Riding Across the Face of the Sun: the Case for Beauty

A sail is a solar-powered device, which inserts itself within the intersections of solar, aquatic and atmospheric energy, all of which ultimately formed either by the sun or by the forces of gravitational attraction which created the solar system and which remain in the spinning of the earth.P2010217

Sailing On Lake Okanagan on a Smoky Afternoon

A sail acts, in other words, like water tension, as demonstrated yesterday in the shared (although reversed) mechanisms of the water strider…

… and the leaves of the big sage.

If you missed that post, you can read it here: click. For today, here’s another creature riding the winds of the sun.

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I know, solar winds are winds of energy, photons and waves, ejected from the sub-nuclear processes within the sun. My point is that once they strike the earth, a planet in which light, stone and the orbiting water of crashed comets are united in matrices much like water tension, called life — a planet in which the sun joins with atmosphere and water to lose its straight lines and flow in new form — wings, sails, splayed legs and leaf hairs are all devices for moving through the sun. Your lungs ride boundaries in much the same way. So do these sumac leaves:

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They too are walking on water. They too are riding the winds of the sun. I point this out because the world is beautiful, and this conception fits with the beautiful order of the universe, but also because it can lead to new technological breakthroughs that will bring technological science closer to the universe and will lead technological civilization farther from the impoverishment of the earth. Beauty matters. It can change the world.

Chopaka: the Holy Mountain

At the height of the Cascade Mountains, at the lip of the North Pacific Rainforest, two rivers rise: the Skagit, which flows on through a dam system to provide water for Seattle and seeps on through its delta to overwinter the snow geese of Russia; and the Smlqmx, or the Similkameen, which turns off the other side of the source pebble shared by these two flows and snakes east, down into the dry country and past the sacred mountain at the centre of the world. This is the sacred mountain of the Syilx, the Smlqmx and the Sinlahekin, and all their brothers and sisters in this winding valley. This is the centre of the world, on the ancient Obsidian Road to the shield volcanoes.chopaka

That’s where I’m coming from. Those are my bones. That river is my blood. That air is my breath. My ancestors come from the foothills between the Polish plains and the mountains of Bohemia, and fill me with joy in northern and eastern Europe, but they’re awfully happy to have found the centre of the world, too. Ancestry, spirit and place. Why should those essentials be in conflict?

Return to the Snake River at the End of Time

High above the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, in the southeastern reach of my plateau homeland,  the Camas Prairie catches the sky. The camas once bloomed in blue fields here. Now wheat transforms ammonium nitrate into bread.P1860323And bread into guns.P1860349

Below these fertilized heights, the Snake River flows, in a canyon more than a mile deep.

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It’s a beautiful place.

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I took a boat trip up the Snake in June. The guide said, “The Nez Perce [Nimíipuu] didn’t use this canyon much. There wasn’t much here for them.” He told stories of gold miners, prospectors, steamboat pilots, and sheep farmers. Lots of sheep farmers. Sheep eat grass. Beautiful grass.

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No sheep there now, though. For that, you need sheep farmers, and for sheep farmers you just don’t need your own government dropping this on your head…

That’s “B Reactor” at Hanford, on the Columbia to the west. It produced the plutonium for the Trinity Test and the Nagasaki Bomb and a lot of other warheads as well. Along the way, it produced a mess of nasty isotopes, which were experimentally released into the air, to see what would happen. It killed sheep farmers is what.

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No sheep, see? The remaining sheep ranches have been turned into US Park Service sites. As for the Nimíipuu, well, it’s not true that they didn’t use this land, either. After all, this the trail that Joseph and his band from the Wallowa used to take down to the river, where they overwintered (for half of every year [!!!!!!!]}

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And why? Well, look. A spirit rock.P1880663

 

Spirit rocks, formed by spines of old rock thrust up in the volcanic regime, are great places to fish. In indigenous earth, story and practicality join, but spirit comes first. You can pick a fishing spot by its spirit stories and know there will be fish there. 12,000 years of experience helps.

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And what better place to fish than the mouth of the Salmon River? Here it is, entering the Snake. It’s best to think of it as a living thing.

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In Joseph’s time, and in the time of his ancestors, the Snake (in the foreground) would have been ten times the strength of the Salmon. Now its flow is controlled by dams upriver. It would have backed up into an amazing fishing eddy, rather than the simple curl of a rapid it ends in now. Here it is looking down the Snake, just south of the confluence. Picture look a bit wobbly? Such is boat life.

P1880839 Here is the foreshore of the Nimíipuu winter camp. The mouth of the Snake is to the immediate right.P1880827

Hardly an issue of not using the canyon. Modern roads …

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… are not so smart, like this one slashing across the spirit path down this draw and through the ancient story of stone at its mouth. Here it is closer…

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Talk about being unable to read the land, or the water. The image below looks north, up the Snake. The Salmon is entering from the left. Does it look like we’re eddying in circles?  Such is also boat life.

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Was there ever a better space to spend half your life? The salmon caught just downriver here at the next series of spirit rocks in the Snake sustained Lewis and Clark on their return from their big scientific [spy] journey [reconnaissance] to the Pacific in 1804. They were camped on the other side of the Camas Prairie, along the Clearwater River, at the Heart of the Monster, the place where the Nimíipuu began and, still, the centre of the homeland (well, except for the Camas Prairie, perhaps).

They were starving, because they had tried to pass the Rockies to the east too early in the season, against advice. Three men went to the fishing camp on the Salmon, a hard two days’ journey either way, for a handful of fish, all rotting except for one by the time they got them back. At the camp, they had to stand in line for their fish. It was very early in the fishing season. The few fish that were being caught were released to people from all the bands of the Nimíipuu on a needs basis. The Americans had to wait their turn. That doesn’t sound like an unused river to me. This is what a river looks like when it is used.

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This is what a river looks like when it is unused. Yes, that’s the ruin of a sheep ranch.

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And this is what a canyon land looks like once sheep have trashed it. Not a scrap of bunchgrass in sight.

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What astonishes me is that once the settlers have proven that neither they nor their government can really look after the land, it is not returned to its people and their spirit rocks.

Dunno. I guess the boat guide calling the images at Buffalo Eddy, like the one above, “crap” is a clue. One first step, now that the river is being viewed not as a spiritual story but as a physical one, one of geography and nature…

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Moon Above the Weeds, Asotin

… is to regain the spiritual story within that nature. I don’t mean some New Age world of charms and crystals and good feelings, although that can be beautiful enough. I mean, reading the life energy again in the land…lone

… and rebuilding memory out of it. Right now, B Reactor is forgotten, the Nimíipuu are forgotten, Lewis and Clark are remembered poorly, the Snake is forgotten, the fishing sites and winter camps are forgotten, although it is out of memory that thought and identity is made. Without them, there is no consciousness. The Snake is conscious, in its riverine way. Can you read it here at Buffalo Eddy?

be Shouldn’t all culture be as conscious as that? And with as much life as this:

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Eventually one has to leave the Snake …

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Eventually one has to go back. Next time, let’s go together. Let’s go deep. Let’s go to the river of stone that falls from the sky.

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Let’s start with that.

 

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The Secret That Everyone Knows

Imagine taking a drum, lifted into the sky at the heart of a people, a place of woman’s power for 800 generations, where women and girls gather bulbs in the spring to see their families through the coming winter, bulbs given from the body of the earth to the body of women and the body of the community. Imagine plowing it and turning it into wheat ripened with weedkillers proven to be carcinogens and proven to render sterile the granddaughters of cows fed on plants in which this weedkiller has been merged with their DNA. Imagine doing that. Imagine you’ve been doing that for 2 generations, or 4 generations, or 6. Imagine calling that farming. Imagine calling that health.P1860323

Camas Prairie, Nimíipuu Homeland (Idaho)

Now, imagine not doing that anymore. Imagine you are beating that drum. Imagine you are lifting it into the sky at the heart of a people. Imagine you are lifting the heart of a people.  Imagine it was always within you to both give and receive. Imagine, you are one of the people. Imagine that.

Let’s Get Serious About Global Warming

Sure, the story of carbon emissions is the global warming story, but there’s also the story of the warming that comes from urbanization, and there’s the story that comes from the warming that results from being blind to the wisdom an experience of indigenous knowledge of the land. For example, this:

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Well, no wisdom except a the view from a Smlqmx village site in the Similkameen Valley, with a history of many thousands of years. This is fire country. Fire is natural here, not a disaster, or an aberration. Look, for instance how the smoke through the snout of the mountain into relief. I tell ya, on a non-burning day, you don’t see that, because there are other mountains in behind. When it burns, though, the story is highlighted.

P2000673Global warming, that’s a tricky thing. Huge sums of money have been spent fighting fires this year. This smoke comes from Washington, in the USA. It has blown north and west to come here, in Keremeos.P2000663 Thing is, this village site invited the Hudson’s Bay Company to set up its horse ranch on its boundaries, and a métis packer for the company settled on it, and then an Austrian scout from the Apache wars bought it, and in the third transaction after that, my father bought it. Now, two generations have passed. The old stage coach road I remember is gone. This is serious farming country now. The image below shows where the stage over Green Mountain pulled in and crossed the Keremeos River, which has been downgraded to a creek.

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Here, too.

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These old black locusts (and honey locusts) were planted to grow without water and provide fence posts that would last 100 years. Here’s what’s left of the orchard I planted on the village site (not knowing it was a village) in 1973, out of the trees I learned to graft on:

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That’s right, out of 120 trees, four remain, and next year the one on the left is going to be toast. Here’s what’s left of the fifty acres of trees I planted when I was twelve years old. Yes, in the smoke.

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That’s global warming, too. An orchard my father planted eight years earlier, out of the same varieties, is still productive. The warming here, is a measure of human incompetence. If the farmer who “owned” these trees had known what on earth he was doing, they would have still been alive, and would still be producing. So, when you see smoke…

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…look for the coyote in the rock or the marble on the hill …

P2000661 … see it? …P2000652 That’s Chukuaskin’s grave. He tried for a fair deal for his people. He got a graveyard excavated for a gravel pit, now grown over with weeds.

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Disrespect leads to global warming. If we’re going to turn this around, then respect for the ancestors of this place is the way to do it. I don’t mean my ancestry in the orchards. That’s factory land now.

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I mean the foraging that we referenced with our orchards two generations ago. Here’s some foraging land that has suffered from the warming created by the extraction of capital from it in the mouths of cows that didn’t belong there.

P2000774 And here’s the sagebrush (in the smoke) that represents that warming. This stuff burns like gasoline, and it’s the result of overgrazing.P2000760 What’s to do? Burn it! The hill in the back in the image below burnt three years ago when a kid started playing with a lighter on the corner where a “land developer” (sic) blasted out an 8,000 year old rattlesnake den to build a road to a subdivision and a golf course no-one wants. No sagebrush there in back. Fire would blow through it in a few minutes and fizzle out.  There’d be no smoke.P2000773

Of course, this excess of carbon in the landscape, this warming of the landscape, holds the carbon of the industrial age, in the grass, where it doesn’t belong. Burning might be extreme until the situation is stabilized, but you could cut this damn stuff out with a pair of clippers for 1,000,000th the cost of fighting wildfires and replacing houses that went up like aviation fuel. We could do this. We could bring the grass back, and cool the land. I can see no reason why we should be the holders of the carbon of people who don’t respect people like Chukuaskin. Here’s his vandalized grave three years ago, when the world wasn’t burning.

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Remember, this is the centre of the Smlgmx world. 2,000 people lived here for 10,000 years. Ignoring their knowledge is suicide. It’s horrible that people are losing their homes these days. It would be more horrible if it ever happened again.

Gardening is Just Too Hard

Even if you spend many thousands of dollars to cover most of your whole yard in black plastic tarp and to cover it in river gravel, there is no guarantee of success at beating global warming at its own game, public responsibility or beauty.P2000274

It’s just plain hard, that’s what it is. Instead of beautiful sterile gravel, picture perfect like in a Japanese monastery, you get a dry land sandbar being reclaimed by weeds.

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Even if you spend more money yet and do the whole driveway in asphalt …

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… or concrete …

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… those darn weeds ruin your artwork. How can you have a desert when stuff grows in it?

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Plant pots are no solution. Or decorative wells.

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That peat moss looses water like a sieve, although it does achieve desert status quickly…

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… yet somehow doesn’t quite look like the hills of South Africa like it’s supposed to. I know. I tried marigolds in an old wheelbarrow last year, which was fine until they all withered up, and then the wheelbarrow fell over. What a mess. Here’s a new idea for the transition from irrigated gardening to desert temple:

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The entrance arbour, pegged in with wooden shakes, and honoured with a couple of plastic funerary urns. You don’t need plants to climb the arbour, you don’t need a path, you don’t need gravel, you just need the gesture. Priorities, that’s the thing. In the old Canada, you might have painted the peeling stain on that house before the wood was completely shot, but in the new Canada, the one in transition to a responsible global paradise, there are no rules, and gardening is just plain hard. Why, in the old days you might have sat under your cherry tree and enjoyed its coolness, while you sipped some wine you made of last  year’s crop, but now the wind might blow over your chinese manufactured shade arbour, and then what? Use the wine carboy for decoration, perhaps, but somehow there’s a nagging je ne sais quoi about the whole thing.

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Canadians, you see, do what they’re told. And don’t do what they’re told. All at the same time. And there’s no predicting which it’s going to be, except for disobeying rational traffic rules, neglecting to wear life jackets, and throwing cigarette butts out the window in fire season. That’s predictable, but gardening, no, that’s just plain hard. Sometimes you just have to give up halfway. Those damn rocks are heavy, and they don’t come cheap! Saving the planet, that can’t just be on the shoulders of one person now, can it?

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And if you want to beautify things a bit, say, if you’re a professor of French literature, perhaps, living in farming country, why …

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… your flower stand gets to sit beside a farmer’s bin of junk plastic (to make the soil hotter than it is already) and junk irrigation piping (to deliver water more efficiently) and it all makes for a nice effect, but maybe not the intended one. Such is life in the age of steampunk, by which I mean the age in which gestures are cobbled together from every known source and applied as shakily as the spray from a can of paint on a wall, and with as little regard for context..

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In the city of Kelowna, the city pays to have any such spontaneous display of territory painted over in defence of private property rights and public safety.wall

As you can see above, human weeds are to be dealt with quickly, although not consistently. The vegetative ones not at all. Still, someday it will all look like the image below, in the alleys where Kelowna’s prostitutes hang out, waiting for men to wander over from the parking lot or the tourist street with its street bars and chic bistros …

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It is just freaking hard to inherit a country based on biology, rebellion and renewal and to turn it into expressions of  artistic and legal order. Humans are as bad as weeds.

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Still, sometimes you achieve perfection, with order and flowers, or at least one flower …

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Of course, one prostitute was waiting for custom on the wall facing this one. Hey, a girl needs flowers, doesn’t she?

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I have been reminded lately that to become a popular writer I need to write about people, not landscape. People love to read about other people. We live in a social universe. Yeah, they’re right.

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Unfortunately, it is built upon the earth, and biological history, and those things just won’t obey, darn it.

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They just won’t. Gardening is hard.

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Hans Holbein

Sheesh. We’ve gone from this human habitat …

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… to this one, with razor wire and open temptations …

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… in only 150 years. Sure, more law and order, that will do the trick.

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At the risk of sounding immature, might it be, just maybe, that money can’t buy happiness?

P1810542 And urban planning systems can’t buy gardens?P1790236 And that the image below is not a romantic, ruined, farm building but a social ruin, from the weed-sprayed bottom land, to prevent (sic) weeds from growing on it, to the weed-choked, unproductive grassland on the hill?P1810479

Remember that, next time you get attracted to an image of luxury built on water in the desert. (click)

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Or feel like you might like to romanticize it like this:

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You are the one being gardened, and that is hard work. It will take a lifetime to fit into your plot, but you’ll make it in the end. Don’t worry.

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Chief John Chukuaskin Ashnola’s Grave, Upper Keremeos

This was once the old Smlqmix village of 2000 people. Now it’s Keremeos, the haunt of 1330. Progress, folks!

Someone might knock the cross off, yeah, but the weeds will still be there, hiding the gravel bit just to the left and the highway just to the right. That’s comforting, right? For all of this, I have three words: context is all. It starts here:

University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Kelowna

I think we’d better start getting serious, fast.

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 …

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

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…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” …

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… 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 …

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… 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.

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

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By these fish we take our measure.

Birth and Life in the Grasslands

In the grasslands of the intermountain west, a seed doesn’t need to be planted in the soil. It falls into a crack in the living skin of the earth, which grows over it, takes it into itself, stores it water and brings it forth.crust

Big Bar Esker

The grasslands of the intermountain west are not a series of mountain valleys but cracks in the earth, in which people live. The forests high up above these hot cracks, which protect humans, deer, bears and fish, and concentrate the energy of the forests so these peoples have sustenance, are identical to the cracks that take the grass seed in, only larger, and on a mammalian scale.

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Vaseaux Lake

The Earth is alive here.