A Crown of Rowans for St. Brigid’s Feast Day

Today, I praise the rowan tree. This is her season, as ice breaks to the season of water and birds.

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Rowans with Elf Stone, Eyjafjörðursveit, Ísland

She’s a tree, yes, but look how she wants to lie on the ground. None of the towering heights for her.P1350817

Rowan, Skriðuklaustur, Ísland

And when the light comes, ah, then she is a torch.

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 Good Friday Rowan, Valpjofstaður, Ísland

The Rowan is sacred to Brigid, Saint of Holy Ireland, and to Bride (or Brigid), who came before her (and was no saint), and to Mary, Mother of Christ, and to Thor, god of lightning and thunder. The gender crossover is no big thing. Don’t give it a second’s thought. There was a time on earth when all things that signified the earth’s power most strongly were considered hermaphroditic, neither male nor female, and, after all, don’t humans, who come in several genders, tend to unite and make unions that are neither but are one?

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Male and Female Fruit From a Hermaphroditic Pacific Mountain Ash

Wells, British Columbia

Unlike those sly sumacs and gingkos, a rowan has neither male nor female trees.She knows where she is. Look at her, earth tree, reaching up for the spring moon, with her feet planted firmly on the ground.

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Skjaldarvik, Ísland

Wherever a rowan is found, it signifies the presence of her deities, who might have many names but are also one.

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Thor, Brigid, Bride

For all of you who are of an empirical bent, don’t worry. Gods are just names for powers of the earth. The powers are present, even without the names, although perhaps not yet empirically defined. It’s just a kind of short hand. For those of you who follow the stories of the gods and goddesses, you know what I don’t have to say.

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 Rowan in the Birthplace of the Gods, Ásbyrgi, Ísland

Much of (nearly treeless) Iceland was one treed like this: a few rowans, and a lot of willows and birches. Then people got cold. 

There’s more to the story of the rowan than is written down in history books, but not more than meets the eye. A lot of it has to do with environmental sustainability. A lot of it has to do with her name: in English, rowan, for red; in German, Eberasche, or red ash, or, more precisely, “red spear”. More on the spears in a sec. First, here she is, surprising us and all.

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 Pacific Mountain Ash, Quesnel Forks, British Columbia

Mountain Ash, Rowan, Eberesche, Bird Berry, Thrush Berry, Sorbier, well, you get the idea: a rose all dressed up.

She is glorious in summer, but look at her in her winter time, just last week…

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Rowan has a profound story. Don’t look for it on Google, though. This is one you have to learn from the birds.

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 Yes, Today the Cedar Waxwings Have Come Back Home to the Rowans! Yay!

The story of rowans is a story of sacrifice, androgyny, magic, Christianity, nationalism, survival, life and hope — always hope. It is also one of the oldest stories of all. It begins with a Himalayan god of the air, Thor. He’s known today as a Nordic god, from Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany at the north of the world, but he started out far to the east and south, and migrated with his believers across the continent. Thor has a hammer, that’s sometimes an axe, and, as you can see below, blood spatter, a phallic spear, and a weird right hand, and, yes, he’s been repainted with good old-fashioned wheelbarrow paint. Hällristningar_Lilla_Flyhov-1

Thor at Lilla Flyhov, Sweden (c. 1000 – 1500 BC) Source

That blood spatter? Well, look:

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Rowan Berries in the Snow

They don’t call these bird berries for nothing!

That weird right hand? Here:

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Rowan Berry Cluster After the Feast

And that axe? Well, Thor, remember, is a thunder god, from a time when thunder and lightning were the same thing. This is where he lives:

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Dragon Tales in the Sky

People used to be able to read this language. It was a kind of writing not in words.

Thor used the axe to split that sky apart, so that out of its unity came lightning (on the one hand) and thunder (on the other). That is the moment in which consciousness is born. Into this air, that is all one (and out of which thunder and lightning come)…

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… a spear …

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Rowans Were Traditionally Used to Make Spear Shafts

… is thrust. It’s a curious kind of spear…

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You wouldn’t want to thrust something like that at a wild boar or something. I mean, how pointless (literally). Sure, if you’re thinking of weapons being physical things, with pointy sharp bits, ya, but weapons are also extensions of the mind, and for Thor, and people who believe in him, this is mind, given body in the world…

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You might want to have that magic and balance on your side when you go out to stick a wild pig that’s intent on sticking you (especially if you have the other kind of spear from the other, straighter, kind of ash (spear) tree. The darned things grow in thickets, ready made. You just need an axe to cut one from the ground and you have a weapon that extends your range and does your will at a safe distance from your body. A rowan spear, though? It’s both the thrust and the moment of reception, which is to say that it is a kind of symbolism or visioning, which practitioners call magic. Look how the boar’s blood and the spear are both present at once, and how the weight of the blood lowers the spear.

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The tree is the embodiment of action. The mountain ash doesn’t make a great spear, but it certainly is a great way of focussing mind and body on the act of spearing.

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There is, however, another angle to this story (as there always is in the world of indigenous thought and the language that speaks it best, poetry.) The red blood is the blood of a victim, the blood of a virgin, menstrual blood, and both life and death in one. Thor of Lilla Flyhov said it perhaps as simply as it needs to be said: the spear and a phallus are one. It thrusts upward, pierces the belly of the sky, and rains bloodwild10

 

 

Wells, British Columbia

Sacrifice and birth, male and female, action and reaction, in one representation: this is Thor’s presence, the concept of creating action out of stillness and seeing in stillness the potential for action. It is consciousness, for sure, but it’s also the body. Look again at that weird right hand. rowan

It’s a placenta.rowant The tree has many of them. It bursts out into them all over. P1620927The rowan is drenched in the blood of life and death. It is Bride and Groom, or Thor, in one. He cleaves unity to bring it together in a different form. This is the ladder one climbs to the stars.P1620928I hope those of you reading this post for science aren’t scratching your heads at all this poetry and wondering when the science is coming. It’s coming. It’s just that this poetry thing, well, that was science once. I don’t mean bad science, full of childish explanations of the root of physical processes, the ones that science has done such an amazing job of parsing, or cutting part, after Thor. I mean, poetry’s way of finding correlations and moments of doubling, uniting seeming opposites or creating them out of thin air, applied to the world, is a powerful tool for understanding it and for manipulating it — not through manipulating its physical stuff, as contemporary applied science does, but through manipulating the minds of the people acting and living within it, and changing the earth through that energy. I know so many scientists with such deep concern for the earth, all looking for a way to bring their message across and effect meaningful change. Poetry, written out of the earth and with the language of the earth and human bodies, has always been able to do that. The other kind of poetry, the one written with words on a page, can do it among people highly trained to cast their selves within books and to bring back, so to speak, the fish of thought, but it’s not completely the same thing, and might just be the reaction to a passing technology. The thing about these sky gods, though, like Thor, is that they are embodiments of a central knot within hunting, butchering, and its ritual form, sacrifice: the act of killing in order to bring life. Thor’s not the only one. Christ stands in this tradition. The god Mithras, who also came from the East, and whose cult very nearly won Rome over in place of Christianity, was one. With his dagger, he slayed the sacred bull and created the universe. We are sprung from the drops of the bull’s blood.

P1620826And, like Thor, he had an axe (and a dagger, which is kind of a short spear, but does the trick.)

Mithrasrelief-NeuenheimMithras Killing and Creating

Relief from Heidelberg-Neuenheim, Germany, 2nd Century AD Sourcerowan8These placentas, though. That’s where Bride comes in, the Goddess. If the spear is androgynous, and holds in time both the fertilizing thrust of a phallus and the blood quickening in a placenta, then this is as much the goddess’s tree as the god’s. It has that power of transporting one from one state to another, like the Roman god Janus, who was a doorway, that went both ways equally and transported you from one state to another every time you passed through him (and who, dear scientists, wasn’t a god in a simplistic sense but a way of remembering that cognitive power, and focussing it, for what could come from its development), and, more than Janus, of being both states, male and female, killer and victim, at once. rowan1It is also, as you can see, drawn to the sky, and bowed down to the earth as a consequence of this grasping, which always ends in feminine fruitfulness. That is a good lesson. Another is how this tree’s lightning bolt shape …P1620839…ends in a flowing (quite the different thing), which is a hand, that has the capability of grasping. P1620843

 What does it grasp? The easy answer would be that the early church, needing to gain converts from celtic practitioners (the Celts, too, came from the East), simply replaced Bride (or Brigid) the goddess with Brigid, the Saint of Kildare.

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Brigid, Saint of Kildare Source

St. Non’s Chapel, St. Davids, Wales 

The better answer would be that the Christian shepherd’s staff, and the rowan were recognized as one …

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The crook is there, with Christ’s blood, at the intersection of Earth and Heaven, life and death, and Christ cleaves them with his presence and the axe of his love, so to speak. This is no distance at all. The movement to Christianity wasn’t a conversion but an enlightenment, like the scientific Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, a kind of purification, extension, or manifestation of what was already known.

 

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For this reason as well, rowans were considered an effective charm against witches — not against practitioners of the old arts, but against practitioners who hadn’t moved over to the new understandings of them, finding flower and fruit in the Christian story.

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Rowan, Hólar, Ísland

I’ve shown you all these images of Iceland for a reason here, beyond my love of rowans and the beauty of the place. In Iceland, where the trees were all eaten and grazed away, independence from centuries of exploitation and misery under a regime of Danish traders came about through poetry, and the replanting of lost birches and rowans in Iceland. The attempt was to make the country a poem again, to rebuild, so to speak, the first moment of settlement, and reclaim that creative potential and independence. It worked, or at least it helped. Today, Reykjavik is still rich with these nationalist trees …

ice6 … that are kind of in the way, but no-one wants to cut down such magic.ice5

They might try, but they just can’t go through with it. The trees have that much of a hold.

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Reykjavik

The churchyards are rich with rowans, too. They signify not only the transfer of energy from pagan to Christian understandings of Thor’s axe and Christ’s Word …

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Mårten Eskil Winge’s Thor (1872) Source

Note that cross that Thor is wielding there, the clever lad.

… but the balance struck between them …

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Icelandic Stallion Grazing on an Elf Hill Under a Nationalist Agricultural School Churchyard Rowan (Laugar, Ísland)

In Iceland, you throw nothing away, because it is all alive in time. That is the balance, too. 

The result is a way of being in balance in the world we live in and the world to come.

 

 

p1550060The Rowans of the Reykjavik Graveyard

Graveyards aren’t for the dead. They’re for the living. They focus the mind and so change the world. Every rowan does that …

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… not just to those who know its stories, but to all who know how to read its language in the wild. By bringing that into our social structures, we become the world. We become changed, and the world we imagine becomes changed in turn, and so it comes to pass by the action of our hands. The ancients knew this, and worked hard to protect these relationships. For young men, Thor’s axe might have been there to gain advantage by cutting through the wisdom of the world and recreating it as action, but there were large social structures to guide that strength into productive and ultimately feminine forms.

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In historical terms, it means that in the lands of the rowan, the Christian staff can be a magical one at the same time, with no contradiction. The rowan’s staff, or bloody spear, has led to such concrete social acts as the creation of states, science, and female power.

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I hope you will find a rowan on Brigid’s Day and find your balance by being in its presence —for personal development, if you need that, for spiritual purposes, certainly, and for social development and renewal of the principles embodied in this tree and in the powerful, earth-altering symbolic life to which it has been dedicated.

Walking in the Snow

When the fog and the frost roll in and the snow crunches underfoot and the air nips at the fingers and the toes freeze in the boots, it’s time to go pruning fruit trees. In some cultures, it’s the symphony season. In others, it’s the season for trips to Mexico, to lie on the beach and turn brown (or red) in the sun. In my culture, which, unfortunately, as died out, it’s time to go out and prune fruit trees. My nectarine tree and all my memories are calling.P1610898

 

My apricot tree and the starlight I learned to prune trees by is calling.

 

 

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My Fintry apple tree is standing in the open sky, rising out of the snow, with all my hopes for her as a native apple pie apple for this corner of the earth.

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I know little about the seasons of Facebook or the intricacies of the poetry circuit in slam festivals in global cities, in which the young put their bodies on display, in electrified dances with their beautiful bodies, because I learned to dance with peach trees, and know them as my people. I learned to climb to the sky on a peach tree. I learned how to come back down to the earth: strange knowledge in the Anthropocene Age and the Age of Cities and Performance Art:

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Nature is a creation of the Romantic Age. With the old, earth-based and community-based, consciousness set aside for revolutionary individualism, the place for the precise knowledge of how to move through and sculpt bodies in time, in concert with the earth and fruitfulness, has become an emotional reaction. That is such a profound romantic way of being in the world, that it is scarcely noticeable, yet it is what it is. The photographs that punctuate this note, with their emphasis on bodily perception and spiritual sublimation in perception, are a technology of that age, but I know an older technology. Its images are made in life, and in the channels of life.

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Ah, Fintry, There You Are Again

There is knowledge in the romantic approach, and other knowledge in living inside the world it transformed. In my country, Canada, sadly enough, the pruning of trees is done just before harvest now, not as an art but as a technological intervention, to remove branches and to colour the fruit by exposing it suddenly to the fall sun. The fruit gains colour but no flavour, and the men who do this work (for it is men who do this work, men from the Caribbean) need no training and do not follow their trees through the years. There is no history in this. The result looks like this:

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This is not pruning. It’s hacking, and the apples taste of it. In the country in which I live, an ancient art of gaining sustenance from the land, in which winter is a time of the greatest joy and creation, has become an unskilled industrial task dependent upon the technological insertion of chemical fertilizers to replace human skill, and, I’d just like it to be on record, of joy. Here are the pink blossoms of spring and the peaches of next summer. I have been caring for this tree for four years. This twig is an extension of myself. I am these peaches.

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I don’t ask, or expect, you to understand. It’s an uncommon idea. Still, with that important social task, once shared by thousands, now being an almost private ritual of memory, I am left with memory and nature, not as loss, in the romantic sense, but as replacements for an entire language and wisdom tradition that was once known as art, and once in awhile a vineyard in the fog, planted much like a photograph.

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It is for this reason that I have been wandering away from the orchards (and vineyards) in this blog, as much as they tug at my heart, and deep into the land that was here before they came.

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My country was never about romantic images of the past. It was about definite knowledge and personal work on and with the land to create material of social use, with deep roots in the past and deep fruitfulness in the future. As a pruner, my job has always been to pay very close attention to growth, and to sculpt time. With the orchards now turned into industrial plantations, it is in old Indigenous land that I find a remnant of my culture. Yes, people in the romantic tradition of radical selfhood will call the image of a combined porcupine, mule deer and coyote footprint on a well used trail below a picture of nature …

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… but to me it is joy. This is how life is spread across the land. This is how the sun is captured and winter is extinguished. You can’t get that by flying to Mexico. This is what the future looks like, rooted in the past. This is what I know when I’m pruning fruit trees: potentiality, which can be developed into new technologies for the earth. Strange, I know, but I want this knowledge to go on record, in a country which has, for the most part, walked away from it, while still claiming ownership of the land under the concept of nature. Don’t get me wrong. Nature is beautiful. It’s just that the sagebrush twig melting its way out of the snow in the image below is not nature. The image is.

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This is a concept so foreign, I expect, to people in my country, that I can do little except leave it here as a record that in 2015, one man had a kind of knowledge that came down from 20,000 years of human care (and likely more), and would like to pass both it and the earth down to others who followed, before they both are lost. I used to think that I could pass on this knowledge through poetry, which I learned from pruning peach trees, but poetry has become an industrial art, embedded in book culture and a complex culture of courtly social clues, not in the culture of the earth. Perhaps, though, I can show you a few footsteps I have taken through my days. Perhaps you will share them and pass them on, like these crabapples, that the waxwings will come to in a few weeks as they pass north …

P1620381 … or these filberts, for whom there is no winter, only spring and summer.P1620428

 

Perhaps you will come and walk with me for awhile in the snow.

 

 

 

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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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.

Human Life Under the Sea

Water is mysterious stuff. So is air. Sometimes air holds up water.P1510849Sometimes water holds up air.

P1580801But there’s something else going on. Mud.P1590280What you’re looking at here is the bottom of a mud puddle. It has settled, on its own, after being driven through a day or so ago. It has frozen and thawed a couple times. Look at the patterns!  No person or animal has walked through this muck. Whatever is present is a record of physical forces. The mountains and craters below, too.

P1590285 The river valleys and a volcano and little bits of boulder that have settled in, probably after ice melted up above.

P1590290 Now, here’s what that looks like after 12,000 years, give or take.

P1590294Glacial Lake Penticton Lake Bottom The Commonage, Vernon

The cliff line marks where the bottom sediments were washed away when the ice dam holding back the lake broke.

Again? Sure. Here’s what the Okanagan Valley looked like on the day before the lake flowed away:

P1590288Yes, these images are taken through water. (There are still 300 metres of this stuff below the floor of the lake.)

Now, to return to my initial image, a sea of water above the grasslands and the lake …

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Bella Vista Hills, Okanagan Landing

Home Sweet Home! 

Here’s my observation: if a layer of water over the earth has amazing effects, such as the ones in the images above, what effects does a layer of air have? Might it not be similar? Well, I think it is. I think it looks like this:

P1590212 Melted Frost on Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass

I think it looks like this, too:

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Muddle Puddle Grass Seen From Above

Looking a lot like anemones in the sea.

See that ice around the grass? Just imagine it is air… see that? The plants  are using the atmosphere as a sea. They do it by internalizing some of the processes of the sea, while abstracting others and leaving some entirely. They are undersea plants. They are atmospheric plants, not earth plants. Here’s an ocean bottom apple orchard.

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It’s commonplace to note that plants left the sea long ago, as did land-based organisms such as humans. As I was walking through a grassland bright with drops of molten frost on the seed tip of every stalk of bunchgrass, I saw that we haven’t left.

P1580475Cat Tail

Don’t be fooled by the water. The plant is under the sea, but the water on its stalk is not the sea. In the ocean, sure, but in the atmosphere the sea is the air. Water is a sediment. Water is this stuff:

P1580702More Mud!

Imagine the layer of water here as air and the bottom mud as water, and the earth below it.

Water is pretty good at transferring energies and states. Look how it transfers the molecular energies of the freezing process to the mud it is blended with.

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If we weren’t at the bottom of a sea of air we would not witness these effects. They are, in other words, atmospheric effects, including the pressure effects of the depth of the air itself. This is what those effects look like. Even, ultimately, this:

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After all, the glaciers that ultimately formed these old post-glacial lakeshore clays are sediments from the air, which moved their water around and deposited it according to its own patterns. That cliff is, ultimately, a cloud, hugging the hill just like this:

P1580292And the lake? Well, since it is sediment, it is, ultimately, mud.

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Mud taking an image of the sun through the ridge line trees.

 

 

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.