Where the Heart is Home: A Celebration

I love this land. I guess you know that. I am this land. Other writers might talk about identity and ego and alter ego and personality, but I just want to take you out to the bitterroot, to the old ones, and help you to see what I have learned to see. Look!

bitterroot

Straight out of volcanic ash 55,000,000 years old, way down south in the John Day Hills. This the land itself. Look at her. I don’t expect you to understand. How could you? But if you want to know why I keep at this, look.

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Isn’t my country beautiful? Aren’t I blessed to be a part of her? Isn’t this a great responsibility? I used to think my country was the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. Now I know it is a collection of tropical volcanic islands that are continuing to collide with North America, stretching from Yellowstone and the Giant Redwoods, north to Alaska. I live in the middle of all that, but way in the south, ah, my heart is there as much as it is here. Others who live in my country, who call themselves Canadians and Americans, as I did before I began these journeys of close attention to the red earth, have their universities and their literatures, their psychologies, their economies, their arts councils and business investment banks. I just have the land now.

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Ah, but look at her!  Today, it has been 1000 journeys into the grass for us here on Okanaganokanogan. I have learned to read the land’s stories. Look.

turtle3That’s an ancient story, in the bed of Dry Falls. Most of the fresh water of the world, when the world still had fresh water, flowed over this stone turtle, and made it in its shape, out of basalt cliffs like the one you can see in behind. Now I get to walk through it at 45 degrees Celsius, which is about the right temperature, if you ask me. I’ve learned to see gravity, too.

gravity

And good friends have battled up against it with me, in a kind of dry land surfing. Oh my. I’m still the farmer, though, although I’ll never have a farm. I’m the man with his roots in 10,000 years of a conversation with the land, or is it 20,000 years, or 50,000? Look below. This is the place. It’s on the John Day River. It’s seen better days, sure, and has been replaced now by the industrial farms of the Columbia Basin, but look at her. I could live there, if borders didn’t cut my country into bits. The junipers on the hills, with my grandfather’s spirit in them. The volcanic rock, the only rock for me. The bunchgrass, that drinks the sun and the rain. The willows on the river, that speak the wind, the river running over tumbled stones, that sing, the sagebrush that drinks the heat, the heat, the mountain’s shadow, that is always moving, and the trees, with their peaches and cherries for Portland, all grown in conversation with the land. It could be ancient Persia. It could be Afghanistan. It could be Iceland, but it is here. This is my rock. The reward for working here is just the chance to be here, talking to the earth with my hands and my eyes and the heart in my chest. Go ahead, click on the picture. It’s wide. It might not speak to you of the coming together of forces it speaks of to me, but then, perhaps, you didn’t learn the world first from peach trees, as I did, and only then from books and people, in that order. These are my people. Look at them, thriving there in the sun! Look at them catching it in their arms.

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A thousand posts! Look at my people, soaring above Umatilla Ridge.

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So what now, eh? Well, there have been efforts to turn me into a salesman, to sell this story. There have been efforts, to take the vision out of me and replace it with arguments of utility, for the building of new agricultural technologies, but, come on. This is my real story. This is why I’m here. This stone raven at Peshastin. Click on it. Look at the head that’s in its eye.  Somehow has to tell the story of how to live on the land, and how to be it.  Someone has to say, we can do this. It’s easy. You just have to give yourself away with a full and open heart.

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Oh, I have new crops and new technologies here. I have a history, that starts here, not in London or New York. I have a book about the sun, and about rethinking nuclear fission, using this land and its sun. I have all that, and you soon will, too. The books are in the works, but it’s a huge job. After all, I don’t have the university to do this work, and my brothers and sisters, the writers of this country, they’re largely writing for Canada and the United States.They might not want to be, but we have to walk this path together, step by step, with the bunchgrass brushing at our thighs. We’re getting there. By the end of the year, things should look pretty grand. Look at what I’m working on now…

When I raise my arm to point out a hawk diving on a quail in a field of wild grass, I am plunging my arm into the sun. It’s all sunlight, right down to the surface of the soil. I walk through it. It flows over my skin.

I love that. I love living in the sun. It’s like that here. I can’t explain it. I’ve tried. But, hey … it’s a big job. Look, I can take you there, if you like.

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Yes, that’s right. The sun is the earth. the earth is the sun. They complete each other. They were never apart. That’s Mount Hood above there, to give her a traditional name, if that helps. Beautiful, isn’t she. In my country, the earth is within the sun. I can’t explain it. But I can take you there. That’s what I can do. Here’s where I found my heart in the land.

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That’s my self portrait. That’s Palouse Falls. Does it look like a man? Of course not. But it’s where I am now, after 1000 posts on Okanaganokanogan. We’re not done yet. We’re still walking. There’s still so much to love here. Thanks so much for walking with me in this grass, and through this rock. I could not have done it without  your encouragement. A thousand posts. 30,000 photos. 20,000 hours.That’s just amazing. This, though, just below, is what it’s all about. Look at the goddess of this land, the cicada, shedding her skin.

Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she worth living for? Isn’t she worth great praise?

 

Cascadia: Where the Sea Breaks on the Land

Cascadia is the place where water, air and land meet …P1790797 … in waves …P1790671 … and boundaries.P1790695

The stones here …

P1790702 … are also part of the mixing of water and light ….P1790681 … in foam …

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… just as the mountains are the foam on waves of stone…

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… or cloud…

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This is life on the Cascadia subduction zone, where the seabed dives under the land and lifts it into the sky. Even the smallest stones hold this energy …

P1790700 … created as they are …P1790654 … out of chains of widely varying, volcanic tropical islands …P1790774 … that have crashed like stone surf on the North American shore.P1790783They are as varied as each wave is varied..
P1790729 … broken and welded together time and time again as each wave is broken and reformed.P1790726 These are the mysteries.

P1790708 This is how you know you are home.P1790661 Here the elements are brought together in a roll of eternal energy.P1790674

On the other side of the mountains, this roiling surf becomes the story of time, or gravity, which is to put it more clearly.

P1800583Here, all life is jumbled together, just as on the stones on the beaches hundreds of kilometres to the west, but they follow each other, each using the water, the stone, and the light in turn.

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Already, in early May, the lichens and mosses have finished their half year in the light. Now their winter begins. Their spring was in October.

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The cheatgrass that started growing then, is also finished. Look how red it is between the native bunch grasses, which also began growing in October, and are in their glory now. In a few weeks, they will retreat to smouldering green cores, while the lilies shoot out of the soil and catch the bees in the air.

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Plant by plant, water is used in a  balance with the changing pressure of the air, and so the breaking water of the Pacific is stilled. The wild sunflowers have already put out their seeds, before spring has properly begun. The mule deer have already grazed them off, while the choke cherries flare in the arroyos and the lupines turn the yellow sunflower hills blue.

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Wave after wave after wave, that is the action of the sun and the ocean crashing on the continent’s shore.

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Those of us who live here …

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… make trails, like this mule deer and coyote (and the porcupine in winter) track…

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… that flow like water over the land, always finding the easiest gradient, always going to the interesting places. If you don’t follow coyotes and deer in this country, you will get lost. It’s all topsy turvy, in a balance of gravity and wind…

burn … and water. This is the Farwell Canyon grassland … as much a part of the rainforest as the giant, moss-hung cedars of the Coast, where the winds off the Pacific, and the Pacific’s stone, first strike the shore …middle

… but here, where they break in foam. This is Cascadia, where even winter and summer meet in waves…

moses … and mountains speak ….umatilla … and shore dunes are hundreds of kilometres inland and lifted hundreds of metres into the sky.dune It is a sacred land.wenatchi It is not breaking. It is opening.P1770653

There is work to do here.

P1740106 Good work.

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Sacred work.

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There are many misunderstandings to be healed. Here is a buck swimming across the Hanford Reach to the plutonium reactors. In a minute he’s going to climb out and walk among them.

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Yes.

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Cascadia is the greater reactor.

stones P1680668 grasssky grass It has its mysteries.ripply2 It has an owner.

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We are the children here. We are the new ones. The land is old.

P1680996 It covers our errors, if we give it a chance.white It is watching.

P1650635 It is waiting.

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It is on fire.

P1640386 There is no time at which the fire is extinguished, and not time at which the fire is only fire.P1640324

There are words for this.

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We are Marmot!

Do rocks collect saskatoons because they are focal points of life in the story of the land?P1770657

 

Or because they collect heat and rain?

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It’s a question that goes to the deepest and most specific points of the land, as the mature saskatoon in the split rock above and the young one in the split rock below show.

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Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space, or is every rock’s heat finding expression in a saskatoon, which is the way of things?

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Before you answer, look at the question again: “Is every saskatoon colonizing a favourable space?”

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That’s the language of the American and Canadian invasion of the West. That should be a warning. Here’s one of those rocks, with its spirit, a yellow-bellied marmot, and the daughter of the birds it shares this space with, a saskatoon.

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It’s a major tenet of evolutionary theory that specific species colonize environmental niches, but that’s just language, that’s just words, that’s just cultural material. What is really happening is this:

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It is time to live in this place, as if we were not strangers, because we’re not.

P1770052 We’re this.

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Some Flowers Are More Beautiful After They Have Bloomed

Like poplar catkins, for instance.  Here they are with dandelions…P1760819… and with weird freaky roadside grass ..P1760753

… with  poplar leaves and light …P1760801

… and, heck, might as well throw in some poplar twigs. Those are sacred to the gods, just as the catkins are. Most plants don’t put out such exuberant male flowers! A few stamens and they’re done… but not poplars imported from Italy!

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Well, that sacredness is what we can learn from our ancestors. (From those of us with European ancestors, through our languages. For the rest of us, and any Europeans among us, through the eyes that let us see like this.) From ourselves we don’t have to learn anything, but there are good ways to spend an afternoon.

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With the old ones! What, did we think for a minute that it was all about us?

Reading Stories in the Cliffs

The first thing about reading stories in cliffs is that cliffs are made out of rock. What we see in them is in our own heads. Nonetheless, they allow us to see these things. Human brains are structured to see faces and human, animal or strange rock-creature shapes in such things as this cliff above Kalamalka Lake in the Okanagan Valley of Northwestern North America. Chances are you can see many of them yourself. What I’d like to demonstrate today are a couple ways of “reading” them, which I will expand on tomorrow. Here’s our cliff. What do you see? I see clowns, a lynx, men, women, a woman with a bear’s head, and much more.

cliff

The first kind of storytelling I’d like to demonstrate is what I call…

The Split

It is an energy of division and multiplication, and has, yes, a lot to do with the physical characteristics of women’s bodies and human birth: what opens and comes forth from within. This power is manifest in a few ways in the image above. First is multiplication. Here, human, or human-like, figures develop individually in a stepped sequence each way from the central point of division (0). The narrative consists of the near-musical or mathematical relationship between the variations in the creatures as they divide from the central point.

numbered

The second kind of storytelling that comes from this reading of human bodies and bodily space in rock is what I call…

Blossoming

Here, faces rise from within faces within other faces. The narrative comes from the series of transformations, just as in any proper folk tale. Here’s an example of one of the ‘faces’ from above.

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Here it is in rough outline.

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And here it is again with all the faces blossoming out of its features. It is indeed a face made out of faces. Note especially the faces that are the eyes (the upper circles above)…

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A third and complementary way of reading (there are, by the way, many more than 3) has to do with relational sequence. A simple one is a phallic pole. If you wanted to call it a totem pole, to represent your ancestors, I doubt that’s any different than saying it’s a way of representing your subconscious, except that it’s read in the world rather than in the symbolic narrative abstract of an ancestral pole — an important (and closely related) difference. Here’s one:

pole

Let’s look at that again…

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That’s a form of narrative: form rising from form and staring out like a man. Intriguingly, Syilx culture, the culture indigenous to this place, views all life as interconnected, and all life forms equal, with human responsibilities being those of maintaining this balance. Remember, though: this is not a description of Syilx culture or of some kind of magical powers within the rock. However, if you read the rock in this way you will become of this place, because you have written yourself upon it, and there you, inescapably are: a mountain you must care for. The effect could become very powerful if reinforced by stories. And that’s what we’re going to look at next time here on Okanagan Okanogan: linear narratives. Story-telling, in other words. I am working from the premise that a people who came here 10,000 years ago, without traditions of science, would have seen this landscape for the first time, in keeping with shamanic ways of seeing rooted in bodily experience. Every ancient culture has started there. If we don’t get to that tomorrow, too, we’ll get to it the next day!

Elves in “Canada” and Iceland

Elves are all over the place in Iceland, like this one in the elf village at Skutustaðir.

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Well, elves are human-shaped, really, but they can vanish into stone and reappear from it, and more besides. It’s a long story. Imagine my delight when I found them alive and well in a hunk of exposed seabed at 600 metres elevation in my volcanic valley in the west of what is called Canada.

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In Iceland, they take many forms for humans. This is one, on an island in Lake Myvatn, the Lake of Midges.

P1340210 Here’s another from Skutustaðir. Here, the elvish power has formed itself in lichens.P1340083

And here we are again in the Okanagan Valley today. Less Nordic and more like Coyote and his friends from the dreamtime, but, hey, they look like they’re doing well. I’ve passed this hill a couple dozen times, and they haven’t been out. In today’s sun, they sure were.

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Is Harold crazy? No, not exactly. I’ve been hanging around elves in Iceland, that’s all. I’ve learned that the moods that animate me, emanate from the rock.

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I’m thrilled that it is no different here. Well, a little different. Can you make out the Coyote elf below?

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Here, look again, curled up but not asleep.

coyote

It’s good to have friends close to home. It’s difficult to always run off to Iceland.

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Tomorrow, let me explain what’s going on. It has to do with some pretty powerful correspondences between mind and earth. Until then…

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Well met!

The Cougar, Found at Last!

For four years, I have been looking for a cat. I found the eagle, and the turtle. I found a swan, a goose, a duck and a dog that might be a horse. I found all kinds of animals out of the Dreamtime, written in the rock, from Palouse Falls, in the Snake River Watershed, to Grand Coulee in the dry post-glacial bed of the Columbia, to the Wenatchi and the Okanagan in the north of the Columbia Plateau, but the cougar eluded me. Oh, it was plain to see. Up here in the north of the Plateau, there’s a Cougar Point, right next to a Turtle Point, and a Cougar Canyon, but where on earth is the Cougar. I looked and looked. I found a Coyote!

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Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

But a cougar? A very elusive cat. I walked along the far shore of Kalamalka Lake. No cat.park1

I looked more closely. No cat.

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I peered into the distance, from a viewpoint above the old pit house site on the north end of the lake, under the Mountain Goats (stone) of the bluff.

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Not a cat. I hiked to Cougar Point. Nothing.not

I snuck around from the back side (this took a couple years). Hmmm… of the two heads below, the upper one is … a lynx, for gosh sakes. Not a cougar.

head

 

So, why Cougar Point? These things have to fit together into a story, and the story has to be a map, because I don’t think the people who were here 8,000 years ago weren’t smart as all heck. I thought I could look across the valley from Turtle Mountain (another part of the lost story), but I got distracted.

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Who wouldn’t! Still, it was no help. Really no help.

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Sneaky tricky turtles, or what! Messing with my head. I circled around from the west, across the lake.

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I found other bits of the story.

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I went to the far side of the next lake over (these lakes are big, up to 135 kilometres long) and peered across.

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A second Turtle Point! My house is on the slope in behind the isthmus. That cloud shadow is where much of this blog has taken place. Still, no cougar. So, I went back. I decided I had to do this on foot. Here are some of the rocks on the way down through Kalamalka Lake Park to Cougar Point. Lots of story here, but, yeah, I know, no cougar.

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So what is this Cougar Point thing? And right across from it, god bless us, a Cougar Canyon? I kept walking.

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No, not a cougar. That’s a Western Yellow-Bellied Racer! Nice. Finally, I got to the base of Cougar Point, and what do you think I found? No, not a cougar. This is a cougar.

puma

Source.

When pressed, a cougar will eat critters like me, and won’t even pick its teeth afterwards. No, I found this.

 

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Yeah, rocks, right. Well, yeah, but if you click on it to blow it up, I think you’ll find it’s a tumbled pile of skulls, just like you’d find outside a cougar’s lair. I easily count 9… how many do you find? And the cougar? Ah, what a lovely irony. I found it today at last! I’ve been looking at it for years. Here’s my view, from the street in front of my house, over the shoulder of the city to the East.

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Mountains, right? Not so fast. It all depends on the light! This is a story dependent on the season.

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A sleeping cougar…but isn’t that the best kind? (The right hand part of the mountain is the cougar’s head.) The valley leading down to Kalamalka Lake and Cougar Point is behind the foreground mountains (Middleton Mountain in the front an Kalamalka Mountain behind it.) OK, so, new question: why does the cougar look like a clown? Ah, that is a question best answered on another day (In other words, I have a hundred thousand photos to sort through to find the right one! I need a professional curator! Help!)

~

As a closing note for the day, I think it’s possible to read the land as a story, the way it is currently read with maps, with no loss of accuracy or predictability. I have some specific ideas about how this works, which I will be sharing with you over the week to come. Until now, no one has made a map of the old stories. I think it’s about time.

Beautiful Biscuit Root

High above Kalamalka Lake, it is gathering time.P1760015

 

Biscuit Root

In this old garden of sacred stone (I found an elderly Syilx couple sitting in their car, staring at this, reading it intently) …

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… I found a flower I have never seen before in this grassland.

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It likes shade and well drained slopes, in the till above the scree that biscuit root finds so desirable. It’s mighty handsome, especially before it fully opens.

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Hydrophyllum tenuipes, Pacific Waterleaf

The rhizomes and leaves were also greens. It makes sense in an old roadside garden like this, surrounded by many old campfire rings. I’m pretty sure this was an old gathering camp and that people, not so dazzled by huge romantic lakes as people are these days, spent many weeks here in the spring of each year, with a small stream below, deer in the hills…

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… and a view of this…

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Well, without the highway. Ancient trails would have led to that image of birth though, and the winter village below. They still do, even though the old trail would have followed the water.

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And the biscuit root still grows, although, as I figure it, women took one look at sacks of Hudson’s Bay Company Flour back in the day and realized that it was a lot easier to scoop up a cupful of that stuff and make bannock than it was to pound roots for half a morning. Still, the food is here.

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The guy who ran the chipper that did this…

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Even lifted his blade to leave it behind.

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Wouldn’t you?