By These Fish We Take Our Measure

From the shore where fresh water mingles with salt ….mount

…and the tide comes in and out and humans erect the stories of themselves they have always lifted into the sky…up

… and the stories of their shadows come to joke and feast …


… to the tidal river, where salt water meets with fresh and forests are brought in from a depopulated coast …


…and where people tell stories of conquest …

simonfraser… as if it were a game for children …soldier

… and build ancestral poles to live in, above a train station decorated with gigantically-enlarged computer pixels and a banner that Canada is “a tent upon a hill” …


… to the gravels laid bare by the drought created by the falling of forests far upstream and the burning of coal across the ocean that both paid for it and brought its people to it …

P2000133… and the Nlaka’pamux fishery idled at the feet of the old trail between the grasslands and the sea….P2000075… by the need for a few fish to find some place cool enough to spawn …

P2000140… fish which are stranded in channels cut away from their route upstream through the fresh-water tide zones that rise and fall each year …P2000200

… by 150 years of railroad and highway infill, such as here at Chapman’s Bar …


… the fish, the great sockeye salmon of the Fraser …
P2000193 … are having troubles making it home this year ….P2000122…as the rains come too late …P2000194 … and in the warm water …P2000189

… our ancestors die too soon. P2000196 As we grieve for them after their journey to the open Pacific …P2000111 … and back …P2000128 … it is vital to remember … P2000094 … that this is not a romantic or bittersweet story …P2000100

… and it is not a story of nature and its excess and abundance, and the birth of life in death and renewal or any other such story …P2000088

…this is the year in which a people who have built a tent in which to live upon a hill watch the fins rot off of their ancestors ….P2000191… who circle idly…P2000099…unable to go on …P2000095…while we pray for rain to cool the rivers for the few with some muscle left, and for those which will follow …P2000190

…including us, who come from no tent but from these mountain tides …

P2000082 … and these ancient mid-Pacific volcanoes cast up onto the shore and ground down into bone …P2000216

… and rain …

P2000161 … and the memory that is not a looking back…P2000170

…  but a looking forward. Here are some of those sockeye salmon from the Horsefly River, two weeks of salmon travel north, in 2006.


…and here again today, as the glaciers melt away …


By these fish we take our measure.

Environmental Crime in the Grasslands

It is time to set the one ton beasts out to munch.P1980895


Here is a muncher in her lunch.P1980843


And here are the kids playing on the rocks.



Now, in the spring these folks aren’t out here on the grass, but now, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius, as they have for a month, out they go! They don’t have time for me. Here is one of the cows giving me the once over.





But it doesn’t last. She is awfully hungry and it’s a lot of work finding something to munch. The grass, as you can see, is cheatgrass. Although in March and April it is lush and green, and would make good pasture, at this time of year it’s an ocean of spear-pointed seeds that you’d have to be insane to try to eat. Still, you have to try. It makes you a little dazed, really.



The image below shows one of her sisters demonstrating just how slim pickings are, by standing in the midst of a stand of mustard gone to, well, wood fibre, really. Plus the cheat grass. Note how she appears to be picking her teeth with that stuff.



Is this the look she’s aiming for?



Josh Harnett: American Stick Chewer

Dunno. She did, however, show me her survival technique, out in this time warp of weeds:

P1980868 P1980867


This is yellow salsify, an invasive weed. It covers less than 1% of the land area, and is the only thing that these cows have found to eat here. Well, there’s the dalmatian toadflax. That’s the nibbled-on green stuff sticking up out of the cheatgrass below, but it’s mildly poisonous to cattle and they hate the taste of the stuff, hence the mild nibbling only.


Someone should tell those calves …


 … that before the land was mis-grazed by their ancestors, it looked a bit like this:


Blue-bunched wheat grass was high in protein, because it was rich in seeds.


If you graze it for more than two weeks in the spring, you exterminate it. Note how little green is growing amidst those dead, rain-gathering stalks. Now, take a look at the difference in the land in the image below. The top half of the image is the territory of 1000s of acres belonging to these 6 cows and the man in the large truck who bumps along inspecting his empire. The bottom half of the image below shows the bunchgrass they’d get out to — a couple acres of deer grazing land burnt off by a fire two years ago and regrowing nicely.


This is called farming.


Creation is Now

Water flows.waterSometimes this flowing takes 100,000 years. Here’s the bed of a glacier from 12,000 years ago, under the deepest part of the continental ice. This was the divide. 2 miles of ice reached up from here. The last of it formed this lake at the foot of the subglacial rivers this tree is growing upon. Look at the tree. It reaches up. It’s stiff, because it’s made of carbon.P1980188

But carbon, that is bound with water, bends, not like the water, and not like the straight arrow the fir aspires to above, but like that fir, and these sedges, half way between hydrogen and oxygen molecules and carbon itself, it bends, it flows, it sways, it springs back and it climbs the ladder of carbon chains, up and up and up.P1980005

Look at these spruce and pines, citizens of fire between the flowing of the sea through the air and the winter’s snow, molten and rippling with the energy of the turning earth.P1980379


The fire will come, and take its carbon, but for now, ah, now it is the time of water talking to light.



Last image: Bowron Lake.

Other images; Big Bar Lake.

All images © Harold Rhenisch 2015.

Spirit Eels in the Grassland

A few weeks back I went to Asotin, where the Moray eels used to come up from the sea to spawn. Chief Looking Glass’s camp was there, at the fishery. Here’s the creek, again.


See how she flicks her tail out into the current of the snake, like an eel? For reference,  here’s a moray eel.


During my time in Nimíipuu country, on the Clearwater and the Snake, in early June, I learned that every village is backed by rounded hill formations, and faces expressive, jagged ones in which it is easy to read animal forms. So I made the trip across the Snake to stand at the mouth of Asotin (eel) Creek to see what I could see. To my surprise (and joy), I saw an eel, facing the stream mouth from the Idaho shore.

Such mysteries.

Note: An imagined eel is no less powerful in determining human relationships to the environment, and hence the sustainability of the environment, than a physical one. “Nature” is an idea imposed on this spiritual space.

Environmental Consciousness is Not Optional

Goethe, the poet, pointed out that all plants express one single energy, that opens through the life cycle of each plant as well as through the diversity of all plants. In his spiritually-inspired Science, colour was an edge effect, between vision-in-darkness and vision-in-light, and displayed not light but the mood of the observer.

What a gorgeous mood!

To accept such a means of thought, it’s necessary to accept that human thoughts aren’t particularly individual, that they are, in effect, part of the air, and flow through us.


My Evening Mood, Yesterday

It’s an elegant theory. It binds light with plants, and both of them with observers. It places humans not on the outside of Creation, but at its heart. It means that when the red root pigweed takes on defensive action against the heat …


… humans are the heat. It’s not that there is a high pressure zone holding over this valley, or that some form of global warming is doing its thing — both are true — but that those are less than the ethical responsibility to be this heat now.


Only by being the heat can you see.


Wild Bee Burrow

Only by being the heat can you know yourself. Yes, when you are the heat, this is you: a part of yourself long separate but meeting now, after all this time, with the wisdom of differing experience.


It’s called respect.

Growing Food Without Water in the Hot Okanagan

Well, it’s dry, eh. And hot. Whew. P1960593

This is 9:30 A.M. The afternoon was 38. (That’s 100 for you folks down south.)

Forests are burning up. Smoke everywhere. P1960538 All the upland water still being evaporated by the city on the dry hills. Surreal. P1960611 People in town are being asked not to water their lawns. “The lawns will come back,” the officials say. Yeah, right. P1960603 Shrubberies are toast. Wait. Aren’t those coastal shrubberies? What’s with that? I count 7 dead ones at $30 a piece. Crikes! P1960616 And look at this hill, eh. Nothing will grow here without irrigation, that’s for sure. (Those are irrigated trees around a house up top.) P1960687 But, wait, what’s that in the centre of the picture? P1960688 Ah, asparagus growing wild. Without water, except what is shed by that rock. So, maybe not that dry, eh. Maybe it’s a matter of getting one crop off and then having a rest. How many crops come off an agricultural field in a year, anyway? One, usually. Whoa, what’s this, two months back? P1810242 Flax! P1810232 That’s two crops! And, blow me over, what’s this, just to the left of the asparagus, growing on no water but what is shed from the rock? P1960690 Feral plums! P1960696 That’s three crops. Oh, and on the rock? Yeah, watch your step. Again, two months ago. P1830598 Prickly pears! And what grows in cracks in these rocks? P1950621Saskatoons! P1950619 That’s five crops. How many is enough? They are growing with no water. This land isn’t dry. Inappropriate agricultural and water technology is dry. The land is fruitful. It’s close to the end of the year. In a couple weeks it will be the dry season here: effectively winter. People will be on the lake, splashing around in their summer, but that’s all in their heads. So, are those the only crops? No, not exactly. In a ditch down the hill, where it’s even hotter, there’s this:P1960559Feral apricots! And in the ditch just around the corner from our asparagus, cared for and watered by no one, there’s this: P1960626 Feral apples! I could go on. The only drought is a drought of knowledge and technology, coupled with an insistence that food must be grown on private land and then either sold for a profit or donated to charity, by people who have paid for it, to be given to the people who can’t afford to pay for technologically-produced crops. It’s insane. To take productive grasslands, with a dozen or more food crops across a season, and reduce them to farmland for two generations and then let them go to this, on a principle of private ownership is a betrayal of the common good. It is theft. P1960705 You see, that’s not hay. That’s weeds being baled and sold for whatever marginal amount of nutrition there’s in it, to maintain low farm taxation status. Oh, and this…P1960666 No, that’s not a fallow field. A fallow field isn’t weed-killed from one end to the other and let to bake to nothing. A fallow field has a rejuvenating crop on it, to build up its microbial environment, which is the real soil. That’s a dwarf apple orchard in the middle of the picture, and a field of decorative pumpkins in front of it. This is not farming. This is farming:   P1800658That’s the fall crop. (The sagebrush are the result of unethical over-grazing by cattle.) By the time the deer can be harvested in October, early spring’s crop will be sprouting. When the sunbathers by the lake are skiing on the mountain, spring’s crop will already be growing under the snow, which is not, by the way, cold. It acts as a grid of tiny lenses, creating a greenhouse 5 millimetres high. That’s enough. In mid-March, it will look like this, on what are now the driest of slopes. p1600207   Lambs quarters! Better than spinach. This is not a dry country. If there is dryness, it means someone created it. That means it can be reversed. The real global warming is not an effect of smokestack and tailpipe carbon emissions. It is the effect of 19th century technology and thought applied in ignorance. It’s time to apply what we know and start over, in earnest, with open hearts and open eyes, and to listen to the robin wait. P1960557   Everything in its season. rowan1

Water Theft and Aboriginal Title in the Canadian West

This is a post about the proper technique for corralling (Indigenous) people by speaking sideways. But don’t take it from me. Have a look.


That’s an orchard in Oliver, British Columbia. It was made out of a ranch that an Irishman ran there a century ago on land he took from the Osoyoos Indian Band.



Tom Ellis

The world used to be in black and white.

After Ellis got old and sold out, the land was planted in orchards, for old Canadian soldiers to have something to do, and for the European settlers who replaced their fallen brothers, and now it is sitting there, waiting to be turned into a strip mall, with asphalt parking lots and everything. The reason the trees are standing in such chain-sawed, non-irrigated shape is to demonstrate that the land is not viable for agriculture and thus open to “development”, which means asphalt. Yes, you can go sky-diving, though, and see it all from way up high.



Fun, Fun, Fun!

Instead of giving the land back to the Osoyoos Indian Band once ranching had worn it down to dust, it was given water, which … well, led to more dust. As for ranching …


…his was once a land rich in grass. In a decade, it was eaten down to what you see above. What those early cattle really did was to eat the water capacity of the land down to dust, and it’s dust we’re left with. Those early bunch grasses were water harvesting and storing devices. With them, the land was not dry. It’s only dry when you put cattle on it. And it stays that way.



Summerland Silt Bluffs

Note the old cattle fence wire. No need for it anymore. 

Just the other day a friend told me, “But, Harold, that’s how the game is played. If you don’t play it, people will take your share.” Well, that sounds important. Let’s have a look. Maybe we can figure out the rules of this thing.


That’s the north end of Swan Lake. You’re looking at a small Okanagan Indian Band fishing and duck-hunting reserve that is now used to grow weeds and billboards, and a farm in behind, not on the Reserve, kicking up dust. I’m not sure why farming has to have so much dust. I think it’s because it’s cheaper to make dust than not to. But leave that. You are also looking at Swan Lake. Keep your eye on Swan Lake. The thing about land is that the government sold it all, even though it didn’t own it. The thing about water is that the government kept it all, even though it didn’t own it, either. Truth: government here never settled treaties with the Indigenous people of this or almost any other region of British Columbia, a place the size of Germany. The reason that is a deceit is this (sorry for the dry reading):

Treaty first nation water reservations


40  (1) If the final agreement of a treaty first nation describes a water reservation for water use purposes specified in the agreement, other than a power purpose, that British Columbia is required by the final agreement to establish in favour of the treaty first nation, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may establish that water reservation for those purposes.

(2) A water reservation established in favour of a treaty first nation under subsection (1) is deemed to be a water reservation under section 39.

British Columbia Bill 18-2014, Water Sustainability Act.

Earlier in the Act, the government declared that all water belonged to it, and here it’s saying that the Indigenous people of the place must sign a treaty in order to get some of that water. In a place that’s dry, that’s the same as saying they can’t have land unless they sign away their Indigenous rights to the land. (Note: the Indigenous rights are substantial, have been consistently upheld in the Canadian Federal Courts, and amount to independent governance by sovereign nations, as partners with Canada. That would make them a third order of Canadian governance. It’s pretty clear.) So is Bill 18. Other than the attempt to give Indigenous people their own water by forcing them to first sign treaties, it says many other startling things. Here’s one (again, dry as dust):

the Lieutenant Governor in Council may reserve all or part of the water that is in the stream or the aquifer, and that is unrecorded and unreserved and is not dedicated agricultural water, from being diverted or used under this Act except as provided by section 6 (2), (3) or (4) [use of water].

British Columbia Bill 18-2014, Water Sustainability Act.

Got that? Agricultural water trumps Indigenous water, at the will of the government. Here’s another startling thing (dust, dust, dust, dust, dust):

(5) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may cancel a reservation established under subsection (1) effective on a specified date, which date must not be earlier than 30 days after the date of publication of the notice under subsection (6) (a).

British Columbia Bill 18-2014, Water Sustainability Act.

Got that? Indigenous rights to land, which go back 10,000 (?) years, and which are often based upon fishing in the rivers that flow through that land, can be cancelled at any time, with thirty days notice. That’s really in complete conflict with indigenous rights, but it is in complete accord with Tom Ellis. Oh, heck, here’s a third amazing (dust dry) thing in the act:

Issue of new licence

42  If a licence is acquired by

(a) a regional district under section 309 (1.1) [expropriation of water licences and related works] of the Local Government Act,

(b) an improvement district under section 749 [power to expropriate water diversion licences and related works] of that Act, or

(c) a municipality under section 31 (2) [expropriation of water licences and related works] of the Community Charter,

the comptroller may issue in place of the acquired licence a new licence having the same precedence but authorizing the diversion or use of water for any water use purpose required by the regional district, improvement district or municipality, as applicable.

British Columbia Bill 18-2014, Water Sustainability Act.

Got that? Municipal water use has no restrictions, and can include agricultural use. Presumably, if an Indigenous Nation turned itself into a municipality, and ceded Indigenous title and all its power, it could easily get water, for any purpose, including agricultural irrigation, which, as we read above, is a water use that supersedes all others. Indigenous nations don’t wish to do this, of course, but if they don’t they may be continually squeezed by surrounding municipalities, including surrounding Indigenous municipalities. And so people are being corralled by secondary characteristics. The land obviously belongs to British Columbia’s First Nations? No problem. Just turn the water off and then tell them they can have it all back if they cease to be aboriginal. It’s the same old game that has been played since 1858. It’s a blocking action, to force treaties. Now, here’s something to consider:

It is not the purpose of government legislation to ask people to surrender their inalienable personal, family and community rights to get them back.

We are people, families and communities. A legitimate government, especially one priding itself on common law, is one that supports that. Oh, our matriarch? Here she is.


Unsustainability in the American North West

It is the task of every culture to sustain itself, and it is the task of every culture to provide the tools to its people, that they can use to sustain themselves after the culture is no longer sustainable. Such changes can happen rapidly. Future resilience is a function of present foresight.


Even plums, with their huge genetic variations and varying maturities, know that. It is not sustainable to pump water into the air to cool restaurant patios 6 degrees, when that water could have created a plum tree and cooling shade.


Old Glory at Full Droop in Leavenworth, Washington.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the USA have laws against flag abuse?

This is the ancient Icicle Creek fishing camp of Chief Owhi’s people on the Washaptum River, that saw 4,000 people fishing every year since the salmon arrived after the last ice age. Now it’s a fake Bavarian village evaporating Owhi’s water into the air because, well, because it isn’t a Bavarian village, that’s what. It’s a collapsed lumber town with an advertising budget.


It’s really not right to steal water from people (Owhi had an agreement, in writing, which was consistently and rather cynically disregarded until the document was lost, to keep this site for his people) and then throw it away for the benefit of bored, wealthy people from the rainforest across the mountains, who can’t cope with bad architecture or the heat it creates. The actual wastage of water is based on an idea from the pop culture of science — that water gets recycled in the atmosphere and is never lost. Sure, but it’s lost to here, and that matters. This is a planet, not a test tube or a high school text book. Here’s Owhi’s fishery, for the record.


And here.


Before the river was regulated by a dam high in the Cascade Mountains, water flowed among these stones and men fished among them for the prized Washaptum salmon. If you look closely, you can see where people came, just days before I arrived, and wrote lightly on the rock, in an ancient language that looks a lot like the one below, at Buffalo Eddy, a similar fishing spot on the Snake River to the east. The one on the Snake is thousands of years old. The new one is impermanent, because this kind of knowledge has to tread lightly now. It has learned to pass secretly.


Frankly, it’s the knowledge below whose days are numbered.


Does a Sausage Shop Really Need to Do this?


The same energy that would have Captain Wright of the U.S. Army ride across from the U.S. occupation of Owhi’s cousin, Chief Kamiakin’s ancient summer camp at Mool Mool Spring to haul five innocent men out of the Icicle Camp and order them to be summarily shot them to force Owhi to betray his allies so that their legal Indian Reservation stretching from the Washaptum to the Canadian border could be reversed is, I propose, the energy that can take precious water and squander it without any respect or need. There is no disconnect. Such betrayal of life energy never goes unpunished. The continued tolerance of such acts (Wright and his commanding officers went on to fight in favour of slavery in the American South.) makes all of us an endangered species, and puts all of us at the mouth of his rifle. God help us all. And against this? Against this we have plums.


That’s pretty much it.


O Canada

Today has been a day of flag-waving and celebrations of the country of Canada. This celebration is centred around this image:


Canadian National Symbol

A Tree That Doesn’t Grow in my Country, an American retail chain, and a Chinese stick.

As images of Canada have become more nationalistic, militaristic and corporate over time, the old patriotism I once felt has disappeared, and, I promise, it was intense and proud. I have friends who claim that they realized how Canadian they were when they travelled abroad. When I travelled abroad, I realized how little I, as a man of the orchards and the grass, was a Canadian. I used to celebrate Canada as a peace-keeping nation. Now that it has foregone this role, I am left stranded. This, however, is my Canada, and one I can celebrate.



This is the oldest building in Washington, USA. It sits proudly and honoured in Frenchtown in the Walla Walla Valley. It is a Canadian métis cabin, one of the ones that survived the Cayuse War of 1848, which was, in part, a consequence of Great Britain’s gift of my country, the Columbia, to the United States in 1846. The men who built these cabins along the Walla Walla and Touchet rivers and their tributaries were Iroquois, Scots and French métis Hudson’s Bay Company men, largely from the Red River settlement in today’s Manitoba. Long before Louis Riel, the métis patriot, certainly long before Canada existed as a country and before my part of Canada, British Columbia, existed as a legal entity or even by name, this was Canada: a united First-Nations-Settler culture. This cabin represents modernism, set within the old ways. Around these cabins were the settlements of the Cayuse, Palouse and Walla Walla People, many of whom were the wives of the men who put them up. I love this Canada. It was sold to the United States. Consequently, it is a country that never was, yet which remains very much alive: a cross-cultural nation, at home in this place. That is something that in Canada’s 148 years Canada has not yet achieved, but which it retains in potential. It is to that potential that I still remain true, for that is Canada.


This is what you see when you look inside Canada’s windows in the Americanized Walla Walla.

Matisse and the Nez Perce

Reading the sky, I’ve just realized, is not a matter of translating the dramatic movements of clouds and light into words or ideas, but reacting to them in the manner of responding to art. This moment, in other words…

P1960203 … is like this one …


Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Open Window, Collioure, 1905. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The differences are ones of culture, not differences in kind. Translating this kind of knowledge into words is not going to lead to understanding, but it does lead to windows, which can be opened. However, they’re not the only ones. In the Matisse, the contrast between the two-dimensionality of the canvas, the scene that is rendered on it, the three-dimensional techniques of the painter and the three-dimensional brush work opens up entire universes of body-mind-spirit experience. You don’t have to translate it. You just have to enter the edge of those brush strokes. There’s life there. The same with the image below, from the Snake River in Idaho.


Note the depth of the palette of the dune forms in this ancient medicine plant field, from the sand dunes on the hill (brought to view by light-coloured weeds brought on by over-grazing) to the bunch forms of the wheat grass in the foreground, to the domed form of this sacred rock (like a sweat lodge with a mouth). The patterning opens many doors which can be apprehended and read without language. It was this presence in the earth that was one of the things that made it so hard for the Nimíipuu to accept agriculture when Henry Spalding, the missionary who tried to lead them to a gentle image of Christianity by whipping them, tried to bring them to in 1836. Putting a plow to this would have been like slashing this …


André Derain (1880 – 1954), Mountains at Collioure,1905. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

… with this…


It is an incredible degree of violence, that Henry David Thoreau equated with slavery. It was industrial agriculture which he saw as the threat to the success of democracy in the United States. In the image below, we are on the Fort Bethold Agency in North Dakota in 1941, just months before the United States entered the Second World War after pushing the Japanese into a corner with sanctions.



The image below, also from the Snake, which shows the moon trapped by a road cut (inhabited by swallows), an abandoned fence and a community of weeds, is the view from one of those windows I mentioned. This one is the window of history.


Walking back is not possible. Walking forward is. Art is a path with great potential. Hey, it might lead us here…


… to Buffalo Eddy, where Matisse would feel at home.


I do.