The Art That Insects Make

In the summer, light strikes the leaves of the dogwoods unevenly, as they flit about in their environment of light and shadow filtering through other leaves that move and shift with sun and wind and the turning of the earth through its days. Look at the result!P1540244Amazing!

P1540242There’s more to this story than just sun and light, and I’ll get to that in a sec, but for the moment look at how small patches of some of these leaves are delayed from maturing and shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for fall.
P1540241Frozen in time, that’s the thing.

P1540239Now, here’s the other player in these beautiful game. See the aphids on the underside of the leaves below, below the fruiting cluster?P1540233They are very responsive to light and growth and settle in the choicest spots, and then, as they divert the sap flow through their own digestive systems, they change everything. In effect, they become part of the plant, and the plant’s living processes are blocked and re-routed by the intervention of the insects and the whole year’s worth of redirected minerals.P1540227Aphids, light, shadow and the mysteries of an earth continually in motion.P1540224The scientist in me thinks this process could be put to use. The farmer in me knows it can. The poet in me is in love with the earth. The artist in me is just plained thrilled to see his body alive in the earth like this, down to the tiniest thing.

 

How Universities are Causing Global Warming and What to Do About It

I would like to show you the little valley I live in. I think the future depends on what we see here.view

 

Vernon Creek Valley, Okanagan Landing.

Okanagan Lake is to the right of this image. Downtown Vernon is to the left. My house is just off the right of the image, in the settlement of dark trees halfway up the image’s border.

Now, I don’t know what you see, but I’ll give you some context by turning you around gently. Look again. Different light, different colour in the grass, same hill.

P1520181Plus, there’s less cheatgrass (red) when you get this high. And what if we look more closely?

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At the top of this rare bit of remaining grassland, there’s this:

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So, that’s the context. So, let’s look at the valley again. I want to show you the ideal university of the future. It’s in the 33 acre abandoned orchard below the sagebrush hill, in the middle of the image, between the two 1970s-era subdivisions with their dark evergreen trees, and below the yellow splash of choke cherries in the ravine and the blob of dark poplars along Earl Grey’s old irrigation canal. Yeah, the tea guy. That’s right.

view

I envisage it as a large outdoor classroom and laboratory, teaching farming, innovation, plant breeding, plant propagation, new plant species, new water regimes, new food processing opportunities, land-reading, agriculture (the intellectual version) and its appropriate spiritual components, along with appropriate engineering, mathematical, geological and artistic opportunities and interventions, as it supplies food for people and extends the deepest traditions of human culture forward in step with the earth. This is a form of Enlightenment, which was the process by which pre-industrial society in Europe was reformed along industrial and intellectual models. Some stuff was left out, for no good reason. The earth of today is a mirror of that process of leaving out. Here’s a cottonwood tree that was left out. In its place are some uses for cottonwood trees and some methods of observing cottonwood trees, but not ones which start from the actual energy of cottonwood trees.

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Cottonwood Tree on the Grey Canal

Hence, my farm university, or my university based on touching the earth.

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Earth Language. Repair Needed

Here it is from the golf course (to the right of the subdivision like a green island of trees).

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Unfortunately it is selling for $1,900,000, a price set by the standard of the golf course developers who have bought the hillside we’re standing on. It’s not a farming price. It’s a luxury price, set by the value of oil in the tar sands in Alberta. It’s a social price, which the retired farmer deserves, given the social context in which she must live. The culture that scars the boreal forest for oil, however, and sets such prices, is the same that uses the lake in my valley as a playground. Here’s an image of the lost wetland in my valley bottom, in the approach to winter. Forget this as an image of fall…

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Carving Pumpkins (Recreational agriculture.)

… this is the real image of fall in the valley:

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The golf course is not doing well, by the way. There might be a lost boreal forest behind it and a lot of aerial carbon and a lot of wealth created by this transformation, but, socially and ethically, the money created by it doesn’t flow very well. It’s like bitumen in a pipeline at times. They can’t even fix their road. Look.

P1510641This 3-metre deep gully was 10 centimetres deep 3 years ago. This is runoff from the golf course road.

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Our little gully is behind the dump truck up above. It is being filled with crushed “mantle”, or the ancient bedrock below its overburden of seabeds and volcanic flows and glacial till. They ignored the ditch (a metre deep at that point). They had some decorating to do instead…

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Crushed Mantle as a Decor Element

This is a replacement for landscaping with living things. This is called being “water smart”. It is called being ethically responsible.

Three years ago, one of the bankers holding the whole hillside in receivership could have fixed the gullet on a lunch break, by taking a bag lunch, driving up the hill with a shovel in the trunk, moving gravel for 1 minute, or even less, eating the lunch, and driving back to work, but, no. That didn’t happen. Now it’ll cost a few thousand dollars, with back hoes and dump trucks and what-have-you.

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What a waste. Now, a politically-correct and academically-correct (which means scientifically-correct) stance towards this bit of human self-absorption is to approach it neutrally, which is to say to observe it but nothing more. Here, let’s try that:

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Hmm

There’s an issue at play here. Humans, who do this observing, are social creatures. If they’re going to look at the earth, they’re going to see social stuff. This is social, for instance:

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Weedy Grassland Along the Grey Canal Trail

Observation works for social relationships, but it doesn’t mean that they develop into healthy ones. The gulch above is an unhealthy social relationship. Now, let me show you another unhealthy social relationship.

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The Green, Green Grass of Autumn

This cheat grass is growing on a deer trail. It takes all the water from the spring earth, reducing the earth’s ability to store water for an entire season, transfer it to the wetlands below, and support hundreds of species along the way. It reduces the ability of the land to support human populations, or any others. Socially, its presence is heavily tied with a crazy colonial social idea that things sprout in the spring and mature in the fall. Cheatgrass is smarter than that. In its social relationship with humans, humans are not. They don’t adjust grazing patterns or land use patterns to cheat cheatgrass out of its cheat. Ideology stands in the way of that, as does a cultural insistence on raising children in different environments. Concrete ones, for instance.

Forty auto minutes south of this point there is a university that trains thousands of students in the set of disinterested observational skills I mentioned above, extends those concrete worlds, and embodies some unhealthy social relationships. The result is this.

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The Enlightenment Botanical Garden Becomes Decorative …

… and then invisible. Not only is the earth, at this university that prides itself on ‘green’ values, a decorative element, but it’s mis-treated as well. What a change in 200 years!

I think it would be fair to say that this university represents a culture that has turned from the earth. I think it’s a powerful culture. I think it has many strengths. I also think it has a tragic flaw. I also think we can turn this thing around. To do that, let’s look at the set of intellectual approaches it has laid over the earth. First, the valley again …

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… and now the annotated version, showing a little of what I see here…

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I suggest opening the image in a new window (or just clicking on it) to see the details. When you do, I hope you will notice that barely one single thing here, short of the deer, coyote and bear trails squeezed up onto a hillside where none of them belong, represents an ability to work with the earth. Even the grazing lease and the no trespassing areas are heavily compromised and nearly non-productive. There are a few remaining farms, although heavily industrialized and producing petroleum-dependent and nearly-unaffordable food, and the habitat in the ravine and in the subdivisions is important, but beyond that? There’s a tiny riparian area winding through the stream in the residential areas on the far side of the airport, and a bit of weedy grassland on the hills across from us. I hope you will see as well that all this stuff represents an application of university culture, or, rather, the culture the university serves, and which we need it to do a better job of challenging or re-imagining. That’s where that $1,900,000 farm comes in. It has the potential to change everything and to build, on a rigorous foundation of practical, scientific and artistic work, a new paradigm, and, in a century, a new valley. Here’s the current state of affairs…

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Still Fixable

From foreground to background: deer fence, weedy grassland, vineyard designed to raise house prices, two abandoned orchards, a productive ravine full of coyotes and hawthorns, and just the hint of the beginnings of the city housing in the wetland below.

We can do better. We must do better. It’s a matter of ethics, and survival. The university’s stance, of ethical disinterestedness, has lead to powerful technical science (in this sense, psychology and the arts are powerful technical tools as well) and an ethical situation that is far from disinterested. Here, let me show you. The depth of magenta in the image below indicates the depth of ethical compromise present in the land. Notice that the closer one gets to water, the more compromised, ethically, land use becomes. Notice as well the green areas.

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The green oval is Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park… the only piece of permitted human habitat in this scenario. Even there, however, the grasslands are being heavily taken over by trees and park staff spend their time making urban social amenities (paths, picnic areas, shooting cougars, and so on).

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Kalamalka Provincial Park: In a Grassland, Trees are Weeds

It’s a strange kind of “nature” or “wilderness” that allows the replacement of the only habitat for butterflies, succulent plants, edible bulbs, and hundreds of other species, to be replaced by over-crowded, fire prone groves of low-value trees and only a handful of other species. This is actually called desertification. The only ‘nature’ it displays is ‘human nature’ and the ethical stance it displays is ‘disinteredness.’

But, again, our ethical valley.

ethics

The green line in the foreground is the only allowable natural animal habitat outside the land use grid. Note how it dead ends, without access to the water it leads to (the water goes underground from there, but life doesn’t follow it.) Every scientific approach and attitude is an ethical decision. Every view of the land is ethical at heart. The current university teaches young people how to benefit from and fine tune the predatory land use shown above. It is a form of schooling, in, I may add, an attitude that has an end date. Predatory? Yes. Humans are predating on the earth. And, may I say, also on themselves and their ability to form social bonds with the earth. Here, this is another social image:

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On a  healthy planet, it will be recognized as having equal social value to humans as inter human relationships. Instead, it is called “nature” or “art”. That’s a start, but after a couple hundred years of separating that from scientific procedure, it has led to an overly-disinterested science, so technically powerful that its power has blinded it to all of which it is ignorant, including that “nature” or that “art”, and because it is all-powerful, those unseen elements become obliterated.

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Road Overspill

This is the best that environmental science can do to save a riparian area in a dry grassland hill.

I think a correction can and should be made. Opposition to the blind spots of disinterested science is why I have been arguing for a different kind of science, not to replace science but to rebalance its abilities to allow for outcomes that include the earth and the wealth of resiliency, and why I propose a different kind of university. It’s time to remake the earth. Remaking it, and ourselves, in the image of an android phone is a dead end. That path leads only to the replacement of humans and this …

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… with robots, or at least with robotic intellectual tools, which, ethically, is almost the same thing. That work is nearly complete. Global warming? Well, when one removes the ability of the earth to utilize solar energy and translate it into cooling ecosystems, what do you think is going to happen? Oil is not the cause. It is the symptom. This is global warming:

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Eroding Vineyard Hillside

Ten years ago it looked like this:

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Ten years ago it stopped water and the sun in their tracks and turned them into life. We can still repair that loss.

 

Of Bears and Men and the Stars

Bears build their highways in the shade.

P1510732Look at the planetary forces they live in. You’d think they were creatures of the stars.P1510792

 

Now, here’s a golf cart highway up the hill to the left.

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And the view?

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Hail on the last day of September. More of that life among the stars thing. Conclusion? We have a lot in common with bears.

P1510826North

Yet treat the earth as if it were ours.

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 South

Bears, though, share, with us…

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… while we build alien landing strips.

P1510810Note the blue rocks!

 

 

Putting a Face to Nature

This is not nature.

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It is a shrub. This is not nature.

P1500096 It is another shrub. This is not nature.

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You got it. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500160It’s grass. This is not nature:
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It’s choke cherries at the end of the season. Yeah. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500653It’s wire weed, reclaiming a road shoulder, with a beautiful disrespect for gravity. What then is nature? It’s a human concept. These things aren’t. But, you see, there’s a trick here. Look again. This is human.

P1500105This is human.

P1500096 This is human.

P1500083 This is human, too.

cc And this. It’s you.

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Yes, you. And even this.

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By nature, a specific kind of human attention must be meant. Otherwise the term is just no use at all. Unless, of course, you believe that you are not of this planet. If that’s the case, then you can use it. If you do, however, this is not human…

P1500105 This is not human…P1500096 Nor this… P1500083 Nope, not this, either…,cc… nor this…P1500653

… but this is, perhaps…

P1500160

Grassland Artifice

This grass was humanly sown to stabilize a slope after road construction. It has replaced a rich, living landscape with a single species.

This is how profit is drawn from the earth and turned into human economies. The life of a thousand species is concentrated down to one (humans). How could it be otherwise. It’s the mirror of human economic organization under the current world economic model. All discussions of the earth are ethical discussions.

 

Earth Talking: The Language of Science Part 4

There are many ways to talk about the earth. One is to speak about it in its own terms. Take the word height, which means hill and head all at once. It’s related to the word stick, which means point, and gives us spear, tip, spike, spit, stalk, stake, and so on. All these “meanings” branch from the same root, which is a sense of rising up in a manner both physical and spiritual at the same time.

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Height Attracts Height

American Gold Finch (with a head) on a Sunflower Head. Note that the goldfinch’s head has a head (tip, point, beak) of its own, as does its wings, as do its feet. It is all height. Is there any wonder it takes to the air?

These are ancient ways of seeing embedded in language, but still alive for all that and worth dwelling in for a moment. If, for instance, we add the word open to that height, we get a rowan tree, reaching for the light.

P1490467Rowan at Height

Note that it has reached past the light into the dark centre of the sky. This is an effect of a fall day (which places more light at the horizon than up high) and signifies the beginning of the tree’s new balance with light, with is commonly called Autumn or Fall. As the light falls to the earth, so do its representations on the Earth, the leaves.

It pays to state the obvious when speaking of the earth with the earth. Notice how the rowan above has leaves that open off of its tip (aka head, stick, stalk, prick or spike). They form about half of the volume of the stalk. They will be shed with the cold.

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Cold Rowan

Most of the leaves are gone.

The next year, the buds at the bases of the leaves (which are the year they have condensed out of the year and which they pass on to the next which is the same year again), will open and branch into other stalks (They have, in effect, the same independent life as the previous stalk — just rising from the ones that came before, that’s all. This, by the way, is not the same as passing time. It is growing time).

bloom

Time, Growing

Note how it expresses itself at different heights and intensities through the differing bodies of different species, such as the saskatoon bush here,the yellow balsam root flowers, and the blue-green big sage.

Note as well that the word branches signifies a spiritual force, not the physical object (branch). The physical object is the record of the spiritual event, as much as it is an event, or presence, in its own right.

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Apples Hanging Off of Markers of Spiritual Events

This is what time looks like in the language of the earth.

This ancient conception, that trees branch independently of the endless, unbroken time in which they stand has long been superseded by clock time, as humans reckon these things. Nonetheless, we still use the words that identify trees with being itself: bough, branch, Baum (in German), and even bud are delineations of particular manifestations of the word being. Clock time or not, for any moment of being-with-a-plant on this earth, an experience of such time is invaluable.

spring

 

Point, Branch and Bud Intersecting with Gravity and Light in a Cottonwood Tree

Time.

The point of balance (the opening bud, or the previous year’s stalk following the light again) in any tree will move outward into the growing (i.e. rising in intensity) light. This point of balance is commonly called spring, a term which signifies life force itself (a spiritual term, not a physical one, it’s worth remembering).

springing

Staghorn Sumac Springing

Of course, the year is not all within its spring, and not all buds and branches drive upwards to a head. Others become lateral, and others hang down. This full expression of a tree’s being with light, gravity and memory (those branches) is driven by fruitfulness, in general, and the hormones laid down by gravity, specifically. You could thus call a rowan a plant that turns gravity into fruit.

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Fruiting Rowan

Each berry is both sun and earth at once. This is not a metaphor.

The fruit in turn bends the branches, which then collect more hormones and become more fruitful. You could say that this is a plant that mines gravity to reproduce. Here’s one that reproduces by harnessing the lack of gravity (the wind).

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Salsify

The plant force that expresses itself in such patterned petals (the entire branching force rising from one point) eventually closes and then opens again. It opens in the same energy as before, but transformed by branching. This is the spiritual power of the flower. It is not be underestimated.

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Salsify Ready to Catch the Wind

Soon there will be wind. Here are a couple of salsify stalks after its seeds have used the wind to escape gravity.

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Salsify, After Its Seeds Have Flown

For this plant, branching takes place at the core of the flower. Accordingly, for it time is not laid down in branches. It is laid down as an expression of wind.

So, there you have it, a small journey through an alternate form of language, which allows for alternate sets of observations about plants and environment than those of conventional scientific thinking. To restate the obvious, if we are to have living relationships with a living earth, such living language, built out of the processes of the earth itself, must be one of our tools.

Asparagus in Glory: Science and Language Part III

The other day I was discussing how the language of science influences the world that scientific exploration and method allows us to see. Behind that is the observation that if the language of science were fundamentally changed, the world that humans could perceive would be changed. I will be speaking more about the nature of such changes later in the week. For the moment, let’s work towards those observations step by step. First step, the lowly asparagus.

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Female Asparagus in Her Glory

Remember her from the springtime?

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So, that’s a pretty basic shift, eh! Each of the bud scales on the young asparagus stalk above will open into a fern stalk, which will open into ferns, flowers, and ultimately berries, seeds, and spiders.

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Which is the real asparagus? The white shoot, below the ground, that the Germans eat to honour life sprung from the dead land (a truly ancient practice)? The green shoot that Canadians eat to honour spring life? The fern? The spider? They are all the asparagus, of course. The entire cycle is the asparagus. Human time-biases, however, encourage human observers to label the plant by its best-known form, as food, such as these wild stalks I picked and brought home in the spring…

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Those are, however, no more than asparagus than is this…

P1490422 … or this …

spider1It’s an important point, actually. As humans, bound to time, we tend to see events unfolding along a line, from spring to fall, so to speak. It’s harder to see them opening up into themselves, passing through a set of stages (openings, really) , each of which holds the others in completeness, or at least in complete potential open to chance. It’s also hard for us to see individuals (such as this asparagus) achieving full life by becoming part of a community, as this plant does with its spider and the fly it has caught and the deer that grazes it in the spring (or the poet who cuts off one of its stalks for a spring dinner,) but it’s not that hard. In fact, once you’ve experienced the plant in that way there’s no going back — which suggests that it’s not hard at all. In scientific nomenclature, asparagus is classified, as are all plants, according to its origins, its descent from a primeval form. It could, however, be classified according to its ends, the point at which it reaches in completeness — its ability, for instance, to host spiders and attract the flies on which they feed. That particular classification system might not be terribly humanly useful, mind you. One, however, that classified it by the compounds in its berries might, and might give it such unexpected friends as apples, cranberries, bearberries, and so forth. In such a classification system, the harvesting of young asparagus stalks would not be seen as cutting a crop in its prime, but cutting it in a juvenile stage. The pressure to leave more of the plant for full, mature development would be strong under such a system, and environmental protection would be furthered … by nothing more than a chance of language. This is just one small example of what is possible, and what is currently being ignored. Without it, it’s no wonder the environment is separated from what it needs to survive.

Tomorrow: Varied forms of nomenclature and their benefits. After that, we’ll get into social effects of all of this, because humans, the social animals that humans love to speak of, are part of this story.

Ethnobotanical Knowledge: The Language of Science Part 2

Remember? Yesterday I pointed out that each of the plants below, although far apart in botanical class-action, share the power of redness, which arises at different points on each plant, stem, leaf and fruit, at different intensities, at different times, and in different ways. Here they are again.redsstuff

To refresh, the various points at which the colour red are manifested take on significance and can be developed into technologies. Two observations.

1. This was once common knowledge. Indigenous plant usage, especially medicinal plants, did not come about by trial and error. People could once read the natural world in its own language. In other words, they could read this with the ease with which people today read their smart phones.

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Staghorn Sumac (Female)

Have you ever wondered why universities don’t teach this stuff?

Most new pharmaceuticals come from harvesting substances found in indigenous plant materials, patenting them, and then marketing them. Think of it. The scientific tradition, with all its wealth and power can often do little more than refine discoveries already made, and then profit from them. I bet your local pharmacist would have difficulty reading the image above. Or this one:

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Staghorn Sumac Opening into the Light

2. The progression of plants into and through the colour red is much like the variations of plants themselves as they respond to different environmental zones. I used the example yesterday of two red osier dogwoods with degrees of redness differing because of their particular growing situations. Here’s the redder one:

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The redness of this plant is the result of shutting down photosynthesis — not because of a decrease of fall light, but because of a decrease of fall light in relation to leaves that have grown in great drought and heat. If the red appeared because of fall conditions in and of themselves, then the neighbouring red dogwoods wouldn’t look like this:

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These colour differences encode very specific differences in the efficacy of the medicinal compounds in these plants. Magic was once based on such readings, to various degrees of accuracy. Science largely set it aside. Pity. Perhaps these plants could all be classified according to their degrees of redness, rather than according to their genetic lineages. After all, there is nothing particularly special about genetic lineages. Their use as a classification system is purely random, yet has profound results. In terms of genetics, however, those red pigments come from common sources, and thus form very alternate genetic lineages of their own. What those are remains unexplored. That is an effect of language. If one says that the shape of a leaf and the manner of fruiting are the signifiers of a familial relationship, then it is so, and other relationships are seen as adaptations arising in parallel, but subordinately to the main genetic line. That might, actually, not be the case. Take, for instance, the lowly pinot (little pine) grape.

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Pinot Noir, Meyer Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

This is the wild grape of Southern France, which has thousands of variations, all farmed, and even appears with differently coloured skin (pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot auxerois), with all of their different flavour characteristics. This is not a matter of breeding. The genetic material of this ancient plant changes to fit environmental conditions. In fact, change is a major characteristic of the plant. The point here is that within the plant there exists a huge potentiality for variation, which manifests itself in different conditions. It is a lesson to remember when looking at any plant. Here are three variations of mariposa lily growing on Turtle Point in Kalamalka Lake…

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That’s not all. In most places where this exquisite grassland lily (and vital food crop) grows, it isn’t this colour at all. It’s usually white, but, well, not exclusively so, and not without variation…

mariposa

If you travel through the northwest, you will find the same thing with Indian Paintbrush, as it varies geographically from pinks in the John Day, up through whites and scarlets in the Columbia and the Methow, to crimsons in the Okanagan, deep crimsons, almost purple in the Cariboo, and Oranges up against the shield volcanoes in the West Chilcotin. If you travel across the land with a system of scientific nomenclature in hand, you will be able to record those differences, but you might just miss the story, that there are qualities in the land, and in the plants response to it, rising from an original potential essence, that are causing the changes, and that they show up in more than just lilies. If you travel with the system of scientific nomenclature, you might find it a little to easy to claim that the differences are the result of random variation. It’s the same thing, but it misses the answer to the question of why. People used to be able to answer those questions! They wrote them up in complication systems of spiritual belief, that looked like this sometimes:

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Part of a Reconstructed Map of Giordano Bruno’s Memory Theatre

All areas of knowledge are codified under the influence of various gods and astrological signs.

Sound Whacky? Sound like those rolled-up astrologies you can buy for a buck at the drug store and that look like candy cigarettes? Maybe, but the gallery of the Abbey of Saint Gallen in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and a top listed UNESCO world heritage site, is arranged precisely like this. And those were the monks who created handwriting and attempted to recreate the world as a book and thus restore God’s creation to its original form (Eden.) Putting all the religious stuff aside, they were trying to find a kind of ecological or environmental balance or unity. Aren’t we all.

BibliothekSG

Sankt Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Source

There’s a bust of a goddess (Agriculture, Physics and so on) above each stack. The volumes in the stacks are not “books” but bound manuscripts.

Shakespeare was in on it, too. His stage was a room in which memory was organized in much these ways.

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And so was an alchemist’s workshop.

olaus worm bigger2 And so are early scientific collections. I’d show you the amazing ones in Gotha, but I lost my photos. This will do…

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Science is a continuation of this process of editing, collating and organizing. The how of the organizing is a language, and that language means that some things get spoken and others do not. This, for example, gets left out:

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Japanese Red Maple in the August Sun

I read the colour and the sun here, with the ability to reach deeply recessed parts of the human body and psyche that are probably codified on someone’s zodiacal chart somewhere and rejected as fanciful nonsense.

Of course, much of it is. A series of principles for sorting alternate spiritual systems out would be most helpful.

Tomorrow: Other organizations.

The Language of Science, Part 1

Look around. Earth in a bit of distress? Not quite looking up to her old self?

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Attention, Tractor Drivers! Snakes are Sacred, You Guys!

(Poor little baby bull snake meets the Seasonal Foreign Worker Program at the exact point at which it meets a vineyard road wider than most highways in most countries. Such freedom of movement! So seductive! So deadly.)

Words made it so.

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Words Did This

Vineyard wasteland after a rain.

Is the patch of earth above a dry landscape or a wet one? A hot one or a cold one? The questions are absurd. Only a long process of unattached abstraction hiding behind a veil of calm could create even the possibility of such a question. Here’s a small example of what it looked like before its transformation (note: this is a transformed landscape as well):

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God

aka Lichen on Dead Stalks of Big Sage.

I’m working towards an environmental idea. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating Christianity here (or arguing against it). I’m merely pointing out that there used to be a word for unity: God. For a lot of well-known historical and political reasons, most of which revolve around attempts to escape a history of people killing each other in the name of forms of prayer to this unity, this unity was put aside. The whole concept was awfully explosive 200 or 300 years ago in Europe, just as it is in Syria, Iraq and the Gaza Strip today. Sadly, though, the idea of interconnectivity was shelved with the personification of this force, as was the aristocracy that shared that personification. In all that, my words just above,

“unattached abstraction hiding behind a veil of calm”

are one definition of God that survived the collapse of the unity of faith and politics in the West. It survived because it was taken up by the new technicians of the sacred: physical and theoretical scientists and their technicians. Out of it, given enough time, they have made stuff like this:

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Vineyard at the Rise, Vernon

People believe in the romance. They pay big bucks for it. The reality is that of a near mono-cultural assembly line. Or a laboratory.

Well, no surprise that it worked out like this, I guess. It never really was a definition of God, anyway, or an honest one of unity, for that matter, just a mirror image of the monks and nuns who worked it up in the first place — an idea made in their own image, too, to top things off.

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The Monastery of Maulbronn

Self portrait by monks, or Unattached abstraction hiding behind a veil of calm.

God himself? He can’t be defined. You can just point and make some kind of physical noise or gesture. Here, I’ll show you:

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God

No, not the grasshopper, and not even the entire scene of grasses, stalks, stones and clay. Not even the air around them. Not even the bonds of energy that are holding all this together. You can’t make an image of God, that’s the thing. There he is, yet not what you are looking at or what you can describe. He is nothing and everything, whether you ‘believe’ in him or not.

This drove early scientists bonkers. Responses varied. Some said there was no God at all. Others saw God everywhere, as a presence (never as that pesky nothingness and not-there-ness noted above.) The first group held that the earth was a collection of blind, mechanistic physical processes, combined by chance. The second group held that, well, that grasshopper is God, really, but along with everything else. Then that bunch went off to see how he put everything together as a collection of blind, mechanistic physical processes, combined by chance. There was a lot of truth in what they found along this path, but, still, nobody asked the grasshoppers what they thought about all this.

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That’s probably because grasshoppers don’t think. They are fully present instead. To think, you have to stop being present. You need a bit of distance. Either that, or you have to be continually present, as these aspen leaves are, glowing in the sun.

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Not with Sun, In the Sun.

Sometimes the old words are best.

The net result of all of this struggle against a God that didn’t exist was a concept almost universally taught in schools in the West. I’m pretty sure that you have had it drilled into you wherever and whenever talk got around to poetry or writing. It’s called metaphor. It says that things (including God and the sun) aren’t what they seem. I know, I know, Wikipedia begs to differ and, in fact, here she goes, differing away:

metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object.

Source

Of course Wiki’s right, the electronic dear, and a darned useful logical tool this metaphor thing of hers is, too. It allows concepts to be created out of thin air, and after that one can argue about them until the cows come home.

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Rodeo Performer Relaxing at Home After a Season on the Road, 150 Mile House 

How such a power tool is used, however, is vital. On this, I’m afraid Wiki gets thrown off her horse, to whit:

One of the most prominent examples of a metaphor in English literature is the All the world’s a stage monologue from As You Like It:

 

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
William ShakespeareAs You Like It, 2/7[1]

 

This quotation contains a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage. By figuratively asserting that the world is a stage, Shakespeare uses the points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding about the mechanics of the world and the lives of the people within it.

 

Source

Yes, (the bad writing of the passage aside), the rhetorical tool it describes is commonly agreed upon. In case you haven’t seen it in its raw form, here it is:

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The Western Mind, Ready for Work

It’s awfully handy. The passage, too. It displays a mighty fine bit of Shakespeare, and that carries a lot of cultural weight, but, well, you see, if the world were a stage, in God’s mind or even in the minds of men, women and children (Shakespeare had all of those in mind by the way), or in the mind, presence or being of this fellow …

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 California Quail in the Sagebrush, Okanagan Landing

Pit pit paKAh! pit pit, he says. PAH! PAH! Listen.

… then that metaphor would be less a way of cutting open a window into the world than of closing windows and screwing them tight. It would be directing its readers away from unity to a universe of secrets by means of a bit of sleight of hand (brazenly changing one thing for another and then using the simplified changeling in the place of a dynamically unified original.) Well, that’s an old philosopher’s trick for confusing opponents and getting them to concede, whether they’re right or wrong. It’s called “The Straw Man” and it was a favourite of my grandfather’s friends at the University of Freiburg in 1928, when they used to go out and fight on the streets and then come back to their friend the medical student and get bandaged up and sewn back together. I really don’t have much stomach for it. Here, let me try again. The following image shows what I think of this sleight of hand business…

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Bird1, as dissected by Bird2, on the Grey Canal Trail: a play in one act.

The pile of feathers represents what is commonly termed “Survival of the Fittest. The idea is that the force driving the differentiation of species into new species is the survival of those individuals with traits best fitted to circumstances, while others die out. Of course, it’s true. It’s just incomplete, that’s all. Thousands of species are going extinct today due to activities of what is not the fittest species on the planet, just the deadliest. The frame of mind that might see these (self-defined rational) humans as the most fit is the same that might render birds into abstractions in the first place.

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Three Red-Tailed Hawks Hunting Together Above the Vineyards

Not abstractions. Not Buteo jamaicensis.

 It’s a strange kind of fitness, after all, that sees a species destroy not only its own habitat but that of most other species at the same time, and all at while it translates living birds into sets of classified ideas. What arrogance made men believe that birds had anything to do with them, separate from the unity they share? Well, the idea of a non-physical, non-present God, for one thing, a God of thought and will, who made them in his own image, and so on. Well, crumb, but they missed something in the long trains of thought that led them to that handy conclusion, this:

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Red Dogwoods Just Beginning to Turn Colour

The delayed reddening is the result of receiving water and fertilization from a choke cherry tree, and shade as well. Here’s one growing in full sun, with far less water or shade, just a couple hundred metres away:

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Red Dogwood In the Sun

One species, delicately registering subtle environmental changes. That is a profound unity. Any concept of natural history or biological science, and any struggle for environmental protection, that doesn’t see that is, like most things in a human-centric world, centred around human struggles for social power. (Which is how the unity was smashed apart in the first place.) In the Shakespearean passage quoted by Wikipedia above, for example  (repeated below for your reading pleasure)…

stage… the important thing is not the passage’s playful mask of fiction and truth (although Shakespeare so loved to play with those) but that word “stage.” There is a particular attitude which reads “stage” as “theatrical stage.” A reading like that makes the whole passage a delightful fiction. Little fooling confusions between physical reality and appearance were de rigeur in baroque Europe (out of which science sprang). In the Duchess of Baden’s pleasure palace in Kuppenheim, between Baden Baden and the Rhine, for instance, insects and dropped playing cards were painted into the flooring, in the hope of making someone squeal and provide the opportunity for laughter. I haven’t sat down today to fool with Shakespeare, like that, or with you. I’m only using Shakespeare as a rhetorical wedge, to open up a discussion on a word, metaphor, that seems so obvious as to brook no comment, and I’m doing that to make a statement about the social relationship between humans and the earth. One of my main points is that a dissecting rational consciousness is not the only way of seeing the world (although it is the one most of us have been schooled in). There is, for example, another form of consciousness that looks like this …

buckThe Neighbours Up on the Hill

… and another like this …

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 Western Ground Squirrel, Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

… and another which reads “stage” in terms of the world. In other words, to it the world is a stage and whatever a stage is, it is the world. This, for example, is a part of that stage…

crooked Abandoned Fenceline, Bella Vista

… as is this …

lines Weeds, Cut and Baled as Hay, Bella Vista

That’s an industrial apple factory in the foreground.

… and this …

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“Red Hill”, John Day River, Oregon

The appropriate way to read this stage is to walk it, with the body, not with the mind, and to respond to it as a body, not as a mind. The new cultural study called “Walking” is an attempt to codify these responses, using the human body, rather than the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions, as ground zeros for Western readings of the world.

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Woman Meets Ancestor, Horsethief Butte, Washington

If you don’t walk, you won’t find her.

But there, I’ve gone on a bit much again, I fear. Maybe this will help: as humans, we have a tendency to read the play that is unfolding on this stage through the patterns of our own minds, which means that looking out through a couple trees over water and distant mountains automatically triggers thoughts of narrative, hunting, voyage, shelter, family, security and return. Perhaps, then, if my images above are just plain confusing, the one below will be more “framed” by the body, as a cognitive organ? (Yes, you read that right.)

charlotte3Charlotte Lake,  Chilcotin Illahie

Looking northwest over the Coast Mountains. How’s that looking to you? Like a stage? Like a good place to settle down and raise the kids for a few thousand years?

There’s yet another ready possibility for readings of the word “stage.” This one reads both stage and world as the same thing, plus it throws “theatrical stage” into the mix. In this way of thinking, Shakespeare’s theatrical stage is a rather wooden version of the one that, today, is called the Earth. It even includes the ecosystem of the actions of people upon it, their intentions, their readings, and their joys and sorrows, as part of a whole that is larger than they are.*

*This is one of the definitions of poetry, a method of merging body and mind that contemporary culture avoids at its peril.

P1480706The Stage

(aka Late Afternoon Boats on Okanagan Lake) Note: NO metaphor involved.

I don’t mean to put all the important stuff into captions, so let me say that again: there is no metaphor in this kind of consciousness. To it, metaphor is just a tool, and when expanded to a properly viewable scale that looks like this:

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Metaphor, With Its Masks Off

I’m not just slicing and dicing words. I think this difference between modes of consciousness is vitally important. To explore a little further a mindset that breaks a unified world up into a cognitively observed play covering a hidden, practical reality viewable only by the initiated (i.e. educated), I offer this image of an oregon grape in early July …

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 Kalamalka Lake Shore in Early Summer

Note how the so-called “Autumn Colours” have already begun. (Autumn: another word not really helping anybody out, is it.)

Now to get to the heart of the matter. A consciousness that sees Shakespeare’s words as less than literal is the one that created Western traditions of science and claims that the oregon grape in the image above represents something other than an oregon grape. What that ‘something’ is varies. If one were a poet caught up in such a mindset, it might represent, say, a stellar cluster in a cloud of gas. It would be something to admire, like a parlour trick, a little bit of a beautiful idea in a day, passed on and forgotten. If one were a scientist caught up in this mindset, it might represent Mahonia aquifolium. It might represent a key player in an ecosystem. It might represent Nature.

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Celtic Nature

Growing on the approach to a Celtic Hill Fort above the Rhine. You can be darned sure that to the Celts, this wasn’t “nature”. Each of the plants you see here, and even the soil beneath them, had deep spiritual significance. This was a book. But that’s a discussion best left for another day. I just wanted to show you what nature looks like (when seen by conquerors) as opposed to what it looks like to people who are indigenous.

In neither the mind of the poet who accepts metaphor nor the mind of the scientist who utilizes standardized tools of comparison in the place of metaphor, however, is the thing just what it is, without being cognitively transformed into an argument and into the forms of an argument (and remember, they are spun out of thin air).

greeneyesThe Oregon Grape and the Fly Are One

Now, of course unity is a difficult thing. In the mindset that sees Shakespeare’s stage as a metaphor, for  anything to happen unity must be broken. Otherwise, we’d all be standing still. (Interestingly, photography, the art form that rose up with technological science, sees everything as still.) See?

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Photography: Eternal Stillness

That is, perhaps, an illusion. It is easy to find movement and change within unity, as long as the cognitive point of view of a human observer is not at play. It could all be moving within movement, for instance, and together movement and movement are what the English language calls stillness; it could all be moving within the mind of God, and humans are all somewhere off in a corner with the other Great Apes, cracking nuts with their teeth; it could all be within the energy of the universe itself; and so on. Lots of ways of shaking it up. Intriguingly, images below were one of the class of ideas that led to the disparagement of God over the last couple of centuries (and the loss of a concept of unity with him):

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The Energy of the Universe Turning Okanagan Lake into Wave Forms

See those waves? That’s the effect of wind on the water. The wind in this region comes largely from two sources: from the turning of the earth, which is a function of the formation of the planet out of a spinning disk of gas in the early solar system, and from localized heating and cooling caused by the sun on the hills (and opposing slopes of cool shade.) When early scientists discarded the idea that this is the mind of God moving over the water, by pointing out that it was just the wind, they missed the fact that wind or not, it was still part of a unity at least as large as the solar system, and 4,500,000,000 years long, at least in this present iteration.

Point of view is an important tool. Scientific understanding as we largely know it is predicated on an individual human rational point of view. It could, in other words, be best understood as the working out of the possibilities of this point of view, just as the medieval conception of God was a working out of the lives of the medieval monks who cooked it up in the first place. The gaps or limitations in the world view of this scientific understanding are, thus, as much the limitations of this chosen anchoring point (the observing self) as anything else. Thing is, though, it’s not just an observing consciousness but a dissecting and systematizing one, too. It is a bit of a problem. Here, let me show you one small way in which this works.

P1480854 They’re not called red osier dogwoods for nothing! Now, a peach from my garden…

P1480963 They’re not called “Red Haven Peaches” for nothing! Now, a young staghorn sumac from up the road…

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On its way to full colour glory. Do you see how that works? No? Let’s try again. Tomatoes from my garden?

tomsYellow clover, maybe?
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Well, a ridiculous name, really, but at this time of year it puts on some mighty fine colour in its stalks. Now, in scientific nomenclature, these are all varied plants, with varied latin names, classified according to patterns of leaf and stalk and seed, to place them in what are called “families” but which are, actually, lineages of genetic material. This classification system is a powerful and useful tool, but it is not neutral. If these plants were classified as one related energy, based on the colour red, for example (and this is just an example), like this…

redsstuff… the various points at which the colour red were manifested would take on significance, in the same way that genetic markers take on in the science of metaphor, and would be put to use and developed into technologies quite different than the ones that come out of the traditions of metaphorical science. Such forms of classification were also a part of the Christian and aristocratic traditions before they were thrown away, and were relegated to the territories of art and poetry, and even to spirituality. Well, that was a long time ago and those art forms are lost, or nearly so, and the world is dying for the lack of what men and women once knew.

Tomorrow: Part 2. Alternate spiritual traditions and alternate forms of classification.

 

Geese are Smart

Geese are geniuses at being geese. We couldn’t do anything like it. We suck at being geese, but we are capable of recognizing goose goosiness when we see it.

P1480271Yet we put them in ridiculously small, crowded cages. Don’t have to. We could display them in a goose-friendly setting. We don’t. Our shame.

~

This is an image from the Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede in Armstrong, in the north of the Okanagan.