “That’s just the thing. I figured it out: the trip to town to rent it, the time to drive it back, the time to get gas, the time to till, and the time to get it back … I’m faster to shovel.” But, yeah, my payment for work was the opportunity to do more work. You know, that sounds good, doesn’t it.


It’s Good to Have Visitors

Large …P1260073 … and small.



I planted these flowers a year ago, to remember ones I had thirty years before that, and to keep that time alive, and the link, through it, to a woman who kept a garden better than I ever could. Look at the life my gesture brought!

detailbeetleLook at the view of the flower it led me to:


Is this not the art of time?


A Bad Spring for Ants

Here are some apple blossoms, sweet as can be.P1250569Here are some after the weaver ants got at them.


They eat out the core to get at the nectar. Bees are gentler about this. The ants, though, are hungry. Obviously. This small backyard orchard I was visiting is clear of bugs, because of thick layers of mulch, made from chipped trees. It’s a great non-chemical way to keep the asparagus beetles down…


The beetles have to go up and down through six inches of the stuff night and day. They can’t manage it. They don’t. It seems, though, that the desert it creates, as organic as can be, just isn’t good for the ants, so they turn to a starvation diet: apple blossoms. Who knew!


Complex environments have their advantages.



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.

The Art of Tree Pruning

Art is usually discussed in terms of galleries and stages and mp3 files and writing. Yesterday I talked about pruning trees as art. Just click here, if you missed it. I’ll expand on that a little. Here’s a tree I pruned last week. This is a Macintosh apple tree. It’s probably about fifty years old. macHere’s another. This is a Starking Red Delicious tree, about fifty years old.


One of the things about the art of pruning is that the artwork, a sculptural process, involves the sculpting of life, not of inert material, and the sculpting of it over time. One sculpts the life energy of the tree, at the same time as which one works with previous sculptural forms of the tree. Notice, for example, the leafy furze on the top surface of this red delicious’s limbs.

detailThese are the result of long practice at cutting all of the upper growth off the limbs, especially last year, when no other pruning was done. The work now is to let the tree relax and turn that leafy growth into fruiting wood. It’ll take two or three years. After five, the tree will have stabilized. In other words, in order to prune a tree, one works with time. It’s not something that one does alone. This truth suggests to me that the concept of the individual artist either working alone or as part of a collective, to produce art works in the present, is a constriction not much different than the walking path cutting up the hill in the background of the image above. It is designed for people to walk on and look out from, but when seen from outside a human perspective, it’s as mis-placed as the mechanical, artless clipping of upper limb growth is on the red delicious apple tree. Here’s another truth of orcharding:



Yup, it’s not what one intends that is art, nor is it entirely what happens by chance. It’s a dance. It can be made by people, but the earth is always there, even if hidden deeply, and the art is ultimately hers, not ours.



Remember Those Cherry Trees I was Pruning

At the beginning of April? Yes? No? Well, here they are again, as April opens into the light.

April 4, 2014 … Harold has gone to photograph bluebirds!

And just a few days back? Here are the cherries in full blossom. Imagine the fruit! The trees will be red with it. What a joy to have helped the trees find this balance.

P1250353People call this work? I’ve moved on to the apples.

P1250367Spartan Tree in Its Last Years

Note the dead branches, from sour sap…but not dead yet!

And to think that all orchards like this have been torn out and replaced with either houses or with industrial, high density blocks, grown with fertilizers and hormones, pruned with hedge clippers, to last ten years before being ripped out. Why, with orchards like that, you couldn’t do this …P1250383

…you couldn’t prune a man’s trees long after he was dead, and by following what he did in the past be with him … work with him in fact… and learn, and be together. Yes, it’s still possible to prune as an art form, here and there. Don’t let anyone tell you that fruit-growing is an industry. That is only a statement that the ignorant make.


Biscuit Root Makes History

I found a rich community of biscuit root growing on a scree slope. They’re hard to harvest there (which is, likely, why they’re still there), but they love it.
star 2Beautiful Biscuit Root in Bloom, Vernon

Is this essential Syilx crop still present in this spot in abundance because people, pushed into extreme poverty and fenced off from most of their territory, just couldn’t dig these ones up? Or is it because no cow in its right mind, set to graze on Syilx gardens and grasslands, would clamber over the darned scree and risk breaking a leg to chew them off year after year until they just up and died? I dunno. It does suggest, though, that in the Okanagan we should inventory rocky spaces as refugia, like the mountaintops that carried exotic species through glaciation. In this case, though, the “glaciation” is social, political and racial. In a place in which history was erased by being turned into a collection of anthropologist’s notes, this  plant is history; it is alive.


Wild and Domestic Bees

Grassland bee (note the pollen)….

Apostemon Bee on a Mariposa Lily (Bella Vista)

Most people here don’t know these beauties exist, and by that I mean both the flower and the bee.

And some domestic bees (only a couple with pollen … feel free to click the pic to have a closer look).

P1250239Hive in an Industrial Cherry Orchard, Lake Country

Most people here don’t realize that farms are multi-million dollar industrial factories. I bet the bees know.

Because hives like this are moved very quickly to allow for pesticide spraying in the orchard, they are continually foraging in emerging conditions, that do not bring wealth to the hive.